THE MYTH MAN PRESENTS
THE MYTH OF THE MONTH

KING MIDAS
THE ASS WITH THE GOLDEN TOUCH

Myth Man

You're 'it', King!

The first time I met King Midas, he was desperately trying to convince some servants to play a game of tag with him, but his slaves wanted nothing to do with that. No way! No matter how he begged, cajoled, threatened or tried to bribe them, the minions refused and ran away.

Can you blame the poor palace staff? Behind King Midas stood frozen his beloved hunting dog, Muffler, now reduced to literally a golden retriever. The King had just stooped to pet his favorite canine and it had turned to solid gold! Midas couldn't believe it!

Well, believe it or not, that was the good news. The bad news was, ditto for the King's daughter: She too had been transformed into a golden statue by the accursed touch of her father.

Bummer. Hate when that happens. And to add insult to injury, now nobody wanted to play tag with him. King Midas was having a bad day.

I'm sure it's happened to you...

But I'm getting way ahead of myself. I can hear you asking, Who is this forlorn King Midas, and why does everything he touches turn to gold? Isn't that supposed to be a good thing? What went wrong?

These were supposed to be the King's golden years, after all!

Ok, ok, let me rephrase that...

Baby Midas

The identity of Midas' parents was always a mystery and a matter of heated debate late night down at the hangout of the gods, Thanasi's Olympus Greek Restaurant. The common consensus was that his mother was the great Rhea (Cybele), mother of the gods, but I personally doubt that, for it would make him half-brother to Zeus, and surely my 'godfather' would have mentioned that to me. Nah. No way was Midas a son of Rhea...

Well, at least we know who his father was, right? Wrong! Many held that King Gordius (of Gordian Knot fame, more on him later) was Midas' real father, but I know for a fact that Gordie was only his step-father.

I can still hear uncle Homer and grandpa Hesiod, going at it down at Thanasi's Olympus, way past closing time:

Homer: "His dad was Gordius."

Hesiod: "Knot!"

Homer: "Was so!"

Hesiod: "Was Knot!"

Homer: "Afraid sew!"

Hesiod: "A frayed Knot!"

Boys will be boys...Those two could never agree on anything...But man, did I love them, they were so darn clever...

People sensed that Midas was an odd one right off the bat. The signs were easy to read: While still an infant, the servants were amazed to witness a procession of ants carrying grains of wheat up the side of his cradle and placing them between his lips as he slept.

When the oracles were asked to explain this omen they said that Midas was a special child who would amass great power and wealth.

One oracle differed from the majority and claimed that he thought it meant that Midas "has ants in the pants and he needs to dance," but he was totally stoned on noxious fumes at the time and was dismissed as a quack.

Ants in the pants!

King Midas

Sure enough, Midas grew up to become the pleasure-loving King of Macedonia, where he ruled over the Brigians (also known as Moschians.) His reign was not unremarkable. Among his numerous contributions to Greek society, one could count the majestic throne that he donated to the Oracle at Delphi, Apollo's prophetic seat. This magnificent throne was of unparalleled quality and elevated the stature of Midas among his subjects.

Midas was also responsible for discovering white and black lead, which led most to believe that he was a man of keen mind. He proved them wrong as soon we will see.

Perhaps the one thing that most distinguished King Midas was his love of flowers, particularly roses. The King's gardens were renowned and he was the first person ever to plant a rose garden. He would spend countless hours each day on his glorious grounds, and when he wasn't thus occupied, he would while his time grooving on funky music and drinking vintage wine.

Let's just say that the word "work" was alien to King Midas. The dude had it made. What more could he ask for?

Cousin Danny

The Army of Dionysus!

It just so happened that my cousin Dionysus, beloved god of wine, was on his current campaign to Asia and India. He was faithfully attended by a multitude of wild and crazy Satyrs and a huge host of gorgeous Maenads, who were these positively berserk party girls with absolutely no inhibitions and even less clothing.

Ha! Let me tell you a bit about this astounding army of cousin Danny. I went along on the expedition as official chronicler and I'm pleased to report that I've nearly recovered from the experience...

Once my brain cells return to normal, I may even one day coherently write about this incredible trek...

Well. It was an incredible sight to behold this host of frenzied and delirious souls for the first time, similar to a huge exotic circus blasting into town, only a million times as loud and exciting.

The frenetic Satyrs...The fevered Maenads...

The music...the wine... the dancing...

The fevered Maenads...

Did I mention the fevered Maenads?

Fevered Maenads

Oh my...Let's just say cousin Danny never had a problem signing up new recruits...

