Midas (/ˈmaɪdəs/; Greek: Μίδας) is the name of at least three
members of the royal house of Phrygia.
The most famous King
Midas is popularly remembered in Greek mythology
for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. This came to
be called the golden touch, or the
Midas touch. The Phrygian city
Midaeum was presumably named after this Midas, and this is probably
Midas that according to Pausanias founded Ancyra.
According to Aristotle, legend held that
Midas died of starvation as a
result of his "vain prayer" for the gold touch. The legends told
Midas and his father Gordias, credited with founding the
Phrygian capital city
Gordium and tying the Gordian Knot, indicate
that they were believed to have lived sometime in the 2nd millennium
BC, well before the Trojan War. However,
Homer does not mention Midas
or Gordias, while instead mentioning two other Phrygian kings, Mygdon
Phrygia in the late 8th century BC, up until
the sacking of
Gordium by the Cimmerians, when he is said to have
committed suicide. Most historians believe this
Midas is the same
person as the Mita, called king of the
Mushki in Assyrian texts, who
Assyria and its Anatolian provinces during the same
Midas is said by
Herodotus to have been a member of the royal
Phrygia and the grandfather of an
Adrastus who fled Phrygia
after accidentally killing his brother and took asylum in
the reign of Croesus.
Phrygia was by that time a Lydian subject.
Herodotus says that
Croesus regarded the Phrygian royal house as
"friends" but does not mention whether the Phrygian royal house still
ruled as (vassal) kings of Phrygia.
2.1 Golden Touch
2.2 Ears of a Donkey
2.2.1 Similar myths in other cultures
4 Possible tomb
5 See also
There are many, and often contradictory, legends about the most
ancient King Midas. In one,
Midas was king of Pessinus, a city of
Phrygia, who as a child was adopted by King
Gordias and Cybele, the
goddess whose consort he was, and who (by some accounts) was the
Midas himself. Some accounts place the youth of
Midas in Macedonian Bermion (See Bryges) In Thracian Mygdonia,
Herodotus referred to a wild rose garden at the foot of Mount Bermion
as "the garden of
Midas son of Gordias, where roses grow of
themselves, each bearing sixty blossoms and of surpassing
Herodotus says elsewhere that Phrygians anciently lived
in Europe where they were known as Bryges, and the existence of
the garden implies that
Herodotus believed that
Midas lived prior to a
Phrygian migration to Anatolia.
According to some accounts,
Midas had a son, Lityerses, the demonic
reaper of men, but in some variations of the myth he instead had a
daughter, Zoë or "life". According to other accounts he had a son
Arrian gives an alternative story of the descent and life of Midas.
According to him,
Midas was the son of Gordios, a poor peasant, and a
Telmissian maiden of the prophetic race. When
Midas grew up to be a
handsome and valiant man, the Phrygians were harassed by civil
discord, and consulting the oracle, they were told that a wagon would
bring them a king, who would put an end to their discord. While they
were still deliberating,
Midas arrived with his father and mother, and
stopped near the assembly, wagon and all. They, comparing the oracular
response with this occurrence, decided that this was the person whom
the god told them the wagon would bring. They therefore appointed
Midas king and he, putting an end to their discord, dedicated his
father’s wagon in the citadel as a thank-offering to Zeus the king.
In addition to this the following saying was current concerning the
wagon, that whosoever could loosen the cord of the yoke of this wagon,
was destined to gain the rule of Asia. This someone was to be
Alexander the Great. In other versions of the legend, it was
Gordias who arrived humbly in the cart and made the
Herodotus said that a "
Midas son of Gordias" made an offering to the
Oracle of Delphi
Oracle of Delphi of a royal throne "from which he made judgments" that
were "well worth seeing", and that this
Midas was the only foreigner
to make an offering to Delphi before Gyges of Lydia. The
Midas of the 8th century BC and Gyges are believed to have
been contemporaries, so it seems most likely that
that the throne was donated by the earlier, legendary King Midas.
However, some historians believe that this throne was donated by the
later, historical King Midas.
One day, as
Ovid relates in Metamorphoses XI,
Dionysus found that
his old schoolmaster and foster father, the satyr Silenus, was
missing. The old satyr had been drinking wine and wandered away
drunk, to be found by some Phrygian peasants who carried him to their
Silenus passed out in Midas' rose garden).
Midas recognized him and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for
ten days and nights with politeness, while
his friends with stories and songs. On the eleventh day, he
Silenus back to
Dionysus in Lydia.
choice of whatever reward he wished for.
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; both turned to gold. Overjoyed, as
soon as he got home, he touched every rose in the rose garden, and all
became gold. He ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. Upon
discovering how even the food and drink turned into gold in his hands,
he regretted his wish and cursed it.
