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Why Did Dionysus Reward King Midas?

By Andy Watkins


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King Midas is probably one of the better known kings from Greek mythology. He twice found himself in a difficult situation upon interacting with the Olympian gods Dionysus and Apollo on different occasions. The stories are certainly cautionary tales and worth exploring in detail. So, why did Dionysus reward King Midas?

King Dionysus was wandering about his palace gardens one day when he came across a satyr, a half-human half-goat creature. The satyr were woodland creatures who would often follow around the Olympian god Dionysus. This satyr had drunken too much wine and fallen asleep in the rose garden. Midas recognised the satyr as a follower of Dionysus and allowed his to relax and recover in his palace. When Midas returned the satyr to Dionysus, Dionysus decided to reward Midas with one wish. Midas wished for the power to turn anything he touched to gold. 

The story and background of this myth is fascinating, there are some interesting consequences. So, let’s dive in further.

Why Did King Midas Want the Golden Touch?

Midas was the King of Phrygia. He loved fine silk, precious stones and of course gold with a passion. He was not a popular leader, and his behaviour and antic bemused his people. He would often make rash and stupid decisions.

When he was granted a wish by Dionysus for his good treatment of the satyr, the King did not have to think for long about what he wanted. He chose to have the power to turn anything he touched to gold. When he woke up the next morning he began to test whether he had been granted this gift.

He reached out and touch the bedside table, and it turned to gold. He then touched his bedpost, his wall, even his pillow. Everything turned to gold. The king was overjoyed at this new power and the possibility it offered.

He ran into the garden and began to turn all of his flowers to gold. He even turned the bees and their beehive to solid gold.

What Happened to King Midas Daughter?

King Midas spent the entire morning amusing himself with this new power. But by late morning he was growing hungry. He called his servants to bring him some food. They brought in some grapes and a few sticks of bread.

When he tried to bite into the grapes he found they were solid and he could not eat them. A little panicked he then grabbed a loaf of the bread. Again, instantly it turned to gold. His mind then began to wander. He began to get very concerned about all the thing he could now not do with this power from Dionysus.

His mood soured and he began wailing and everyone in the palace could hear his torment. At the sound, his daughter became worried and went to visit her father. He was so distraught, that he did not think, when she arrived the two embraced and she instantly turned to gold.

Why Did Dionysus Take the Wish Back?

The gods were watching these events with much amusement from Mt. Olympus. The Olympian gods could be very cruel, and they felt that the king was getting what he deserved. King Midas then began to beg the gods for help.

Dionysus took pity on he poor king. He told Midas that he would have to travel to the river Pactolus and to wash his hand in the water of the river. King Midas rushed to the river and did as the god told him.

Miraculously, his power washes away into the river. It was said from that point onward, this part of the river Pactolus was a particularly lucrative spot for find gold.

The King had certainly learn’t a lesson, but this was by no means the only time he ran foul of the Olympian gods.

Why Did Midas Get Donkey Ears?

Following his terrible experience with his golden touch, Midas began a new sort of life. He gave away much of his wealth to his people and would never desire such things in his palace. He spent much more of his time wandering the nature world, the woods, the meadows the rivers.

It was on one of his adventures that he came across the god Pan. Pan was a god of nature and god of the wild. He was said to play the pipes would happily play for anyone who wanted to listen. One day, Pan went to far and said that he could play music better than the god Apollo.

Apollo heard about this boast, and decided to have a music competition with Pan, and Kind Midas was said to be the judge. Midas listened patiently to first Pan on the pipes and then Apollo on the lyre. Many other woodland, mountain and water nymphs listened to the music as well and they unanimously choose Apollo as the better of the two.

Midas, on the other hand, did not agree. He decided that Pan was the better musician. Apollo left, very much angered by Midas. But before he left, he gave Midas a pair of donkey’s ears as punishment.

The King was so embarrassed by his donkey ears that he would never be seen without a hat. The only time he took the hat off was when he went to visit his barbers. The King swore the barber to secrecy, but he just couldn’t keep the secret to himself.

One day the barber went out into the field and dug a hole into the ground. He placed his head inside and spoke the secret of Midas and his donkey ears. Over time some reeds grew in the hole he had dug. As the winds passed through these reeds they whispered the secret to the surrounding people.

Everyone in the kingdom eventually learnt of King Midas and his donkey ears.

What Does It Mean to Have a Midas Touch?

The story of Midas and his golden touch is truly thought provoking. To most people who have heard the story it looks as if the power is more of a curse. The fact Midas can’t eat or touch his loved ones is truly not a good position to be in.

Despite that, in modern parlance, the phrase to have a Midas touch has evolved into a term to describe someone with great and special ability. It is often used for people in sport or business who have performed in a spectacularly good way.

Final Thoughts

So there you have the story of King Midas. Both the tale of his golden touch and the story about get donkey ears are both lighthearted cautionary tales.

The stories teach us to both to be careful what you wish for, and to be careful who you offend. We also learn a lot about the erratic and vindictive behaviour of the Olympian gods.

If you enjoyed this summary then we have a number of other articles. If you want to learn more about Dionysus and Apollo then we have a great article here.

Bonus – King Midas and the Golden Touch

About Andy Watkins

I have always been interested in mythology. From a very early age in Britain, I was known to sit at the breakfast table reading encyclopedias about many of the major world mythologies. Learn more about MythNerd's Editorial Process.

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