"Sir, no sir!"

Fall in, soldier! Here's your vintage weapon, a huge flask of wine. Plenty of ammunition. In fact, endless ammunition. Your comrades in arm will be these delirious and practically naked women with the wild glint in their bloodshot eyes. Now go out there and fight for your right to party!

"Sir, yes sir!"

Needless to say the lineup to enlist in the army of Dionysus stretched from Greece to India and back, with a waiting list as big as the Universe and steadily fermenting...er...expanding...

They had the best marching songs to boot! The mad Satyrs would start things off on the right foot:

We love drinking Danny's wine
chorus: We love drinking Danny's wine

'Cause it makes us feel so fine
'Cause it makes us feel so fine

Not to be outdone, the insane Maenads would chime in adroitly, responding in equally worshipful fashion as they paid homage to their god Dionysus:

Danny's Army doesn't lose
Danny's Army doesn't lose

You got swords but we got booze
You got swords but we got booze

Did I mention how much I liked hanging with the fevered Maenads?

Cousin Danny. Got to love the handsome devil, even when he officially changed his name to Bacchus, joined the Witness Protection Program and slid over to Italy. What's up with that, oh Danny boy? Greece not big enough for you?

Traitor! But I can't say I blame him...have you ever laid eyes on a Roman Maenad?

Oh my...fevered to the max...

Maenads in a frenzy!

Silenus Gets Stoned...

So you can imagine the scenarios that would unfold as the Army of Dionysus roared into cities and towns. Within hours the entire region would be faithful converts and the "conquering" legions would celebrate by holding a Bacchanal that would do Bacchus proud.

Yes. I am here to tell you that cousin Danny knew how to throw a splendid victory party.

It was during one of these post-victory bashes that Silenus, a ridiculously fat and obtuse-looking old man with a strong fondness for wine, who was in the retinue of Dionysus, got a serious buzz on and strayed away from the rest of the rowdy drunks ...er...victory celebrants.

Now, you must understand that Silenus wasn't just another frenzied Satyr in the retinue of the god of wine. This old man had been the one entrusted with the education of baby Dionysus when the young god was hiding from the wrath of Hera. Silenus had been instrumental in his upbringing and it was little wonder that cousin Danny held his mentor in the highest esteem.

But let's be straight here, even though it was my candidness that got me tossed from Mount Olympus in the first place: Silenus was a drunk! Fat dude was an alcoholic, make no mistake about it.

So it was little wonder that the wise old fool wandered away from the victory gathering and soon found himself completely lost. No problem, Silenus was so stoned that he didn't even realize his predicament. Hither and fro his (equally lost) donkey carried its master, braying for a sign from god.

Braying for a sign from god.

Alas, no sign. Danny was far too busy with the newly-recruited Maenads to notice Silenus was gone.

Silenus and his ass

Well, wouldn't you know it. Eventually Silenus stumbled on his ass to the palace of King Midas and proceeded to pass out smack in the middle of the King's treasured rose bushes.

Ouch! Hate when that happens! Especially when I'm nude.

But Silenus was too gone to notice the thorns, and proceeded to snore off his buzz snug in the rose garden. The old man dreamt that he was sleeping on a bed of nails that for some reason smelled simply divine. Silenus couldn't figure out the dream, but it wasn't half bad...

That's where the King's gardeners discovered this odd man the next morning, sleeping and snoring merrily, and you can imagine their fear, shock and surprise.

"Yo, Dimitri! What in the name of Hades is that creature in the rose bushes? It looks like a giant wild boar, but it's far too ugly!"

"I don't know, Yanni, but the damn beast hasn't got a stitch of clothing on. I think I'm going to lose my breakfast!"

The servants poked and prodded Silenus but he simply rolled over and made himself more comfortable among the piercing thorns. Bummer. At last losing their apprehension, the gardeners neared the sleeping 'beauty' and proceeded to cover his nakedness by laying garlands of flowers on his head, and roses and other floral wreaths all over the fat man's body.

I'm sure it's happened to you following a good party.

Can you say 'hilarious'? What a hoot! Thus ridiculously attired, and finally semi-conscious, Silenus was brought before King Midas and ordered to state his case. The good King did well just managing to control his laughter at the sight of this fat nature boy in floral drag, dried blood clotting where the roses left their signatures.

But Silenus was no fool. A drunk, yes. A fool, no. As a matter of fact he was the second best story teller in Danny's camp...

He told King Midas who he was and made it clear that the great god Dionysus was quite fond of him.

