It's easy to interpret Tantalus's horrific payback as symbolic for something that all of us have to deal with in life. His legend is more than just a bedtime story designed to make little Greek kids afraid of rustling Zeus's jimmies. We can also look at his eternity of unfilled desire as an extreme example of a condition that every human person has to deal with, that is, the presence unachievable goals. Sometimes, we want something really badly, but we can't get it, and it sucks. We even know that we can't get it, but that doesn't stop us from trying for the rest of our lives. The difference between Tantalus and us is that we have the chance to control our wants and desires, while Tantalus is stuck with the very impossible-to-avoid needs of hunger and thirst.
Questions About Temptation and Agony
How does Zeus choose to make Tantalus suffer?
In what ways can Tantalus's suffering be seen as a metaphor for the human condition?
Is suffering ever a good thing? Is it good at all in this story? Why, or why not?