Claudian states in his In
Rufinem: "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."
In a version told by
Nathaniel Hawthorne in A Wonder-Book for Girls
and Boys (1852), Midas' daughter came to him, upset about the roses
that had lost their fragrance and become hard, and when he reached out
to comfort her, found that when he touched his daughter, she turned to
gold as well. Now,
Midas hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to
Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation.
Dionysus heard his
prayer, and consented; telling
Midas to wash in the river Pactolus.
Then, whatever he put into the water would be reversed of the touch.
Midas did so, and when he touched the waters, the power flowed into
the river, and the river sands turned into gold. This explained why
Pactolus was so rich in gold, and the wealth of the dynasty
Midas as its forefather no doubt the impetus for this
Gold was perhaps not the only metallic source of
Midas' riches: "King Midas, a Phrygian, son of Cybele, first
discovered black and white lead".
Ears of a Donkey
Midas, now hating wealth and splendor, moved to the country and became
a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields and satyr. Roman
mythographers asserted that his tutor in music was Orpheus.
Once, Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo,
Apollo 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 one agreed with the judgment.
Midas dissented, and
questioned the justice of the award.
Apollo would not suffer such a
depraved pair of ears any longer, and said "Must have ears of an
ass!", which caused Midas's ears to become those of a donkey. The
myth is illustrated by two paintings, "
Apollo and Marsyas" by Palma il
Giovane (1544–1628), one depicting the scene before, and one after,
Midas was mortified at this mishap. He attempted to
hide his misfortune under an ample turban or headdress, but his barber
of course knew the secret, so was told not to mention it. However, the
barber could not keep the secret; he went out into the meadow, dug a
hole in the ground, whispered the story into it, then covered the hole
up. A thick bed of reeds later sprang up in the meadow, and began
whispering the story, saying "King
Midas has an ass' ears". Some
sources said that
Midas killed himself by drinking the blood of an ox.
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
Luwian hieroglyphs: in this connection, the myth would appear for
Greeks to justify the exotic attribute.
The stories of the contests with
Apollo of Pan and
Marsyas were very
often confused, so Titian's Flaying of
Marsyas includes a figure of
Midas (who may be a self-portrait), though his ears seem normal.
Similar myths in other cultures
In pre-Islamic legend of Central Asia, the king of the Ossounes of the
Yenisei basin had donkey's ears. He would hide them, and order each of
his barbers murdered to hide his secret. The last barber among his
people was counselled to whisper the heavy secret into a well after
sundown, but he didn't cover the well afterwards. The well water rose
and flooded the kingdom, creating the waters of Lake Issyk-Kul.
According to an Irish legend, the king
Labraid Loingsech had horse's
ears, something he was concerned to keep quiet. He had his hair cut
once a year, and the barber, who was chosen by lot, was immediately
put to death. A widow, hearing that her only son had been chosen to
cut the king's hair, begged the king not to kill him, and he agreed,
so long as the barber kept his secret. The burden of the secret was so
heavy that the barber fell ill. A druid advised him to go to a
crossroads and tell his secret to the first tree he came to, and he
would be relieved of his burden and be well again. He told the secret
to a large willow. Soon after this, however, a harper named Craiftine
broke his instrument, and made a new one out of the very willow the
barber had told his secret to. Whenever he played it, the harp sang
"Labraid Lorc has horse's ears". Labraid repented of all the barbers
he had put to death and admitted his secret.
Midas who ruled
Phrygia in the late 8th century BC is known
from Greek and Assyrian sources. According to the former, he married a
Greek princess, Damodice daughter of Agamemnon of Cyme, and traded
extensively with the Greeks. Damodice is credited with inventing
coined money by
Julius Pollux after she married Midas. Some
historians believe this
Midas donated the throne that
was offered to the
Oracle of Delphi
Oracle of Delphi by "
Midas son of Gordias" (see
above). Assyrian tablets from the reign of
Sargon II record attacks by
a "Mita", king of the Mushki, against Assyria's eastern Anatolian
provinces. Some historians believe Assyrian texts called this Midas
king of the "Mushki" because he had subjected the eastern Anatolian
people of that name and incorporated them into his army. Greek sources
including Strabo say that
Midas committed suicide by drinking
bulls' blood during an attack by the Cimmerians, which
to around 695 BC and
Julius Africanus to around 676 BC. Archeology has
Gordium was destroyed and burned around that time.
Reconstruction of the
Tumulus MM burial, Museum of Anatolian
Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey.