"I have high friends in low places, your majesty!" he slurred. "I was a Mentor before I went mental."

Okay.

To endear himself further with the King, Silenus then regaled the Court with exquisite and exotic tales of the places that Danny's Army had been and the wonderful people they had met on the recent expedition to India.

For ten days and ten nights Silenus was the honored guest of King Midas and I swear the old man didn't shut up the entire time! He entertained the King and his Court with tale after tale, simultaneously putting a major dent in the palace wine cellar.

Ah, the stories Silenus spun...

Atlantis

He told the King mysterious stories about an immense continent lying beyond the great Oceanus, unlike any known before, where the beautiful inhabitants lived in rich and splendid cities. These gigantic people enjoyed long and happy lives, Silenus said, their educators were of the highest possible caliber, and their legal system was remarkably just.

They did not believe in war, wisely preferring to share love, and their knowledge and Awareness of life's inner mysteries were unmatched. These offspring of very ancient gods claimed that before anything could exist in physical reality, first it must live inside the soul, and used their nightly dreams to imaginatively and creatively fashion their daily world.

They recognized that Nature and the animals were their brothers and sisters and thus the Atlantians, as they were called, lived in joyous union with the vibrant world they had masterfully created. They never consciously took more than they needed for sustenance, for they knew that to be a violation of Nature.

They revered Mother Earth for they knew that she was their child.

The concept of War for them had long ceased to exist, because they realized that to kill was to be killed...

Thus, their only commandment to their fellows was that:

"Thou Shall Not Kill, Even In The Pursuit of Your Ideals".

The Atlantians knew that we come upon the world, not by chance but by design, said Silenus, and he raved and marveled at their guilt-free compassion.

Between hearty chugs of primo vino Danny's mentor spoke about the three other magnificent civilizations that existed even before the time of Atlantis - long, long before, said the Atlantians - and how they had all met their catastrophic end, either through self-destruction, or when Gaea, Mother Earth, in anger had shifted on her axis, devouring them in her belly or beneath her waters and ice packs.

The Atlantians had acquired much of their sophistication from these Others and were keen on sharing the mysteries with the humans who cohabited their planet, for in their wisdom they knew that even their days were numbered. Incredibly, their expected and inevitable demise did not concern them in the least, Silenus said, shaking his head. In fact, they seemed to long for the end, for they claimed that it signaled the next step in their spiritual growth.

He filled the King's head with wondrous stories: These wise inhabitants of the strange continent called Atlantis had once set out in huge numbers - ten million or more! - in ships to visit our lands and spread learning, awareness and culture, Silenus said. They had radiated to all parts of the world, but on arriving they had become disgusted with our barbaric and benighted ways and had returned to their homeland, never to be seen again.

Can you blame them? We weren't ready for the knowledge yet. Good thing that before they departed our area the Atlantians decided to build the Sphinx and some of the Pyramids, as signposts and hints for future eons. Rather than manual labor, these highly developed people used inner sound to craft these wonders.

They also left a whole lot more of their divine fingerprints all over the earth, but most of it is still buried under sand, ice or water, guarded by Gaea, patiently waiting to be discovered.

Patiently waiting to be discovered...

The Creek of 'Greek Style'

Silenus also told Midas about a terrible whirlpool that trapped all travelers. There were two streams that flowed nearby and lovely fruit trees grew on the banks of each stream. Yet if someone ate the fruit of one stream, he would lapse into a sad and pitiful state and would cry and groan until he would finally die of melancholy.

The fruit that grew by the other stream magically would renew the youth of even the oldest traveler...but then he would pass backwards through middle age, then would turn into a young man, then an adolescent, and at last he would become an infant...until he finally disappeared!

What a drag! Hate when that happens! How about you? One time, way before the actual exile, my aunt Hera got real angry at a poem I wrote about her and tossed me in the midst of the latter stream, force-feeding me some of the dastardly fruit.

Oh my...I literally saw my life flash before my eyes...backwards!

Yes. Sure enough I went 'Greek style' through the stages of man, and just as I thought that I would become a fetus and rejoin mama Nyx (Night) in her wondrous womb, my hero Hermes flew in, snatched me out of the stream, and delivered me to safety back on terra firma.

Hera wasn't too happy with cousin Hermes for saving me, needless to say, but she knew that Iris wasn't the most dependable courier on Olympus (rather flighty, to say the least), and she utilized Hermes far too often to risk messing with the Messenger god. Man, do I love cuz Hermy! Homeboy saved my satirical butt on more than one occasion, both he and my nephew Hercules. Talk about a couple of solid dudes in your corner!

