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In Greek mythology, Midas or King Midas (in Greek Μίδας) is popularly remembered for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold: the "Midas touch".

Midas was king[1] of Pessinus, a city of Phrygia, who as a child was adopted by the king Gordias and Cybele, goddess whose consort he was, and who by some accounts was the goddess-mother of Midas himself.[2] In Mygdonia[3] Midas was known for his garden of roses: Herodotus[4] remarks on the settlement of the ancient kings of Macedon on the slopes of Mount Bermion "the place called the garden of Midas son of Gordias, where roses grow of themselves, each bearing sixty blossoms and of surpassing fragrance. In this garden, according to the Macedonian story, Silenos was taken captive."[5] According to Iliad (v.860), he had one son, Lityerses, the demonic reaper of men; but in some variations of the myth he had a daughter, Zoë or "life" instead.

For the legend of Gordias, a poor countryman who was taken by the people and made king, in obedience to the command of the oracle, see Gordias.   For the son of Midas, see Adrastus.

In alchemy, the transmutation of an object into gold is known as Chrysopoeia.


Historical context

Historically, it is known that a Midas was king of Phrygia in the late eighth century BC. Phrygia had many kings who bore the name Midas. He may be identical with Mita, a king of the Mushki who is known from a list of allies of Sargon II of Assyria, dated to 709 BC. Herodotus[6] recorded the votive offerings at Delphi of Gyges and of his predecessor Midas "son of Gordias king of Phrygia... who dedicated for an offering the royal throne on which he sat before all to decide causes; and this throne, a sight worth seeing, stands in the same place with the bowls of Gyges. This gold and silver which Gyges dedicated is called Gygian by the people of Delphi, after the name of him who offered it."

Pausanias was aware that Midas, son of Gordias, was venerated as city founder at Phrygian Ancyra (Ankara).[7]

The great tumulus

In [1957 archaeologists connected with the University of Pennsylvania opened a chamber tomb at the heart of the Great Tumulus (height : 53 m, diameter : about 300 m) on the site of ancient Gordion (modern Yassihöyük, Turkey), where there are located more than 100 tumuli of different sizes and of different periods. They discovered an early eighth century royal burial, complete with remains of the funeral feast and "the best collection of Iron Age drinking vessels ever uncovered"[8]. This inner chamber was rather large : 5.15 by 6.20 m. The height of the ceiling was 3.25 m. On a wooden bedstead in the corner of the chamber lay a skeleton of a man of 1.59 m height and about 60 years old. In the room there were decorated tables and panels, and many vessels with grave offerings. Though no identifying texts were associated with the site, it is popularly dubbed the "Tomb of Midas" (Penn). But later investigations showed that this funerary monument couldn't have been constructed after the Cimmerian invasion in the early seventh century BC. Therefore it is now believed to be the monument for an earlier king than Midas.

A "tomb of Midas" identified in the nineteenth century at Midas Sehri on the basis of the word "Mida", identified in incompletely translated Phrygian inscriptions, is not today interpreted as a tomb, but instead a site sacred to Cybele.


Once, as Ovid relates in Metamorphoses X[9] Dionysus found his old schoolmaster and foster father, the satyr Silenus, missing.[10] The old satyr had been drinking wine, and had wandered away drunk, and was found by some Phrygian peasants, who carried him to their king, Midas (alternatively, he passed out in Midas' rose garden). Midas recognized him, and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness, while Silenus entertained Midas and his friends with stories and songs.[11] On the eleventh day he brought Silenus back to Dionysus in Lydia. Dionysus offered Midas his choice of whatever reward he wanted. Midas asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold. Midas rejoiced in his new power, which he hastened to put to the test. He touched an oak twig and a stone and both turned to gold. Overjoyed, as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. "So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold: but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold cursed his prayer" (Claudian, In Rufinem). In a version told by Nathaniel Hawthorne,[12] he found that when he touched his daughter, she turned into a statue as well.

Now he hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Dionysus heard and consented; he told Midas to wash in the river Pactolus. He did so, and when he touched the waters, the power passed into the river, and the river sands became changed into gold. This explained why the river Pactolus was so rich in gold and the wealth of the dynasty claiming Midas as forefather, no doubt the impetus for this etiological myth. (Graves). Gold was perhaps not the only metallic source of Midas' riches: "King Midas, a Phrygian, son of Cybele, first discovered black and white lead."[13]

Midas, now hating wealth and splendor, moved to the country, and became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields.[14] Roman mythographers[15] asserted that his tutor in music was Orpheus. Once Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and to challenge Apollo, the god of the lyre, to a trial of skill (also see Marsyas). Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen as umpire. Pan blew on his pipes, and with his rustic melody gave great satisfaction to himself and his faithful follower, Midas, who happened to be present. Then Apollo struck the strings of his lyre. Tmolus at once awarded the victory to Apollo, and all but Midas agreed with the judgment. He dissented, and questioned the justice of the award. Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer, and caused them to become the ears of a donkey.[16]. The myth is illustrated by two paintings "Apollo and Marsyas" by Palma il Giovane (1544-1628), one depicting the scene before, and one after the punishment.

