The Midas Touch

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satyr Silenus and king Midas

Not all stories have a moral, but this one from ancient Greece certainly does. Midas has a gift - everything he touches turns to gold. But he soon learns that an excessive love of riches squeezes the truly valuable things out of life.

The story begins with Silenus, a satyr, half man, half goat, who follows Dionysus the god of Wine.

Read by Natasha. Version for Storynory by Bertie. Duration 9.42

Proofread by Claire Deakin, December 2013.

The Midas Touch

There was once a dreadfully ugly beast called Silenus. He pranced over the mountains on a pair of hairy goat’s legs. A long tail swished behind him, but from the waist up he was a man, more or less. His big belly bounced up and down as he ran along. A pair of horns sprouted out of his bald and shiny head. Quite often, slobber dribbled from his thick and purple lips. In short, this delightful creature was a satyr.

Silenus was a friend of Dionysus, the God of Wine. Dionysus often used to gather his wild band of followers in the woods for a noisy, riotous party. They included satyrs as well as Maenads, who were wild women of the woods. They would bang drums, blow pipes and horns, and crash cymbals and they danced themselves into a mad frenzy. But above all, they liked to drink wine.

One time after Silenus had been partying all night, he staggered out of the woods and into the palace grounds of Midas, king of Phrygia. He lay down between the rose bushes and fell into a deep sleep. Around mid-morning Princess Zoe was walking through the gardens collecting rose blossoms. She saw the hairy hoof of Silenus sticking out from amongst the bushes, and she thought that a poor sick goat had come into the garden to lie down. As he was dirty and smelled not very nice, she called the gardener. When he came, he pulled on the leg and found not a goat, but a satyr.

"Ugh, he's horrible," exclaimed Zoe. "Throw him on the compost heap."

"Ah, I'd better ask the king before I do that," said the Gardener. "After all, a satyr can bring good fortune."

When King Midas learned that there was a satyr sleeping in the rose garden, he ordered that he be given a bed in the palace until he felt better. The servants carried him on a stretcher to the best guest room. There he remained, snoring loudly and smelling like – well, a goat for almost another day.

When finally he arose, he staggered into the palace kitchen and noisily demanded cheese, eggs, and wine.

The cook wanted to chase him out with a meat cleaver, but the steward held him back saying that the satyr was a guest of the King. Silenus took the wine and went wandering around the palace, leaving dirty hoof prints as he went.

When the Queen saw him, she was horrified. "Who or what is this vile creature that’s come to stay with us?" she asked the King.

Midas replied that he was a friend of Dionysus, and everyone must treat him with great courtesy.

Although Princess Zoe and the Queen did their best to stay out of the way of the satyr, King Midas entertained his guest, eating and drinking with him until late at night, and playing music on the pan pipes. All in all, Silenus stayed with Midas for a week.

No one was more pleased about this show of hospitality than Dionysus, because in his eyes, anyone who honoured Silenus honoured Dionysus.

A few days after Silenus had left, Midas was walking in his rose garden when he heard some strange but lovely music. He followed the sound and discovered a perfectly beautiful man sitting on the grass and playing a pipe. He knew right away that the stranger was one of the gods and he fell down on one knee.

The god said, "Get up man. I’m not one for ceremonies. I wish to reward you. What gift would you like more than any other in the world? Power isn’t really my thing, but I can offer you wine, women or song."

"I need money," said Midas.

"Money. What good comes of money?" asked the god.

"Well of course a god like you has no use for money," said Midas, "but we mortals can never have enough of it. I wish that everything I touched turned to gold."

Although Dionysus thought it was a foolish wish, he granted it with the words, "Midas, all that you touch shall turn to gold."

The god disappeared, and King Midas rejoiced in his curse. He reached out and touched a rose blossom and it turned to gold. He picked up a stone, and that too became golden. Even a clod of earth became gold.

He plucked an apple from a low branch, and it immediately became cold and shiny. He held it in his hand and said,

"Oh, how pure and perfect it is."

Then he tossed the golden apple over his shoulder, and hurried into the palace to try his touch on random objects: columns, statues, furniture and doorknobs.

The servants heard his voice laughing and shouting, "Gold, glorious gold!" And they wondered what had gotten into the king.

Princess Zoe heard him too. She found him turning peas into little golden nuggets.

"Father, what has happened?" she asked.

"The most wonderful thing," he replied, and he hugged her.

But this was not what he had expected. He was holding not his daughter in his arms, but a cold, still statue.

Distraught, he went to the fountain to wash his hot tears from his face. But as he scooped up the water in his hands, it turned into liquid gold.

Now he realised the cruelty of his gift. He called out, "Lord Dionysus, save me from this cursed metal!"

Dionysus heard him and took pity on the foolish King. He appeared sitting on the edge of the fountain and said,

"Go to the river that flows by the great city of Sardis. Make your way upstream until you come to the source. Plunge your head and body at the same moment into the foaming fountain, where it gushes out, and wash away your foolishness."

Midas did as he was told, and when he plunged into the stream the banks and the flowers that grew on them became yellow and golden. But Midas emerged from the waters free of his wish for riches and gold. So as long as he lived, he rejoiced in all that was simple and natural.
Text Copyright Hugh Fraser 2009 -