But not even Hermes - nor my 'godfather' Zeus, for that matter - could save me from the wrath of Hera when all was said and done. But the story of my exile from Mount Olympus is a sad myth I'd prefer to share with you another day...

What's that you ask? What did I write about Hera that moved her to forcibly transport me to the 'Creek of Greek Style'? Well (sure hope she's not reading this!) you know how my aunt was always called cow-eyed by the ancient poets, as a sign of reverence? Let's just say I took it a couple of steps lower...(I can't say more, just in case Hera's reading this! In fact, I think she is, so...)

C'mon, auntie Hera, to err is human, to moo is bovine...I promise never to make fun of your anatomy again! I've been too long in exile! How many more labors must I perform before you forgive me?

But I digress...

King Midasized...

Midas Gets the Touch

For ten days and ten nights Silenus regaled King Midas with such stories and when he was ready to depart (the royal wine cellar had run dry), the King ordered a guide to escort the Satyr to Dionysus, who by now was worried out of his mind for his beloved teacher.

Needless to say, Dionysus was very happy and grateful to see Silenus return unscathed (save for the rose thorn wounds), so he bought a round or six for the house, and then he sent word with me to King Midas to name his reward - Midas could have anything he wished for.

You should have seen the look of sheer glee on the King's face once I delivered the news and the realization sank in that he could have whatever his little old heart desired.

Say what?...Anything at all? Goody! Let's see...Well...

I grinned to myself as I watched the wheels spin in Midas' cranium. My good buddy Apollo - who as the god of prophecy knew everything before it happened - had confided to me the ending of this morality play and I was awash in poetic irony. I kind of felt sorry for the King but knew that I could not interfere in the domain of the Fates.

It was up to King Midas to create his own reality. And how!

Ecstatic at his good fortune, King Midas impulsively replied that he wished that anything he touched would turn to gold. When I asked him if he was certain that's what he desired, he said:

"That's my final answer, Momus..."

Oh my...Hate it when strangers call me Momus, I much prefer Myth Man. Besides, Momus is persona non grata at Olympus...Paradise lost, I'm afraid...Her words still ring in my ears:

"Listen up, Momus: When thy opus becomes thy onus, thou art out on thy anus."

Thus spake Hera, as she gave me the boot to earth that fateful day. I've never used the name since. Call me Myth Man or don't call me at all, unless we're real good friends!

But again I digress with personal musings. I asked Midas one last time if indeed his wish was that all he touched turned to gold.

"That's my final answer, Momus," he repeated. The chump.

Who wants to be a millionaire? King Midas does! And did he ever hit the jackpot! He went into his garden and picked up a stone and at once it turned into gold. He could hardly believe his good fortune.

Same with his beautiful roses. As he touched them, they would transform to pure gold...a tree - gold...a blade of grass - solid gold! The bench he sat on - shining, precious gold!

Joy of joys! Praise be your name, Dionysus! He was delirious.

King Midas scooped up some sand and marveled to see it turn into gold dust as he let it fall to the ground. This is so unspeakably cool, he thought! I am rich beyond reason! I now have everything!

I am a god, he wanted to add, but he saw me watching bemused and checked himself. Still, I read his mind and smirked knowingly at him. The best is yet to come, I wanted to say to him. Just don't come ANYWHERE near me! I kept a respectful distance from this loaded weapon.

For hours King Midas entertained himself in his gardens. Chasing a butterfly, he giggled like a child when finally he caught it and it changed into a golden brooch. Same with the apple he plucked from the tree and the nightingale that landed on his outstretched finger! Pure gold in seconds flat.

In time the King tired of the frolicking and grew hungry and thirsty. Entering his palace, he ordered his enthralled minions to prepare a particularly scrumptious feast, for he was in a splendid state of mind and appetite. In his greedy little brain ran amok visions of the power and the glory that would be part and parcel of his new-found magic touch.

Today Greece, tomorrow Mount Olympus, he wanted to shout...Solid gold, baby! Number One with a bullet! I rock! I roll!

Yeah, I'm bad!

Well. "Between the morsel and the mouth, many things may happen", as my good pal Cato the Censor once told me down at Thanasi's Olympus...He had just dropped a delectable chunk of Shiskabob on the floor, by the way...

Don't count your chickens before they cross the road, in other words...I took a seat at the banquet hall (across the huge table from Midas, as far away as I could possibly get from him) and prepared to enjoy the fun that was about to ensue.

