Midas was the king of Pessinus, capital of Phrygia, a region in Asia Minor. He was the adopted son of Gordias and Cybele and was well known for his pristine rose garden and love of the pleasures of life.
The most famous myth about King Midas is when he received the golden touch from Dionysus, god of the life force. Dionysus was associated with intoxication and was followed by a group of satyrs — half human, half goat individuals with a lust for wine and sexual pleasures. The leader of the satyrs, entrusted with Dionysus’ education, was Silenus. One day, completely in character for a satyr, Silenus became intoxicated and passed out in Midas’ rose garden. The peasants found him and brought him before their king. Luckily, Midas recognized Silenus and treated him well for five days and nights. During this time, Silenus entertained Midas and his court with fantastic tales.
Dionysus came to Midas and was glad to be reunited with Silenus his surrogate father. He decided to reward Midas for his hospitality and granted him one wish. Midas wished that everything he touched be turned to gold. Dionysus warned him about the dangers of such a wish, but Midas was too distracted with the prospect of being surrounded by gold to listen. Dionysus gave him the gift. Initially, King Midas was thrilled with his new gift and turned everything he could to gold, including his beloved roses. His attitude changed, however, when he was unable to eat or drink since his food and wine were also changed to unappetizing gold. He even accidentally killed his daughter when he touched her, and this truly made him realize the depth of his mistake. Desperate, Midas pleaded to Dionysus for help. Dionysus instructed Midas to bathe in the headwaters of the Pactolus River, and the wish would be washed away. Midas went to the river, and as soon as he touched the water, the river carried away the golden touch. The gold settled in the sands of the Pactolus River and was carried downstream to Lydia, one of the richest kingdoms in the ancient world and the source of the earliest coinage.
This myth is ethiological since it explains why the Pactolus River is rich with gold and how Lydia came to be one of the richest kingdoms. It is also carries a common motif in Greek folklore � the “short-sighted wish”. Midas let his greed blind him to the future. Most notably, this myth has aspects characteristic of myths of Dionysus. Child sacrifice is a frequent theme in Dionysian myths. Frequently, Dionysus would punish mortals indirectly by having them kill their own children. King Midas kills his daughter by turning her to gold. He pays for his greed.
After the death of his daughter, Midas hated wealth and splendor and became a worshiper of Pan, god of woodlands. In another myth, Pan challenged Apollo, god of the music, to a test of skill at music. Tmolus, god of the mountain, was the judge at the contest and ruled that Apollo was the victor. Midas, being a follower of Pan, questioned the ruling and this offended Apollo. As a punishment for Midas’ lack of musical “taste”, Apollo changed Midas’ ears into donkey ears. Ashamed of his disfigurement, he hid his ears under a large hat with only his barber knowing about the deformity. It was so hard for the barber to keep the secret that he dug a hole, whispered the secret into the hole, then covered it with earth. From this spot grew reeds that whispered, “Midas has donkey ears!” every time the wind blew. Another version has the queen letting out the secret. In the end, Midas ran away from Phrygia never to be heard from again.
The Pactolus is a small river in Lydia, Asia Minor, once famous for the particles of gold in its sands, which were legendary due to Midas having bathed there. Midas is also called ‘the Berecynthain Hero’, after Mount Berecynthus in Phrygia.