Greek MythologyMythology

5(ish) Mortals in Tartarus

Tartarus, the closest Greek analog to the Christian hell, was a place of torment for those who had deeply offended the gods. Originally a god in its own right, it quickly morphed into a location in the underworld. Sort of the under-underworld. Its most famous residents were the titans that fought against Zeus but in later myths, certain wicked humans ended up there for their transgressions. Here are five(ish.)

Table of Contents

1. Phlegyas

Inf. 08 iracondi e accidiosi by Giovanni Stradano (1587)

Phlegyas has the most straightforward story. His daughter, Coronis, was a lover of Apollo but was having an affair with a mortal prince. So Apollo had his daughter killed for the affair and Phlegyas burned the temple at Delphi down in retribution. His punishment, at least in some versions of the story, was to be entombed in rock in front of an eternal feast. Sorta reminiscent of the next one’s punishment.

2. Tantalus

Tantalus Gioacchino Assereto circa1640s

Tantalus was a piece of work. He was a king who, wanting to prove that the gods were not all-knowing, invited them to a banquet where he served his son. As the meal. Yeah, he’s an impressively terrible parent. The gods knew. Except for Demeter who was distraught over Persephone and took a bite. The son was resurrected on Zeus’ order and Tantalus was sentenced to Tartarus to hunger and thirst forever, with water and food always just out of his reach.

3. Sisyphus

Punishment sisyph

Sisyphus was actually a very cruel man. He was a king who delighted in killing guests and travelers. He also evaded death. Twice. Kinda. The first time was when he angered Zeus and Zeus sent Thanatos to bind him in chains in Tartarus. Sisyphus trapped Thanatos in the chains, preventing any kind of death on earth, Ares freed him because his battle were boring without death. The second time, he actually DID die, but came back. He told his wife to essentially desecrate his body after he died and used this action to argue with Persephone in the underworld that he should be allowed to go back to confront her about it. He went back but refused to return to Tartarus. Hermes had to drag him back. For all of this he was sentenced to his famed punishment of pushing a boulder up a hill forever.

4. Ixion


I’ve discussed Ixion before, mostly in relation to the origin of the centaurs, but there’s a bit more to his story than just that. He refused to pay the ‘bride price’ for his wife, so his father-in- law stole some of his horses. In retaliation, Ixion lured him over and pushed him onto a bed of coals, burning him alive. For murder, their were ritual ways of purification but his neighbors were so disgusted that they refused to help him. So he went mad, living as an outcast. Zeus took pity on him and, for some reason, took him to Olympus. Ixion developed an attraction to Hera, so Zeus shaped a cloud like her to trick him. He slept with it, offending Zeus, and as punishment was sentenced to be bound in tartarus to a burning, spinning wheel forever.

5. The Danaïdes

Danaides by John William Waterhouse, 1903

This is where the ‘ish’ bit comes in. The Danaïdes are discussed collectively because, although there were 50 of them, they’re typically only referred to as a group. The story goes that their father Danaus ordered them to kill their husbands on their wedding night. All but one of them, Hypermnestra, did. As punishment those 49 were sentenced to Tartarus where they spend eternity filling a bottomless pithos with water.

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