Enter Muffler, Midas' dog and beloved retriever. Rushing to his master's side for the customary treat, Muffler froze in mid-motion the instant that the King reached down to pet him. I sat on the edge of my chair, cognizant of the chaos about to ensue, and actually getting a perverse kind of pleasure out of that knowledge, I'm ashamed to confess...

Yo, King! Just don't come near ME!

You had to be there to fully appreciate the impact of reality on King Midas. Idiot! Think next time you get a free wish, dodo!

The King looked down at his sparkling new golden retriever then slowly brought his gaze upon his hands. His eyes clouded over and a shudder coursed through him. Hey! What just happened!

Suddenly parched, he picked up his wine goblet, which instantly turned to gold. He nearly dropped it, and did indeed let it fall to the floor when he poured its contents into his mouth and the wine turned to cold liquid gold in his throat.

Hey! What's happening? There was terror etched on the King's face.

How do I turn this damn thing off?

He picked up his favorite fruit to eat, only to see it transform to cold hard inedible gold. Nice to look at, but impossible to digest. Not to mention bad for the teeth...


Illustration by Giovanni Caselli
from The Age of Fable

That's when King Midas lost it. Letting out a horrible shriek, heard all the way down at Danny's camp, he wailed about his sorry state. This was no longer fun. His Highness was royally hungry! His Highness was royally thirsty!

His Highness was royally screwed...

His beloved daughter Goldie, hearing his anguish and rushing to her father's side to hug and comfort him, was next to get Midasized. One moment she was a beautiful maiden, vibrant flesh and blood, and the next instant she was a life-size fill-in for Oscar...

Bummer. Hate when that happens. And the unprepared King really had no acceptance speech at the ready. Keeping a discreet distance, I observed and took mental notes so that I could report back to cousin Danny. He was going to love this tragicomedy!

Well, you can imagine the rest...There was King Midas, vainly trying to bring back his daughter Goldie by re-touching her, to no avail. Ditto for Midas' Muffler. That was one golden retriever that would retrieve no more, I'm afraid. Inedible food and undrinkable wine only made things worse.

And now none of the servants would consent to play tag with him.

Did I mention that his Highness was royally screwed?

Midas Divinely Unscrewed

Now. I really didn't have to relate the story to Dionysus because he had already heard about the fiasco as it was unfolding - Helios had clued him in - and the gang had tuned in the comedy on Olympus Vision. Needless to say, he and the frantic Satyrs and the fevered Maenads nearly busted a gut laughing at Midas' panicked antics. Danny hadn't had that much fun since he came out of Zeus' thigh... The dude was in stitches!

You see, King Midas was now running around the huge banquet hall, trying to hail down his servants for assistance, who were by this point astute enough to recognize that getting close to their lord was deadly. He would lunge to grab a minion for help and come up empty as the servant would pirouette in panic out of danger.

The whole damn scene was surreal, I tell you! I thought I spotted my good friend Salvador Dali in the corner busy painting, but I may have been hallucinating. Eventually Midas realized that his predicament was beyond mortal help and, falling to his knees, he beseeched the great Dionysus to remove this golden curse. With tears in his eyes, the King assured cousin Danny that he had learned his lesson and was now a changed man.

Dionysus was not a mean god and well he remembered Midas' kindness toward his mentor, the crapulous Silenus. The merciful god of wine knew that the King indeed had learned his lesson, so laughing he appeared and told Midas to travel to the source of the river Pactolus and to plunge his head and body in, rinsing off his "golden touch" in the waters.

Dionysus instructed King Midas to also wash off his daughter in the same river, thus restoring her back to her living human form. But on one condition - The King had to personally carry his daughter all the way across the country to the river.

Say what!? Do you realize how much a full-size golden statue weighs, King Midas wanted to shout, but wisely he held his tongue. Hey, considering the alternative, better not get Danny mad...

He finally reached the river of his salvation and quickly dove into the waters, belly-flopping in his hurry. Ouch! Before the water's magic could work, Midas touched the sand at the bottom of the river. To this day the sands of the river Pactolus are bright with gold, to commemorate King Midas and his Golden Touch. As for the King, now a little bit wiser, he realized that there is much more to life than wealth and gold....

And what about Midas' dog, Muffler, you ask? Well, the King did love his golden retriever, but enough to carry the damn thing all the way to Pactolus to bathe? I don't think so.

Besides, still greedy in spite of his lesson, King Midas figured that Muffler was worth more gold than old...

Hey, he could always get another dog! But to this day, the names Midas and Muffler are forever twined.

