It's because of a mythological sinner named Tantalus that to tantalize entails holding something desireable just out of reach. Like Sisyphus, Tantalus was sent to the Underworld's region of eternal punishment, where he stood in a pool of water under boughs laden with fruit yet could satisfy neither hunger nor thirst.

The Myth of Tantalus

The great crime for which Tantalus was condemned to an eternity of hunger and thirst may have entailed stealing ambrosia from the gods. He was made to stand in a pool in Tartarus, the Underworld zone of punishment. Each time he reached down for the water that beckoned to his parched lips, it drained away. Overhanging the pool were boughs laden with luscious fruit. But each time Tantalus stretched to pluck this juicy sustenance, the boughs receded from his grasp. For his offense against the gods, this great sinner was tantalized indeed.

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