Tantalum, element 73, is named for Tantalus, the mythical king of the Phrygians, who, for his sins, was condemned to eternally suffer thirst and hunger in Hades by being made to stand in a pool of water that receded when he stooped to drink and with a branch of fruit hanging over him that rose higher when he reached for it. The verb tantalize also comes from his name.

The element was discovered by Swedish chemist Anders Ekberg in 1802. Ekberg explains his naming here, a translation of what he wrote in Kongliga Vetenskaps Academiens Handlingar in that year:

This new recruit among the metals I call TANTALUM, partly following the custom which favours names from Mythology, partly in allusion to its incapacity, when immersed in acid, to absorb any and be saturated.1

The name starts appearing in English scientific literature shortly after its discovery.

The chemical symbol for tantalum is Ta.

1Oxford English Dictionary, tantalum, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 29 October 2009, http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50246880

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