The Gordian Knot

KING GORDIUS TIES THE KNOT

You would think that the golden opportunity wasted by King Midas would be enough embarrassment to last a lifetime, but alas the dumb King aptly displayed his lack of judgment yet again, and this time he truly ended up feeling like an ass. Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song about how a sinner can reform, but stupid is forever.

Following the golden touch wash-off Dionysus then rewarded King Midas' kindness towards Silenus by helping him become King of Phrygia, which was ruled by King Gordius. This ruler had no children of his own and he immediately took a liking to Midas, so he adopted him as his own son. When Gordius died Midas took over the large kingdom.

A note here about King Gordius, for his is a fascinating story. Born to poor peasants, Gordius one day was startled to see a royal eagle perched comfortably on the pole of his ox-cart. No matter where Gordius drove the cart all morning, the majestic eagle seemed determined to stay put. I'm sure it's happened to you.

Interpreting this as an omen, Gordius decided to drive his team towards the nearest city, Phrygian Telmissus. He knew that there was a respected oracle there and he hoped that this seer would explain what the awesome eagle signified.

However at the gate of the city he met a young prophetess, who upon seeing the royal eagle atop the ox-cart, freaked out and insisted that Gordius immediately offer sacrifice to Zeus, King of the Olympians. She beseeched Gordius to let her accompany him and together they rode past the gates into the city, but not before Gordius made the young woman promise to marry him following their sacrifice to Zeus.

Did I mention that the woman was exceedingly beautiful? Now, if only she could be trained not to go ballistic at the sight of a divine eagle on an ox-cart...

Meanwhile, the current King of Phrygia had suddenly died with no discernible cause, and the local oracle had pronounced that the city's new King was "approaching with his bride, seated in an ox-cart." Are you starting to get the picture here? Talk about 'right place, right time'!

Sure enough just then Gordius and the young prophetess entered the market place and the people rejoiced at the arrival of their new King. The royal eagle that was still majestically perched on the cart confirmed in their minds the legitimacy of the oracle's words, and loudly Gordius was proclaimed King of Phrygia.

Poor Gordius. Country bumpkin that he was, at first he thought the adoring masses were out to lynch him, as they pulled him off the ox-cart and onto the market square. He even threw at them some of his tomatoes and onions, but they construed that as gifts from their new king. It took a few minutes for it all to sink in, but once Gordius realized the miracle that just happened, it made his day.

In gratitude, Gordius dedicated the cart to Zeus, together with its yoke, which he had fastened to the pole in a mighty knot. An oracle then declared that the person who discovered how to untie the knot would become the lord of Asia.

For centuries nobody was able to achieve this impossible task, until finally Alexander the Great, during his mission to conquer the world, stopped by Phrygia and was fascinated by the gigantic knot, securely and intricately tied. When he was told about the prophecy regarding the Gordian Knot, he inspected it from all sides, not even attempting to untie it.

After a few moments Alexander the Great simply took out his sword and with a great blow sliced right through the Gordian Knot. That was the end of that.

"Any questions?" Alex asked with that impish grin. He was one cool dude and fondly I recall the two years I spent in his company as we toured the world. To this day I treasure his parting gift, presented to me as a surprise half a year before his untimely death at 33.

Momus and Alex

Fulfilling the oracle's prophecy, Alexander the Great became the lord of Asia and the ruler of the world. The rest is history.

Athena's Magic Flute

But we've wandered away from our main subject, King Midas. When Gordius died, his adopted son Midas assumed the throne and elevated the worship of his patron, Dionysus. He founded the great city of Ancyra, and from that day the kings of Phrygia have been alternately named Midas and Gordius. That's why many people have mistakenly described Midas as a son of Gordius. Common error.

Now, you would think that Midas would have learned his lesson and acted more prudently when it came to the gods. But no...King Midas was chosen as one of the judges in the famous musical contest between the great god Apollo and a mortal upstart named Marsyas, and this ultimately led to the King's death...

You see, the great goddess Athena had created a wonderful double flute, made from stags' bones, and she had produced enchanting sounds from it at a banquet of the Olympians. But Athena was perplexed as to why her fellow goddesses, Hera and Aphrodite, giggled and tried to disguise their mirth and laughter whenever she played the flute.

It was comical. My favorite aunt, Athena, would blow into the double flute and heavenly sounds would emanate, but the harder and sweeter she played, the louder the guffaws from the amused goddesses.

What's up with that? Are those girls drunk?

Going down to Phrygia, Athena played the double flute to herself as she watched her reflection in the clear stream. At once she realized the cause of the goddesses' amusement: Each time she blew into the flute her cheeks would puff and her face would turn red, making her look silly, bloated and ridiculous.

