Psychology & Psychotherapy

Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


The Myth of Tantalus

A Scaffolding for an Existential and Ontological Theory of Personality

Shlomo Giora Shoham has been awarded the Israel Prize for 2003, for his contribution to the study of criminology. He is a widely published author on crime, deviance, philosophy, religion, psychology and the human personality. He lectures worldwide, and has recently been resident at the universities of Oxford and Harvard, and at the Sorbonne.

This Fully Revised and Expanded Second Edition provides a detailed explanation of personality developmental dynamics, taking into account mysticism and religious experience as psycho-sociological phenomena, and using empirical anchors ranging from the topical issue of Arab–Jewish relationships to the divergent personalities of the founders of the Hassidic movement.

These psychological dynamics are presented by way of the developmental and relationship experiences we have with the outside world – alternations between conflict and a striving to revert back to earlier developmental phases. At any given moment of our lives there is a gap between our desires for participation and our subjectively defined distance from our participatory aims. This gap is denoted the Tantalus Ratio, after the Olympian demigod. Transcendental longings and quests are explored in their actual structuring of the human personality. This new Theory of Personality also explores the mytho-empirical manifestation of the normative sacrifice of the young, denoted as the Isaac Syndrome.

The author pays homage to Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus by recognizing the absurd drudgeries of man’s existence, the maddening routines, the point-lessness of being, the silence of god, and the cruelty of man to man. Examples from literature and myth demonstrate that if man can find a creative modus vivendi with his pitiful “stone” burden, then the vicissitudes of existence can become punctuated with meaning, satisfaction and even happiness. Like Camus, the author concludes that it is only through creative rebellion that man can find authenticity.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-90390-043-7
Paperback Price: £16.95 / $32.50
Release Date: March 2005
Page Extent / Format: 336 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Preface & Acknowledgements

Self and Transcendence
Mythogene and Mythology
A Note on Gender
My Debt
With Gratitude

Introduction – The Away and Beyond is Right Here and Now
The Deprivations of Interaction
The Two Realities
The Core of the Self
A Note on Method

1 The Fist and the Open Hand
The Vectors
Conceptual Analogies
The Dual Orbits
The Tantalus Ratio
Growth and Decline

2 The Sisyphean and the Tantalic – An Ontological Personality Typology
Where are the Fixations Fixated?
Object and Self: The Crucial Dichotomy
The Other Dichotomies
Some Empirical Anchors
Square Bolts in Round Holes
The Hassidim
The Men

3 Separant and Participant Cultures – The Social Component of the Tantalus Ratio
Patterns of Culture and Social Character
Activist and Quietist Cultures
The Tantalus Ratio and Social Character
Ten Pairs of the Composite Polar Patterns
Tool and Symbol Orientations
Welfare State versus Social Traditionalism
Scientistic or Mystic
The Carnivores and the Downtrodden
Exaltation and Lethargy
Time and the Void
Achievement and Resignation
Homo Faber and Fatalism
Nobs and Snobs
Salvation and Utopia

4 Jews and Arabs – The Relationship between Personality Types and Social Characters
Jews and Arabs: An Illustration
East is East and West is West
Change and Stagnation
Reality and Illusion
Power and "The Children of Death"
The Ecstasy and the Lethargy
"Haste is from the Devil"
The Driven and the Lazy
A Religion of Labour
Social Mobility
Dreams and Visions
The Extreme Poles of the Separant–Participant Continuum
Social Change and Social Character
Personality Type and Social Character

5 The Twenty-First Century Kulturkampf – Fundamentalist Islam against Occidental Culture
A Frame of Reference
The Second Law of Thermodynamics

6 Interaction, Objectlessness and the Self-Continuum
Atzmi and Ani: The Two Faces of Man
The Poles and the Bridge
Some Dynamics of the Self
The Dialectics of the Tantalus Ratio
The Ani-Skewed Self
The Interactive Self

7 Self, Choice and Uniqueness
Developmental Forms of the Self
Core Dynamics
We are the Chosen

8 Man, Others and Things – The Phenomenology of Interaction
In Search of Dialogue
The Oppressive Dyad
The Self and Others

9 The Isaac Syndrome
The Maternal Proscription of Incest
The Isaac Syndrome
Father against Son
The Rationalization of Sacrifice
Isaac and Christ

10 Rebellion and Yearning
The Two Faces of Rebellion
The Search for Authenticity
Being with Fear and Anxiety
Creative Rebellion
The Quest


This is the work of a man who has undergone a crisis, who in effect tells us that the crisis opened his eyes to scientific and human truth. Shoham is an adventurer among ideas and one takes pleasure in his mixture of daring generalization and empirical exactness.
Professor ben Ami Shaarfstein, author of A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant, reviewing the first edition in The Jerusalem Post

Books can be ordered by phone or online

Ordering in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America and Rest of the World

Gazelle Book Services
Direct sales tel.: +44 (0)1524 528500; email:
Web ordering:

Ordering in the United States and Canada
Independent Publishers Group (IPG)
Direct sales tel.: (800) 888-4741
Web ordering:

Bookseller Ordering
Information is provided under the Resources tab.

eBook Ordering
e-Book type availability can be sourced via by book title. Kindle availability is via Amazon .com and sites.