"The Torment of Tantalus" is the eleventh episode of the first season of Stargate SG-1.


Dr. Daniel Jackson sees a video documenting classified experiments from 1945 in which the Stargate was actually activated and Ernest Littlefield, Catherine Langford's love was stranded alone on a planet for more than 50 years. SG-1, and Langford gate to the planet and are surprised to find Littlefield still alive. The reunion for Littlefield and Catherine is bittersweet, and things are further complicated when they discover the Dial Home Device has been destroyed, forcing the team to resort to drastic measures in order to return to Earth.


In 1945, a group of scientists are busy Trying to make the Stargate work. Not knowing about the effect of stellar drift on the dialing later discovered by Captain Samantha Carter, they should not have been able to turn it on, but against all the odds, they activate it.

In the modern day, 1997, in the Briefing Room of Stargate Command, Dr. Daniel Jackson is busy watching the footage when Colonel Jack O'Neil wanders in, telling Daniel that they've got two days of medical tests to go through.

Both men are left stunned when they discover that the scientists activated the Stargate, and they're even more shocked when a man steps through the gate and the wormhole it created collapses, apparently trapping him on whatever planet he was transported to, causing Jack to whisper, "Holy cow" in disbelief while Daniel just stares at the TV, stunned.

Daniel visits Catherine Langford, the daughter of the man in charge of the program back then. She recognizes that the man who went through the gate was Dr. Ernest Littlefield, her then fiancé. Her father had told her that Littlefield died during an explosion in the lab. Jackson brings her back with him to Stargate Command, causing Major General George Hammond to berate Daniel for breaking protocol by revealing classified information to a civilian.

In a briefing, Daniel reveals that he was able to extract the chevrons that the scientists dialed from the old footage. Carter mentions that this address is not on the list found on Abydos, which is direct proof that the Goa'uld are not the builders of the Stargates. Teal'c points out that this may mean that there will be technology unknown to the Goa'uld at the address to which Dr. Littlefield has traveled, and Daniel points out that they have an obligation to bring back the first man who saw the Stargate for what it was. Hammond agrees that SG-1 should go to the planet and attempt to bring Dr. Littlefield home. Catherine insists on joining the mission.

A while later, SG-1 and Catherine depart for the planet.


On the other side of the wormhole, they find themselves in what appears to be something of a castle perched dangerously on outcropping rocks over a stormy sea and under a thunderous sky. Within the castle, they find Dr. Littlefield, emaciated but alive.

The Torment of Tantalus 1

Carter examining the damaged DHD.

Carter discovers that the Dial Home Device is broken, and hence they are stranded. While she works on a solution, Catherine has her moments with Ernest; they are cold to each other at first as they've been through a lot but warm up to each other later.

Alliance of Four Great Races database 1

Ernest showing Daniel the Light display device (inactive)

Jackson also talks to Ernest, who has kept a journal all these years. He takes them to a special room where a central device, when activated by Jack, projects a light-display into the air.

The light-display turns out to be a representation of atoms and basic elements. On the four walls are four types of writing, and both Jackson and Ernest believe this to be some kind of meeting place for four great alien races of the past. That is when Jackson realizes that the atoms are a kind of universal language; to ensure universal comprehension, the language has been reduced to basic elements common to all life. There turn out to be many pages of this 'book', and Jackson becomes obsessed with copying it down. Ernest tells there are 146 basic elements.

While Carter and Teal'c are working on the DHD, a large wave hits the cliff, triggering a rockfall that causes the DHD to fall through the floor and into the ocean below. Carter works out that a lightning strike channeled into the gate may supply enough power to allow dialing it manually, enabling them to escape while hopefully not destroying the Stargate in the process. In the meantime, the storm is becoming rough, and it looks like the castle will collapse.

Rescue of Ernest Littlefield

Daniel's obsession with the book makes him want to stay to study it all. At the last moment, Ernest persuades Daniel to leave. Although the information held in the 'book' may be the source to understanding the very meaning of the existence of humans, "meaning-of-life stuff", it would take more than a lifetime to study it all, as evidenced by Ernest, and there's no joy in knowing it all but having no one to share it with. Due to the obviousness of Ernest's wisdom on this matter, Jackson leaves the 'book' and they escape through the collapsing castle through the Stargate just before the wormhole destabilizes and shuts down.

