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The Myth of King Midas and His Golden Touch

Midas myth, the king's daughter turns into a golden statue
In Greek mythology, the king’s daughter turns into a golden statue when he touches her. Illustration by Walter Crane for the 1893 edition. Credit: Public domain.

It is common to hear the expression “like King Midas” to refer to people who make a lot of profit or enjoy great financial success in all their businesses. However, the origins of this expression come from a greedy character in Greek mythology who could turn everything he touched into gold.

Midas was a king of great fortune who ruled the region of Phrygia, in Asia Minor. The king had great admiration for the Greek god Dionysus. So to attract his attention he decided to capture his satyr and his right-hand man, Silenus.

To do this, Midas filled the fountain where Silenus used to drink with wine, and when he fell down intoxicated, he took him to his palace. Once there, he celebrated the “voluntary visit” with a great party that lasted ten days, but Silenus, far from getting angry, shared his wisdom with the King.

The curse of Midas

After the party, Midas returned the satyr safe and sound, to Dionysus; grateful for the hospitality of the monarch towards his old friend, he decided to grant him a wish. Midas asked him to have the ability to turn everything he touched into gold.

Dionysis tried to warn him, but at his insistence, he finally agreed. The King was able to verify that his wish was fulfilled, and he began to redecorate his palace, turning all the furniture he found into gold.

The problem came when he wanted to regain strength, and he saw how the delicacies he tried to eat turned to gold with the touch of his mouth. Trying to quench his thirst, he nearly choked as the water turned to molten gold.

His beloved daughter then entered the room. When Midas embraced her, she turned into a golden statue. Desperate, he ran to apologize to Dionysus and begged him to take away the gift he had given him and return him to normal.

Midas thanks Dionysus
Midas before Bacchus, a painting by the French classicist Poussin, representing the final moment in which Midas thanks Dionysus for having freed him from the “gift”. Credit: Wikipedia/Public domain.

Seeing his repentance, the god agreed and explained that Midas had only to wash his hands in the Pactolo River. The king obeyed at once, and as he dipped his hands in the water, he could see how the gold flowed from his hands and settled on the bottom.

When he returned home, everything Midas had once touched returned to normal. The king embraced his daughter with joy and decided to share the great fortune with his people.

Midas became a better person, generous and grateful for all the assets he had. His people led prosperous lives, and when he died, they all mourned his beloved king.

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