In 1957, Rodney Young and a team from the University of Pennsylvania
opened a chamber tomb at the heart of the Great
Tumulus (in Greek,
Μεγάλη Τούμπα)—53 metres in height, about
300 metres in diameter—on the site of ancient Gordion (modern
Yassihöyük, Turkey), where there are more than 100 tumuli of
different sizes and from different periods. They discovered a
royal burial, its timbers recently dated as cut to about 740 BC
complete with remains of the funeral feast and "the best collection of
Iron Age drinking vessels ever uncovered". This inner chamber was
rather large: 5.15 metres by 6.2 metres in breadth and
3.25 metres high. On the remains of a wooden coffin in the
northwest corner of the tomb lay a skeleton of a man 1.59 metres
in height and about 60 years old. In the tomb were found an ornate
inlaid table, two inlaid serving stands, and eight other tables
(Gordion Furniture and Wooden Artifacts), as well as bronze and
pottery vessels and bronze fibulae. Although no identifying texts
were originally associated with the site, it was called
Midas Mound") by the excavator. As this funerary monument was
erected before the traditional date given for the death of King Midas
in the early 7th century BC, it is now generally thought to have
covered the burial of his father.
Philosopher's stone, mythic object in Alchemy, purported to transmute
base materials into gold
The Golden Touch, a
Silly Symphony cartoon based on the Greek myth of
^ In alchemy, the transmutation of an object into gold is known as
^ Pausanias 1.4.5.
^ Aristotle, Politics, 1.1257b.
^ See for example Encyclopædia Britannica; also: "Virtually the only
figure in Phrygian history who can be recognized as a distinct
individual", begins Lynn E. Roller, "The Legend of Midas", Classical
Antiquity, 22 (October 1983):299-313.
^ "King Midas, a Phrygian, son of Cybele" (Hyginus,
^ "Bromium" in Graves 1960:83.a; Greek traditions of the migration
Macedon to Anatolia are examined— as purely literary
constructions— in Peter Carrington, "The Heroic Age of
Ancient Literature and Art" Anatolian Studies 27 (1977:117-126).
^ Mygdonia became part of
Macedon in historical times.
^ Herodotus, Histories 8.138.1
^ Arrian, Alexandri Anabasis, B.3.4-6
^ See for example Encyclopædia Britannica, notes to Penguin edition
^ On-line text at Theoi.com
^ 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
^ Aelian, Varia Historia iii.18 relates some of Silenus' accounts
^ Claudian, In Rufinem
^ Hyginus, Fabulae274
^ This myth puts
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
Apollonius of Tyana (vi.27), not always a dependable repository of
Cicero On Divinationi.36; Valerius Maximus, i.6.3; Ovid,
^ The whispering sound of reeds is an ancient literary trope: the
Sumerian Instructions of Shuruppak (3rd millennium BCE) warn "The
reed-beds are ..., they can hide (?) slander". (Instructions of
Shuruppak, lines 92-93).
^ Hall, James, Hall's Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, pp.
27-28, 1996 (2nd edn.), John Murray, ISBN 0719541476
^ The legend is related in Ella Maillart, Dervla Murphy, Turkestan
solo: a journey through Central Asia (1938) 2005:48f; a wholly
separate origin uncontaminated by the legend of
Midas is not likely.
^ Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn 1.29-1.30
^ The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology, Martin Persson Nilsson,
University of California Press, 1972, pg48
^ Encyclopædia Britannica.
^ Rodney Young, Three Great Early Tumuli: The Gordion Excavations
Final Reports, Volume 1, (1981):79-102.
^ DeVries, Keith (2005). "Greek Pottery and Gordion Chronology". In
Kealhofer, Lisa. The Archaeology of
Midas and the Phrygians: Recent
Work at Gordion. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania Museum of
Archaeology and Anthropology. pp. 42ff.
ISBN 1-931707-76-6. Manning, Sturt; et al. (2001).
"Anatolian Tree Rings and a New Chronology for the East Mediterranean
Bronze-Iron Ages". Science. 294 (5551): 2532–2535 [p. 2534].
doi:10.1126/science.1066112. PMID 11743159.
^ "King Midas' modern mourners". Science News. November 4, 2000.
^ Simpson, Elizabeth (1990). "Midas' Bed and a Royal Phrygian
Funeral". Journal of Field Archaeology. 17 (1): 69–87.
^ Young (1981):102-190. Simpson, Elizabeth (1996). "Phrygian Furniture
from Gordion". In Herrmann, Georgina. The Furniture of Western Asia:
Ancient and Traditional. Mainz: Philipp Von Zabern.
pp. 187–209. ISBN 3-8053-1838-3.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to King Midas.
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,
"The Funerary feast of King Midas" (University of Pennsylvania) –
"Tomb of Midas" report
Calos Parada, "Midas" – Separating historical
Midas from mythical
Herodotus on Midas
Theoi.com Classical references to Midas, in English translations.
"Reconstruction of King Midas" – Reconstruction of "King Midas" by