Heliopolis Stargate

Later, an attempt is made to open another wormhole to the planet to see if returning is possible. The attempt fails, presumably because the destination gate has been buried. However, Ernest reminds them that their expedition was productive beyond rescuing him, because they also brought back his notes, which are being studied as they speak. Ernest tells Daniel that one day he might meet the ones who wrote the book and tell him what it means.

After this, Catherine and Ernest finally share an emotional embrace with Jack and Daniel looking on.


Appearances for The Torment of Tantalus





Sentient Species




Notable quotes[]

O'Neill: You know, you seem a tad obsessed with this stuff.
Jackson: This was transferred from film of experiments done on the Gate in 1945. You don't find that the least bit intriguing?
O'Neill: Oh yeah—nothing piques my interest more than repeated failure.

Jackson: The Pentagon said this was everything.
O'Neill: Oh please! The Pentagon's lost entire countries.

Catherine: (about Hammond) So far he actually sounds worse than General West!
O'Neill: Ah, he's a teddy bear!

Catherine: You speak?
Teal'c: When it is appropriate.

O'Neill: It's a piece of cake. Ready?
(all go through the Stargate)
Jackson: Are you okay?
Catherine: Huh, that was some piece of cake.

O'Neill: Ernest was showing him a new toy.
Carter: Really? What?
O'Neill: Some fancy light show that may be the key to our existence, or something like that.

O'Neill: All right, basic survival training. We know what we have, what do we need?
Teal'c: We have the Stargate. We need the dial-home device.
O'Neill: Thank you, Teal'c.


Main Characters

Guest Stars


  • It is revealed in this episode that six months have passed since the events that took place in "Children of the Gods" therefore placing this episode in August as the events of "Children of the Gods" took place in February.
  • The title refers to the Greek myth of Tantalus, who could never reach what he kept grasping out for, and who is the origin of the word "tantalize," as Dr. Daniel Jackson is tantalized by the enormous importance of the "Meaning of Life Stuff" which he cannot possibly reach.


  • After the rocks have fallen down in front of the Stargate, Colonel Jack O'Neill steps on one of the rocks, revealing that it's fake as it is light as a feather.
  • Dr. Daniel Jackson mentions that he can tell that the holograms of the elements are certain elements, because the number of electrons determines the element. The number of protons determines the element. The number of electrons can vary for a given element, giving a different ion. Then again he is not a physicist and may thus either not know or not care about the correct definition. Furthermore, assuming all the elements are atoms as opposed to ions, the electron could be used to determine the element as in atoms there are an equal number of protons and electrons.
  • While reading Dr. Ernest Littlefield's journal, Jackson reads aloud Littlefield's supposition that the meeting place was like a United Nations. The United Nations Charter was signed June 26, 1945 and entered into force on October 24, 1945, suggesting Littlefield went through the Stargate after one or both of these dates that year, otherwise he could not possibly have known of the organization. While the term "United Nations" was in use as early as 1942, it then referred to the Allies of World War II, rather than the current intergovernmental organization which Littlefield describes. Even if Littlefield did go through the Stargate after the formation of the UN, it still would have been very new; as such, his more likely analogue should have been the League of Nations (1920-1946), with which he would have been much more familiar.
  • Catherine Langford mentions she is 21 years old in 1945. However, in 1928 when the gate was found, Catherine is at least 10 years old if not older. That would make her at least 27 years old in 1945 or older.
  • When Catherine says there are only 111 elements on the periodic table, Ernest retorts that there were only 90 when he last looked. In 1945, there were 94 elements on the periodic table, Promethium being the most recent. It may have been a general statement to point out that more elements were discovered after he disappeared, though.
  • After finding the damaged DHD Catherine states to Ernest, "that's why you never came back;" in reality, even if the DHD was functioning, he would have had no idea of the address.

Other languages[]

  • French: Le Supplice de Tantale
  • German: Die Qualen des Tantalus (The Torment of Tantalus)
  • Italian: Il Supplizio di Tantalo
  • Spanish: El tormento de Tántalo
  • Czech: Tantalova muka (The Torment of Tantalus)
  • Hungarian: Tantalus kínjai (The Torment of Tantalus)
  • Polish: Męki Tantala (The Torment of Tantalus)
  • Russian: Танталовы муки (The Torment of Tantalus)

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