For the legend of Gordias, a person who was taken by the people and made King, in obedience to the command of the oracle, see Gordias.

In the Nathaniel Hawthorne version of the Midas myth, Midas's daughter turns to a statue when he touches her. Illustration by Walter Crane for the 1893 edition.

Midas or King Midas is popularly remembered in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. This was called the Golden touch, or the Midas touch.[1] He bears some relation to the historical Mita, king of the Mushki in Western Anatolia in the later 8th century BC.[2]King Mita of Mushki warred with Sargon II of Assyria and defended his kingdom of Phrygia from the Cimmerians.



There are some different accounts of Midas' life. In one, Midas was king[3] of Pessinus, a city of Phrygia, who as a child was adopted by the king Gordias and Cybele, the goddess whose consort he was, and who (by some accounts) was the goddess-mother of Midas himself.[4] Some accounts place the youth of Midas in Macedonian Bermion (See Bryges)[5] In Thracian Mygdonia,[6] Midas was known for his garden of roses: Herodotus[7] 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 Macedonians, Silenos was taken captive.[8] According to the Iliad (V.860), he had one son, Lityerses, the demonic reaper of men, but in some variations of the myth he instead had a daughter, Zoë or "life".

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 for sending the eagle. 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.[9]

The Great Tumulus

Reconstruction of the Tumulus MM burial

Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey

In 1957, Rodney Young and a team from the University of Pennsylvania[10] opened a chamber tomb at the heart of the Great Tumulus (in Greek, Μεγάλη Τούμπα) – 53 meters in height, about 300 meters 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[11] complete with remains of the funeral feast and "the best collection of Iron Age drinking vessels ever uncovered".[12] This inner chamber was rather large; 5.15 meters by 6.2 meters in breadth and 3.25 meters high. On the remains of a wooden coffin in the northwest corner of the tomb lay a skeleton of a man 1.59 meters in height and about 60 years old.[13] In the tomb were found an ornate inlaid table, two inlaid serving stands, and eight other tables, as well as bronze and pottery vessels and bronze fibulae.[14] Although no identifying texts were originally associated with the site, it was called Tumulus MM (for "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 (Gordias).

2010)]</ref> That "tomb" is no longer believed to be a tomb, but rather a sacred site to Cybele.


Once, as Ovid relates in Metamorphoses XI[15] Dionysus found his old schoolmaster and foster father, the satyr Silenus, missing.[16]

The old satyr had been drinking wine and had wandered away drunk, later to be 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 delighted Midas and his friends with stories and songs.[17]

On the eleventh day, he brought Silenus back to Dionysus in Lydia. Dionysus offered Midas his 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 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 in A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (1852), Midas found that when he touched his daughter, she turned into a statue as well.

Now, Midas hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Dionysus his prayer heard, and consented; he told Midas to wash in the river Pactolus.

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 the river Pactolus was so rich in gold, and the wealth of the dynasty claiming Midas as its forefather no doubt the impetus for this aetiological myth. Gold was perhaps not the only metallic source of Midas' riches: "King Midas, a Phrygian, son of Cybele, first discovered black and white lead".[18]

Midas, now hating wealth and splendor, moved to the country and became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields and satyr.[19] Roman mythographers[20] asserted that his tutor in music was Orpheus.

Once, Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and challenged 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 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 caused them to become the ears of a donkey.[21] 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 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's ears".[22]

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 for Greeks, to justify the exotic attribute.

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 killed 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.[23]

See also

  • The tales of King Midas have been told by many with some variations: by John Dryden; by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Wife of Bath's Tale; making Midas' queen the betrayer of the secret (as Midas' wife, Aristotle names Demodike (or Hermodike) of Kyme; Eudemus fr. 611, 37; Pollux 9, 83,[24]); by Ted Hughes in Tales from Ovid; and by Carol Ann Duffy in "Mrs. Midas" from The World's Wife.
  • Midas is also called the Berecynthian hero, after Mount Berecynthus in Phrygia).
  • The Midas touch, see Grey goo effect, MG, and Ice-nine.
  • Philosopher's Stone
  • Alchemy
  • The Greek Level 'King Midas' Palace' in the first Tomb Raider game features (unsurprisingly) his palace, and his giant stone hand. If Lara steps onto the hand she will turn to gold and it is game over.[25]
  • King Midas also makes an appearance in the PSP game God of War: Ghost of Sparta, where he is found by Kratos and, after his hand burned off in a river of lava, thrown into a lava-fall by the Spartan, turning it into gold.
  • Children's movies and television shows often tell the story as a fairy tale, generally replacing the gods with fairies, genies, a fairy godmother, or even the wizards and witches.


  1. ^ In alchemy, the transmutation of an object into gold is known as chrysopoeia.
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "King Midas, a Phrygian, son of Cybele" (Hyginus, Fabulae 274).
  5. ^ "Bromium" in Graves 1960:83.a; Greek traditions of the migration from Macedon to Anatolia are examined— as purely literary constructions— in Peter Carrington, "The Heroic Age of Phrygia in Ancient Literature and Art" Anatolian Studies 27 (1977:117-126).
  6. ^ Mygdonia became part of Macedon in historical times.
  7. ^ Herodotus, Histories 8.138.1
  8. ^ 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 otherwise do not appear in Greek mythology, and Greek rose gardens were not adopted from Macedonian, but from Persian models: Midas' other domain, Phrygia, became a Persian satrapy in 546 BCE.
  9. ^ Arrian, Alexandri Anabasis, B.3.4-6
  10. ^ Rodney Young, Three Great Early Tumuli: The Gordion Excavations Final Reports, Volume 1, (1981):79-102.
  11. ^ Keith DeVries, "Greek Pottery and Gordion Chronology," in Lisa Kealhofer, The Archaeology of Midas and the Phrygians: Recent Work at Gordion (2005):42ff. Sturt Manning, et al., "Anatolian Tree Rings and a New Chronology for the East Mediterranean Bronze-Iron Ages," Science 294(2001):2534.
  12. ^ Science News, "King Midas' modern mourners"
  13. ^ Elizabeth Simpson, "Midas' Bed and a Royal Phrygian Funeral," Journal of Field Archaeology 17(1990):69-87.
  14. ^ Young (1981):102-190. Elizabeth Simpson, "Phrygian Furniture from Gordion," in The Furniture of Western Asia: Ancient and Traditional, edited by Georgina Herrmann (1996):187-209.
  15. ^ On-line text at Theoi.com
  16. ^ 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".
  17. ^ Aelian, Varia Historia iii.18 relates some of Silenus' accounts (Graves 1960:83.b.3).
  18. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae274
  19. ^ 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 (vi.27), not always a dependable repository of myth. (on-line)
  20. ^ Cicero On Divinationi.36; Valerius Maximus, i.6.3; Ovid, Metamorphoses, xi.92f.
  21. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 191.
  22. ^ The whispering sound of reeds is an ancient literary trope: the Sumerian Instructions of Shurppak (3rd millennium BCE) warn "The reed-beds are ..., they can hide (?) slander". (Instructions of Shuruppak, lines 92-93).
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Greek language reference
  25. ^ King Midas Hand Death


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