O holy daughters of Mnemosyne, Muses Nine, sing me a story of long ago, when Gods walked the earth with frequency, breaking bread and communing with countless mortals. Tell me the tale of King Midas, and what came to be known as the Midas Touch.
It began when Dionysos, ivy-twined son of Zeus, went in search of His missing tutor and foster-father, the drunken Satyr Silenos. During one of the bacchic revels Silenos had wandered away, and chanced to pass out in the rose garden of King Midas. The clever king Midas recognized him, and treated him with the hospitably due guests. He entertained Silenos for ten days and nights, serving him rich foods and allowing him to sleep in the royal palace. Silenos entertained Midas and the king’s court with Satyrs’ stories and rustic songs.
On the eleventh day, Dionysos found His tutor while the Satyr was taking a walk through the town with Midas. The God of wine was extremely grateful to Midas for Silenos’ good condition. In gratitude, the son of Zeus offered Midas a boon: any reward the mortal wanted. Midas considered for a moment, then asked that whatever he might touch should be transformed into precious gold. The maenadic lord asked Midas if he was sure that was a wise choice, but the greedy mind of Midas was set. Dionysos bestowed the gift with regret, and then withdrew with Silenos.
Foolish Midas! Did you not see the downside of this power, and the ill fate it would harbor for the ones you held most dear? Did you not realize that the most valuable things in life are not gold and jewels, and that these in fact lose their value when transformed into the precious metal?
Scarcely daring to hope, Midas touched first an oak leaf, and then a stone. To his exceeding delight, both were instantly transfigured into gold. King Midas reveled in his newfound power, turning benches and trees to gold on his walk home to the palace, and causing quite a stir among his subjects!
As soon as Midas reached his home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table in celebration. But, when Midas reached for a piece of bread or bit into the cooked meat, it turned to gold. His teeth broke, and his belly ached. He could not slake his thirst, for as soon as a drink touched his lips, it too became solid gold.
Only now, too late, did Midas realize the consequences of this power! He now hated the gift he had so coveted. And the worst was yet to come for poor Midas. His young daughter was a mere five years of age, too young to realize the danger in her beloved father’s power. She ran to hug her father good night. Midas threw his arms up to push her away, but it was too late. She too was turned to gold, an exquisite statue of youth in flower, lovely to behold but cold to the touch. It was then that Midas wept, throwing his arms around his immobile daughter, and planting kisses on her unresponsive cheek. O wretched Midas, do you see your folly now?
Midas then prayed a heartfelt prayer to loud-roaring Dionysos, begging to be delivered from the gift he had foolishly asked for. At least, he begged, restore his daughter to life, even if he must forfeit his in trade.
Merciful Dionysos heard his prayer, and He instructed Midas to wash himself in the river Pactolus. At dawn the repentant King did so, wading into the clear waters with a prayer on his lips. When Midas’ body touched the waters the power passed into them, and ever after the sands of the river Pactolus have run rich with gold. Midas returned home, hope and fear ruling in his breast. He searched the palace and found that Dionysos, in pity, had returned his daughter to her human form. He embraced her with renewed fervor, and promised to rule wisely and justly, and to never be blinded by wealth again. He became such a wise and just king that when he finally reached the end of his days, Zeus set him in the Underworld as one of the Three Judges of the afterlife.
O Dionysos of Theban fame, He of the fiery birth, let me never fall into the trap of Midas, nor long for the Midas touch. Let me remember that the value of life is not to be counted in golden coins, but in the number of people I love, and who love me in return.
[Amanda Sioux Blake (23) has been a Hellenic Pagan and devotee of Athena for ten years. She currently resides in South Bend, Indiana, with the various animals that find their way to her. She is the author of Ink In My Veins: A Collection of Contemporary Pagan Poetry and the forthcoming Songs of Praise: Hymns to the Gods of Greece and Journey to Olympos: A Modern Spiritual Odyssey. She also runs the online clothing store Otherworld Creations, specializing in fantasy and Pagan designs (mostly Greek Gods but a few Egyptian designs are on the way).]