Midas and the Golden Touch
Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.
Silenus captured and brought to Midas
[The god Bacchus] left the fields themselves, and with a worthier band of followers sought out the vineyards of his own Mount Tmolus, and the River Pactolus, though at that time it was not a golden stream, nor envied for its valuable sands. His familiar cohorts, the satyrs and bacchantes accompanied him, but Silenus was absent. The Phrygian countrymen had taken him captive, stumbling with age and wine, bound him with garlands, and led him to King Midas, to whom, with Athenian Eumolpus, Orpheus of Thrace had taught the Bacchic rites.
When the king recognised him as a friend and companion of his worship, he joyfully led a celebration of the guest's arrival, lasting ten days and nights on end. And now, on the eleventh day, Lucifer had seen off the train of distant stars, and the king with gladness came to the fields of Lydia, and restored Silenus to his young foster-child.
Then the god, happy at his foster-father's return, gave Midas control over the choice of a gift, which was pleasing, but futile, since he was doomed to make poor use of his reward.
Make it so that whatever I touch with my body, turns to yellow gold.' he said.
Bacchus accepted his choice, and gave him the harmful gift, sad that he had not asked for anything better.
Midas and his reward
The Berecyntian king departed happily, rejoicing in his bane, and testing his faith in its powers by touching things, and scarcely believing it, when he broke off a green twig from the low foliage of the holm-oak: the twig was turned to gold.
He picked up a stone from the ground: the stone also was pale gold. He touched a clod of earth, and by the power of touch, the clod became a nugget. He gathered the dry husks of corn: it was a golden harvest. He held an apple he had picked from a tree: you would think the Hesperides had given it to him. If he placed his fingers on the tall door-pillars, the pillars were seen to shine. When he washed his hands in clear water, the water flowing over his hands would have deceived Danae.
His own mind could scarcely contain his expectations, dreaming of all things golden. As he was exulting, his servants set a table before him, heaped with cooked food, and loaves were not lacking. Then, indeed, if he touched the gift of Ceres with his hand, her gift hardened. If he tried, with eager bites, to tear the food, the food was covered with a yellow surface where his teeth touched. He mixed pure water with wine, the other gift of his benefactor, but molten gold could be seen trickling through his lips.
Dismayed by this strange misfortune, rich and unhappy, he tries to flee his riches, and hates what he wished for a moment ago. No abundance can relieve his famine: his throat is parched with burning thirst, and, justly, he is tortured by the hateful gold.
Lifting his shining hands and arms to heaven, he cries out: 'Father, Bacchus, forgive me! I have sinned. But have pity on me, I beg you, and save me from this costly evil!'
The will of the gods is kindly. Bacchus, when he confessed his fault restored him, and took back what he had given in fulfilment of his promise. 'So you do not remain coated with the gold you wished for so foolishly,' he said, 'go to the river by great Sardis, make your way up the bright ridge against the falling waters, till you come to the source of the stream, and plunge your head and body at the same moment into the foaming fountain, where it gushes out, and at the same time wash away your sin.'
The king went to the river as he was ordered: the golden virtue coloured the waters, and passed from his human body into the stream.
Even now, gathering the grains of gold from the ancient vein, the fields harden, their soil soaked by the pale yellow waters.
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Source: A.S.Kline, translator. Ovid's Metamorphoses (2000). Weblink. Kline has made his English translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses freely available over the Internet.
Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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