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King Midas in Greek Mythology

Updated on March 6, 2016

King Midas is arguably the mot famous king of Greek mythology, for his name and story is one still told to children all around the world today. King Midas of course being the king who had the power to turn everything he touched to gold.

The Basic Tale of King Midas

The basic tale of King Midas, as told today, is one of a greedy king, who asks for, and receives the power, to turn everything he touches to gold. Initially overjoyed with his new powers, Midas soon realises the downside of his power, for he accidentally turned his daughter into a golden statue, and then starves to death when his food and drink turn to gold as he touches them.

The tale of King Midas of course tells of the dangers of greed, and the perils of getting everything you wished for.

The passing of thousands of years though has seen the story adapted from its Greek mythological origins, and it would perhaps surprise many to find out that King Midas never had a daughter, nor did he starve to death. .

Disney's The Golden Touch

King Midas of Phrygia

In Greek mythology, the story of king Midas is set in Phrygia, generally considered a kingdom in Asia Minor, but also at one time, an area of Thrace before the people migrated; with events taking place in a time generations before the Trojan War.

Phrygia was without a king, when an Oracle proclaimed that the next man who drove a cart into the capital city should be made king. That man proved to be Gordius, and his cart was subsequently tied up to a wall with the Gordian Knot.

Now Gordius had a son, Midas, who was possibly the child of the goddess Cybele by the king, and in time the kingdom passed to Midas.

King Midas Gets the Golden Touch

During the rule of Midas, the Phrygian king founded the city of Ankara, but it is the gaining of new powers that is the mainstay of the Midas myth.

At the time, Dionysus was making war with the Indians, when his companion and tutor, the satyr Seilenos, became separated from his protégé. The satyr was found intoxicated in one of Midas’ gardens, and was taken to the king by some Phrygians. There Midas welcomed Seilenos, plied him with food, drink and entertainment, and in return Seilenos entertained the court.

After 10 days, Midas then guided the satyr back to Dionysus, and the god was so delighted with the actions of Midas that he granted the king a wish. Midas so asked the god that whatever he touched should become gold, and so Dionysus gave the king the golden touch, the Midas touch.

Initially, Midas was delighted with his new power, and the king turned stones and plant life into precious metal, but very quickly Midas realised the folly of his own desires, for food and drink were also turned to gold by his touch.

Quickly returning to Dionysus, Midas asked the god to take back the gift that he had only recently bestowed, and thankfully the god was still in a good mood and so he agreed. Midas was told to go bathe in the waters of the river Pactolus at the foot of Mount Tmolus. As he bathed, the Midas Touch left the king, and from that day on, the river became known for its gold content.

Midas Cleansing Himself

Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus - Bartolomeo Manfredi, c. 1617-19 -PD-art-100
Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus - Bartolomeo Manfredi, c. 1617-19 -PD-art-100 | Source

King Midas and Apollo

A chastised Midas thereafter gave up thoughts of wealth, and became a follower of Pan, and the Phrygian king was present when Pan and Apollo took part in a musical contest.

Pan unwisely stated that his reeds were a better musical instrument than Apollo’s lyre, and so the Ourea Tmolus was called upon to judge. Tmolus quickly proclaimed Apollo the winner of the contest, and all those present agreed with the decision of the mountain god, that was, all agreed aside from Midas, who unwisely stated that Pan’s music was better than Apollo’s.

The Olympian god decided to punish the impudent king, and so changed the king’s ear to asses’ ears. Ming Midas would attempt to change is deformity beneath a Phrygian cap, but of course his barber soon realised the change that had come over the king.

The barber was sworn to secrecy, but such was the size of the secret that the barber felt he could not keep the secret to himself. Thus, the barber dug a hole and into it he spoke the secret he held, “King Midas has asses’ ears”, before he filled in the hole. Unfortunately, out of the hole sprouted a bunch of reeds, and when the wind blew their whispers could be heard, revealing to all that “King Midas has asses’ ears”.

Apollo and Pan

The Judgement of Midas - Workshop of Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678) - PD-art-100
The Judgement of Midas - Workshop of Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678) - PD-art-100 | Source

Ankhyros Son of Midas

As previously mentioned, ancient sources do not tell of King Midas having a daughter, and instead there is story of a son which is all but forgotten. This son was named Ankhyros.

In an area of Phrygia, a gigantic sinkhole opened, and many homes and people fell into as it grew. King Midas consulted an oracle who told of how the hole would fill itself in if the king his most precious possession into it.

So Midas threw gold and silver objects into the hole, but still it grew. Midas’ son observed the growing hole, and as the son was of the belief that nothing was as precious as human life, rode himself into hole, which closed up around him.

Later Roman writers also named Lityerses as a son of Midas. Lityerses would challenge passers-by to a harvesting contest, and would behead those he bested with his scythe. Then Heracles came along and won the contest, and cut off Lityerses head with his own scythe.

The Death of Midas

Some ancient sources tell of the death of King Midas, not by starvation but from the drinking of the blood of an ox, when the Cimmerians invaded his land. This Midas though was probably a different king of the same name.

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