I'm sure it's happened to you whenever you play the double flute.

In anger Athena hurled the foolish flute into the reeds, placing a curse on anyone who picked it up or dared ever to play it.

Marsyas Finds the Flute

A man named Marsyas was walking along the river bank and chanced upon Athena's double flute. He nearly didn't bother to pick it up, but once he did Marsyas was amazed to hear the melodious tunes coming from it as he held it to his lips.

Well, actually, Marsyas practically came out of his skin. The last thing he expected to hear was great sound. The dude was nearly tone-deaf when it came to music, but anyone who played the magical instrument was at once transformed into an accomplished musician. The magic flute, having been crafted by Athena, still maintained its supernatural powers.

Marsyas traveled the land displaying his new-found talent and enchanting the people, developing a terrific reputation and quite a large bank account. Women of all ages would swoon at his songs and in their passion many threw their undergarments at him. Scoring a ticket to a Marsyas concert was next to impossible and the new phenom was constantly surrounded by a gaggle of adoring Maenad wannabes...

But soon Marsyas grew vain and thought himself the world's best musician. The imbecile forgot the divine source of his new-found musical excellence and actually thought that he alone created the splendid songs.

In his arrogance, he even challenged the great Apollo to a musical competition, with the winner free to do as he wished to the loser. Bad move. Never, ever mess with the god of the Muses, boys and girls.

Ever. I mean, it's no skin off my butt, but...

Marsyas Blows It

There are various versions as to whom judged the contest, with some holding that it was umpired by the River-god Tmolus (with the bystander Midas providing his opinion), while others claim that it was Midas and the Muses who were the arbiters of this "Battle of the Bands". I was there to chronicle the event and can tell you that indeed River-god Tmolus was the main judge, with Midas providing 'expert' commentary.

As you can imagine, no matter how magical the double flute, it was nonetheless no match for Apollo's lyre. The two of them went at it "blow for blow", so to speak, with Marsyas at first able to duplicate on Athena's wonder flute whatever Apollo played on his lyre.

To this day I don't know who produced the most melodious songs, for surely Athena's magic was at its best that moment. But remember her curse...Remember her curse.

Apollo would play an enchanting melody and Marsyas - nay, not Marsyas, the flute itself - would mirror the sound right back at him. I was enraptured, for it was like nothing I had heard before, and I even espied the Nine Muses, who were never far from Apollo, busy taking musical notes. What a great contest! Bravo! Encore!

You see, the double flute, inspired to great heights by the divine song of Apollo, took on new power and charm with each note played. They could have gone on all day. Actually it began to darken, with a purplish mist adding an otherworldly quality to the whole affair. Truly funky, in an electrically mysterious way.

Taking stock of the woods, and these cats' skills, for a moment I thought I was at Yasger's farm.

That's when my good buddy Apollo, having had his jest with Marsyas, turned around and winked at me in the gathering gloom. He had another gig that evening and he didn't want to keep his fans waiting.

"Here, Marsy baby, see if you can do this," he grinned. Turning his lyre upside down, Apollo's fingers flew over the harp's strings as a strange and wonderful new sound emanated from it.

"Purple haze is in my brain," sang Apollo, and Marsyas stared at the god as if he had gone completely bonkers. The darkening sky had turned into majestic multi-colored hues of golden reddish purples. Smiling broadly at the panoramic vista, Apollo closed out this concert for the ages:

"Excuse me while I kiss Uranus!" he crooned...

It was over save for the flaying. Well, not quite. Unable to duplicate the upside down move (only one mythical mortal ever did, eons later), Marsyas swallowed his pride and put down his flute. End of contest.

Well. You won't believe what next ensued. Alone among all the spectators, the dunce King Midas declared Marsyas the winner.

Mother Earth to Midas. Come in, Midas. Is anybody there?

To punish Marsyas for his insolence in deigning to challenge the gods, Apollo flayed him alive. Yes indeed. Took his skin and left the poor man with nothing to hold his bones together. Drastic but highly effective, since nobody dared repeat the challenge.

Flaying of Marsyas

Apollo was irate because he was late for the evening concert and he hated making his fans wait, so one can almost forgive his nastiness. You know how temperamental those music types can be.

As for King Midas, Apollo dallied long enough to render punishment most fitting upon this donkey. Looking hard and sternly at the trembling King, who only then had realized his faux pas, he declared that, since Midas had the musical sensibility of an ass, he may as well have the ears to match.

