King Midas: Story, Facts & Death

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has taught high school history in several states with a master's degree in teaching.

The story of King Midas is one of the most famous pieces of Greek mythology. In this lesson, you will learn about the king's golden touch and how his wish for riches turned out to be a disaster.

We've all been asked, ''What would you do if you were given one wish you knew would come true?'' In Greek mythology, this was the question asked of King Midas. Midas had an answer, but ended up being disgruntled with how his wish played out.

Facts

Before we get into the story of King Midas and his wish, it's important to have a small background of Greek mythology and the key players in our story.

In Ancient Greece, mythology had three main purposes. It was used to connect religion with things ordinary people encounter, it explained the structure of the world, and it taught people lessons on how to live a good life. Myths were stories that were passed from generation to generation (probably changing a little bit along the way!) and helped to connect people across different regions and times. Oftentimes, myths have small variations. Although the overall message of the myth remained the same, minor details were sometimes changed since these stories were mainly passed down orally. Changes could have been unintentional (the result of memories), or the storyteller may have changed a small detail to better suit his audience.

The two myths we will be looking at today are about King Midas. The legendary King Midas was the ruler of Phrygia, part of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Like all kings during that time, Midas had a large palace and many servants. The stories are clearly fiction; however, some historical records suggest that there may have been a real King Midas. A tomb outside Phrygia was discovered to contain the body of King Mita from the 8th century BCE. Historians suspect that King Mita is the namesake for the mythical King Midas.

The Wish

The first story begins with Silenus, a satyr (part man and part horse) who was the teacher and companion of Dionysus. Silenus had too much to drink and was separated from Dionysus, Greek god of all things related to wine, fertility and theater. He was found by a few of the king's servants, who took the satyr back to King Midas. Midas gave Silenus food and water and let him stay at his palace for ten days, then returned him to Dionysus.

When Midas returned Silenus to the very grateful Dionysus, the god was so pleased to see his satyr that he told Midas he would grant him one wish. Midas, being a king and knowing how powerful money is, asked that everything he touched be instantly turned to gold. Sounds like a quick way to become rich, doesn't it?

The king's plan started out great! On his way home from visiting Dionysus, he touched trees and rocks and watched gleefully as they turned to gold. Once he arrived back at the palace, he asked his servants to make a huge feast to celebrate. Hungry from his journey, he picked up food to eat. But to his surprise and disappointment, the food turned to gold before he could eat it. The king knew he would not be able to survive. Things only got worse for Midas, however. When his daughter came to give him a hug, she turned to gold. If King Midas didn't do something, both he and his daughter would die.

King Midas realized the dark side of his wish as he held his daughter who had turned into gold.
Midas 1

Midas realized that he had made a huge mistake and his greed had gotten him into a grave situation. He prayed to Dionysus, asking how to reverse the wish. Dionysus told him that if he bathed in the Pactolus River, he would return to normal. Midas quickly went to the river and watched as the water and sand turned to gold. Midas, realizing that more wealth is not always a good thing, promised to give up his desire for riches. He went off and lived the rest of his life in the country, away from the splendor of the palace.

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