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The legends and the truth about King Midas

Midas, or King Midas is the most important king of Phrygia. Two aspects can be distinguished in his personality : the mythical and the historical one.

Midas appears in some legends written by Greek and Roman authors. The first one shows that he is not very wise : he rescued Silenus, the favorite companion of Dionysos as he was completely drunk and treated him well. Therefore Dionysos wanted to thank him and granted him one wish. King Midas chose, despite the advises of Dionysos, the capacity of changing everything in gold by a simple touch. He went around his palace and changed everything into gold, including his palace gates. After a while, he started to be hungry and thirsty but alas, three times alas, everything also changed into gold. His servants tried to feed him but it didnít work. Understanding that his wish wasnít very wise, he begged Dionysos to relieve him from it. The god gave him the cure : to bathe in the spring of the Pactolus, a river from Lydia. So did Midas, and this is the reason why the Pactolus has always gold dust in it.

The second legend related to king Midas presents him as a judge between Apollo, the god of music, and a satyr, Marsyas. Unwisely, he gives his preference to the satyr. Apollo, offended, transforms Midasís ears in assís ears. The poor king manages to hide this deformity from this people but his barber, having to know the secret, is threatened of horrible death if he reveals it. The secret being too heavy, he digs a hole in the meadow and whispers in it. This is why, since then, the wind in the reeds rustles that ďMidas has assís earsĒ.

These two pleasant mythological stories tend to make forget that Midas was a real and important Anatolian king (there might be several Phrygian kings named Midas but one is particularly famous).

According to Greek and Roman sources, he is supposed to have lived between the 740ís ( 736 ? ) and 696 (or 676 but less likely). He was an well-known king, even for the Continental Greeks, as Herodotus tells us : he gave his throne to Delphis and ďit is worth seeing itĒ ( I, 14) and he possessed wonderful gardens in Macedonia (VIII, 138). He married a Greek princess, Hermodike, daughter of the king of Kyme (Pollux IX, 83) and he had relations with other Greek cities of the Ionian coast, like Milet.
All these elements show that Midas was a powerful king according to his Greek neighbors and that he was the one that gave to them. But he had also relations with his Oriental partners : it is mostly accepted that the king Mita of the Mushkis mentioned by the Assyrian sources can be identified with Midas (the remaining problem lies mostly in the equation Mushkis = Phrygians?).
However, Mita-Midas was a feared enemy of the Assyrians and he was apparently able to fight as an opponent of equal strength until 709 BC where a Assyrian text mentions the signature of a peace treaty between them, to the great relief of Sargon II. The reason why the Phrygian accepted this treaty may be found in the domestic policy : the NE borders were threatened by the Cimmerians, nomads and fierce horse-riders who destroyed the Phrygian state and are said to be responsible of Midasís suicide in 696.

King Midas links on
Short bibliography on King Midas
The last dinner of King Midas

King Midas external link
King Midas and his Golden Touch - A Cartoon by Gareth Pitchford : Cartoon story about the King Midas myth


King Midas - the legends and the truth