Midas was mortified at this mishap. He attempted to hide his misfortune with an ample turban or headdress. But his hairdresser of course knew the secret. He was told not to mention it. He could not keep the secret; so he went out into the meadow, dug a hole in the ground, whispered the story into it, and covered the hole up. A thick bed of reeds sprang up in the meadow, and began whispering the story and saying "King Midas has a donkey's ears." Some of his people heard and began to gossip about it. Midas found out who had told, and was going to kill him, but decided not to. Apollo then came and gave him normal ears again, as he had completely shown that he had changed his ways. Also, as a gift, Apollo gave Midas his daughter back. In glee, Midas grabbed his daughter, and she returned to her golden state. Angrily Midas dug his hands into the earth, and in some versions of mythology it is said that even Atlas himself was turned to gold. Midas then prayed to Cupid, begging him to get revenge on Apollo. Cupid came to him, and told him to touch and turn one of his arrows into gold. Upon doing so, Cupid went to Apollo and shot him with the Golden Arrow. Apollo didn't turn to gold, however. It is said that Apollo himself was given headaches for all of eternity with the overwhelming sense of love and greed (gold).

Sarah Morris demonstrated (Morris 2004) that donkeys' ears were a Bronze Age royal attribute, borne by King Tarkasnawa (Greek Tarkondemos) of Mira, on a seal inscribed in both Hittite cuneiform and Luwian hieroglyphs: in this connection the myth would appear to justify for Greeks the exotic attribute.

See also

  • The tales of King Midas have been told by others with some variations: John Dryden; in the Wife of Bath's Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer, making Midas' queen Demodike (or Hermodike) of Kymi; Aristotle, Eudemus fr. 611, 37; Pollux 9, 83,[17]) the betrayer of the secret.
  • Berecynthian Hero (after Mt. Berecynthus in Phrygia)


  1. ^ The reign-names Midas and Gordias alternate in historic Phrygia: Herodotus (i.14) tells an anecdote of Adrastus "the son of Gordias, son of Midas" at the court of Croesus.
  2. ^ "King Midas, a Phrygian, son of Cybele" (Hyginus, Fabulae 274). Some accounts place the youth of Midas in Macedonian Bromium (Graves 1960:83.a).
  3. ^ Mygdonia was part of Macedon in historical times.
  4. ^ Herodotus, Histories 8.138.1
  5. ^ Herodotus' place is identified with Aegae by many readers, such as N.G.L. Hammond, A History of Macedonia I (Oxford 1972) p. 410, and Panayiotis B. Faklaris, "Aegae: Determining the Site of the First Capital of the Macedonians" American Journal of Archaeology 98.4 (October 1994, pp 609-616) p. 613 and note. Are the "rose gardens" a late interpolation? Though the rose was associated with Aphrodite in Rhodes and Cyprus, roses do not figure otherwise in Greek myth, and Greek rose gardens were adopted from Persian models: not Macedon, however, but Midas' other domain, Phrygia, became a Persian satrapy in 546 BCE.
  6. ^ Histories i.14.
  7. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.4.1. Ancyra was actually older even than that.
  8. ^ Science News, "King Midas' modern mourners"
  9. ^ On-line text at
  10. ^ This myth appears in a fragment of Aristotle, Eudemus, (fr.6); Pausanias was aware that Midas mixed water with wine to capture Silenus (Description of Greece 1.4.1); a muddled version is recounted in Flavius Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana, vi.27: "Midas himself had some of the blood of satyrs in his veins, as was clear from the shape of his ears; and a satyr once, trespassing on his kinship with Midas, made merry at the expense of his ears, not only singing about them, but piping about them. Well, Midas, I understand, had heard from his mother that when a satyr is overcome by wine he falls asleep, and at such times comes to his senses and will make friends with you; so he mixed wine which he had in his palace in a fountain and let the satyr get at it, and the latter drank it up and was overcome."
  11. ^ Aelian, Varia Historia iii.18 relates some of Silenus' accounts (Graves 1960:83.b.3).
  12. ^ Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales.
  13. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae274
  14. ^ This myth sets Midas in another setting. "Midas himself had some of the blood of satyrs in his veins, as was clear from the shape of his ears" was the assertion of Flavius Philostratus, in his Life of Apollonius of Tyana (vi.27), not always a dependable repository of myth (on-line).
  15. ^ Cicero On Divinationi.36; Valerius Maximus, i.6.3; Ovid, Metamorphoses, xi.92f.
  16. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 191.
  17. ^ Greek language reference


  • Graves, Robert, 1960. The Greek Myths, rev. ed., 83.a-g.
  • Sarah Morris, "Midas as Mule: Anatolia in Greek Myth and Phrygian Kingship" (abstract), American Philological Society Annual Meeting, 2004.
  • (University of Pennsylvania) "The Funerary feast of King Midas" "Tomb of Midas" report
  • Calos Parada, "Midas" Separating historical Midas from mythical Midas.
  • Herodotus on Midas
  • Classical references to Midas, in English translations .
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Midas". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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