Midas was a king who reigned in Macedonian Bromium in what is now modern day Turkey. The people he ruled over were called the Brigians or the Moschians. He was the son of the goddess Ida and an unnamed satyr and loved pleasure and wealth. When he was a baby, ants would climb up the side of his cradle and place grains of wheat between his lips as he slept. This was considered to be a sign of the great wealth that would accrue to him in time. When he grew older, Midas became the student of Orpheus, the most renowned musician in ancient Greece.
Midas was famous for his rose gardens, and one day the satyr Silenus left a crowd of worshippers of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility, as they went out of Thrace toward Boeotia. Silenus, who was drunk, found Midas’ rose garden and fell asleep among the flowers. The gardeners found him in the morning, tied him up with flower garlands and brought him before the king. Silenus told Midas amazing tales of a world far away where the people, called the Hyperboreans, were happy, gigantic and long lived. They also had an enviable legal system. Silenus told tales of a whirlpool that no sailor could go past, and the fruit trees that grew on the bank nearby. One tree bore fruit that caused the eater to weep and pine away, while the other restored youth even to the very old. Indeed, they aged backwards to the point where they disappeared altogether. Midas was regaled by the satyr’s tall tales for five days and nights, then brought him back to Dionysus.
Dionysus had been worried about Silenus, and was pleased to see that he was well. He asked Midas how he wished to be rewarded. Midas answered, without thinking, that he wanted everything he touched to turn to gold. His wish was granted.
As a result, everything that Midas touched did turn to gold. That included his flowers, any stones or rocks that he handled, his furniture and the food he ate and the water he drank. His own daughter turned to gold when she ran to embrace him. Midas soon begged to be relieved of this gift. Dionysus, who was amused by Midas’ predicament, told him to go down to the source of the river Pactolus, which was near Mount Tmolus, and wash himself in the waters. Midas obeyed, washed himself in the river and was freed from his gift. Not only this, but everything that he’d touched reverted to its normal state. This was a rare instance of a god’s gift being revoked. However, it is said that the sands of the bed of the river Pactolus are flecked with gold even to this day.
Another story about Midas claims he was adopted by the Phrygian King Gordius, who had no children and was the creator of the famous Gordian knot. When Gordius died, Midas succeeded to his throne and promoted the worship of Dionysus. The Brigians who had come with Midas to Gordius’ kingdom took the names Phrygians, and all the kings that came after Midas were named Midas or Gordius. This is probably why Midas is considered Gordius’ biological son in some tales and the goddess Cybele, who was Gordius’ wife, is considered his mother.
Midas founded the city of Ancyra and was a guest at the musical contest between Apollo and Marsyas, another satyr. The contest was judged by Tmolus, the mountain god. Tmolus ultimately awarded the prize to Apollo. Midas disagreed with the verdict and Apollo punished him by causing him to grow donkey’s ears.
For a while, Midas managed to keep the ears hidden under his Phrygian cap. His barber was the only one who knew the secret, but he found it impossible to keep it to himself, even though the king had told him to keep the secret on pain of death. So the barber went to the riverside and after making sure he was alone dug a hole in the ground and whispered, “King Midas has donkey’s ears!” He then filled the hole and went away. However, a reed sprouted at the spot and whispered the secret to everyone who passed by. When Midas learned this, he condemned the barber to death, drank bull’s blood and died in misery.
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