The Myth of King Midas

midas in a mirror
Reprezentation of King Midas in Disney’s The Golden Touch (1935)

Midas was a Greek King reigning over Phrygia (now Turkey) in the 6th century B.C., but most of his legacy comes from the legend he recalls.

One day, the God Dionysus and his company were passing through Midas’ kingdom when his tutor Silenus got lost along the way. Indeed, the man had been drinking excessively (for professional reasons, as the rustic god of drunkenness, he had a reputation to maintain) and he somehow managed to get away from the fellowship to eventually take a nap in a local vineyard.

The farmers who found him immediately took the tipsy man to their ruler: Midas recognized Dionysus’ companion and ordered him to be set free. When the worried Dionysus heard about the news, he came to Midas and, very grateful, granted the King a wish.

Famous for his greed, the King asked that everything he touches to be turned into gold. “Are you sure? Very fine.” The wish was granted, and the Greek god left Midas’ palace carrying his friend under his arm.

Midas decided to give it a try. He touched a table nearby, and in the next second, it was turned into pure gold. He did the same for the floor: a golden wave took over the room and spread over the walls and the ceiling. Midas was thrilled. He ran across the rooms his hands open, and soon, from the hallway to the rooftop, the whole palace was gold-plated.

Very exhausted from such an activity, Midas finally fell in a (golden) chair and grabbed a fruit. His teeth hit solid gold. Panic-stricken, he seized a glass of water, but it was liquid gold which was poured into his mouth. His daughter came in the room, and one hug later, a silent, golden statue was standing still into Midas’ arms.

Midas_gold2
Walter Crane’s illustration of the myth (source: Wikipedia). What can you lip-read there? I would go for something rude.

The slow-on-the-uptake King suddenly realized his mistake, and prayed Dionysus to break the curse. The God granted him this favor, and asked him to go wash his hands in the near river Pactolus: when he did, small gold dust got taken away by the stream. Midas was saved.

After this episode, Midas led a simple and happy life, sharing his wealth with his people. Having a heart of gold turned out to be his best asset.

Later, gold was to be found by Greeks down the shores of the river Pactolus.

 


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