A traditional story re-told by Andrew Wright
One day, Silenus, the fat, drunken old teacher of the God, Dionysus, fell asleep in the famous rose gardens of King Midas.
The gardeners found Silenus and took him to the king who looked after him for several days. King Midas was not a kind and hospitable man but wanted Dionysus to be grateful to him.
Dionysus came to the palace to find his old teacher and – Yes- he was grateful! He asked King Midas what reward he wanted and he would make sure he got it.
Now King Midas liked gold. He liked gold so much that he didn’t just want one single gold object but as much gold as possible. He had a good idea…at least, he thought it was a good idea!
“Everything I touch must turn into gold!”
“Alright, if that is what you want. ”
King Midas didn’t notice Dionysus and Silenus leaving. He was so greedy to begin! He touched the gate; it turned into gold! He touched the fountain; it turned into gold and threw an arc of golden droplets to fall into a golden pond! He touched a statue; it turned into gold and played a golden harp. He ran around the garden touching twigs, and stones and flowers and even a wheelbarrow and they all turned into the finest gold.
He stood for a moment, gasping, his eyes staring, his head jerking from side to side as he looked for other things he might touch and turn into gold.
“Master, come and take a rest!” urged his chancellor.
And so he went into the palace and sat at his table to take a drink and something to eat.
His lips touched the wine and the wine became liquid gold.
His fingers touched the honeyed cake and the cake and the honey became solid gold.
The horror of his situation stunned him.
“Father! What’s wrong?” His daughter, who heard his cries of horror, came into the banqueting hall.
Before he could stop himself King Midas embraced his daughter and she turned to a priceless, lifeless hunk of gold.
He sat on a golden chair. His servants shrank from him.
“We must go and find Dionysus!” one of them said. “We must find him and beg him to come here to King Midas!”
Dionysus came. He knew that the wish of King Midas had been unwise. He was generous enough to withdraw the wish.
“Go and bathe in the river of Pactolus!”
King Midas bathed in the river of Pactolus and his greedy wish was washed away. Since that time the sands of the River Pactolus have glistened with gold.
A greedy and selfish love for material things is the very opposite of love for another person which is guided by selflessness and empathy.
This story can be seen to represent all greedy individuals who finish by destroying their world and the world of everybody else. But it can also be seen as representing a society which through blind material greed ruins the very environment in which the society lives. The story is thus very relevant for our situation today.
Gold has been the marker of wealth for millenia. In Macedonia, Northern Greece, there was a particularly celebrated tradition of golden ornaments in ancient times. King Midas was the king of Bromium in Macedonia. He had a long walk to clean himself of his magical golden touch! The river, Pactolus is in Phyrgia, what is now Western Turkey.