So saying, he touched Midas on the head and sure enough, two long donkey ears sprouted out of the King's skull. Midas looked like a real ass, and that's exactly how he felt! Dude never learned.

The Ears Have Walls...

Long and hairy the ears sprouted up, and Midas in a panic covered them up with a tall Phrygian cap, hoping nobody ever discovered his embarrassing secret.

Only his barber knew of this disgraceful matter, but Midas had warned him that he would be put to death if ever he revealed to anyone the asinine state of the King's ears. Midas would have been better off shaving his head bald, for how on earth do you keep news of that ilk to yourself?

Well, like grandpa Hesiod was fond of saying, "If you give a bald man a comb, he will never part with it". Or, as uncle Homer used to warn me, "Momus my boy, two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead. But even then you're not completely safe."

The barber found himself bursting with the lurid secret and couldn't bear to keep the gossip to himself, but was afraid for his life. So he dug a hole in the bank of the Pactolus river and, after making certain that nobody was listening, he whispered into the hole that "King Midas has an ass's ears."

Filling up the hole to forever bury the secret, the barber went away happy and at peace with himself.

All was well until the next spring, when a reed sprouted up from the hole and whispered to the other reeds that King Midas had the ears of a donkey. These reeds in turn whispered the secret to all the creatures who passed. It was the talk of the marsh and the animals had a blast making muffled Midas wisecracks.

Soon the birds learned the news and brought it to a man named Melampus, who knew the language of birds and who found the information absolutely hilarious. Melampus told all his friends and in no time the entire kingdom knew about King Midas' miserable secret.

I'm sure it's happened to you.

Thus it came to be that when Midas came riding by in his chariot all his people began to shout in unison: "Take off the cap, King Midas, we want to see your ears!" What a drag! Hate when that happens!

Unable to face this public humiliation, Midas first had the head of his barber cut off, and then he either drank bull's blood and thus perished in great pain, or else he hung himself in shame.

And that was the end of poor, stupid King Midas, the man with the Golden Touch, who kept making an ass of himself. Indeed a sinner can reform, but stupid is forever...

EPILOGUE

A few years before he died King Midas demonstrated his dullardism yet again. This time it cost him the life of his beloved son, a handsome and brave young stud named Anchurus. I swear, the jackass could never quite figure out the important things in life...Let that be a lesson to all of us... 

King Midas had an only son named Anchurus with a woman whose identity is unknown. One time the earth opened up and a great hole in the ground was exposed at a place called Celaenae, a city in the region of Caria. Just like that, out of the blue, the huge bottomless crevice appeared, threatening to swallow everything in the vicinity.

I'm sure it's happened in your neighborhood. Don't you just hate it? Darn pot-holes!

Once everyone stopped freaking out and composed themselves, they wondered how to get the abyss to close. It was killing property values, damn it! The city elders called a council and a committee was formed to find a solution. Many imaginative theories were submitted, among them the suggestion by a dreamer that my nephew Hercules be hired to divert the waters of a nearby river, filling the bottomless abyss and providing instant prime lakefront property.

"We'll make a killing, dudes!"

The man was laughed down and his solution called preposterous. I believe his name was Trumpus. Donald Trumpus. He later went on to fulfill his dreams in a faraway land of liberty.

What to do? What to do? The wisest minds in the country tackled the dilemma and came up with no concrete ideas, until an oracle inhaled some noxious fumes and told Midas that if he should throw his most precious possession into the abyss, indeed it would close.

The oracle's name was Paine Webberus.

Oh. Do I really have to, thought Midas, looking around for the man named Trumpus...suddenly the Donald's submission sounded real good. Damn good!

All eyes were on the King; he had to act royally. Still not having learned his life's lesson Midas then cast into the hole a fortune in gold and silver but nothing happened. Kiss your fortune goodbye, chump, you've just made a real bad investment.

Dolt. When Paine Webberus talks, you should listen. Carefully.

Alas, King Midas still mistook wealth for worth. And the gaping abyss yet yawned in deep indifference at the fool's gold.

So his wise and valiant son Anchurus, correctly reasoning that there is nothing more precious than a human life - he had been tutored by the Atlantians - rode on his horse to the edge of the precipice and plunged into the abyss. The earth closed, taking with it the life of King Midas' son.

The chasm closed, taking with it the King's most valuable possession.

His flesh and blood.

His only son.

In the prime of his life.

Alas, a sinner can reform. But stupid is forever...

Right, King Midas?

 

COMING NEXT:

Only the Muse knows...

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