A Book of Myths
Page: 69But when Midas, with the healthy appetite of the peasant-born, would have eaten largely of the savoury food that his cooks prepared, he found that his teeth only touched roast kid to turn it into a slab of gold, that garlic lost its flavour and became gritty as he chewed, that rice turned into golden grains, and curdled milk became a dower fit for a princess, entirely unnegotiable for the digestion of man. Baffled and miserable, Midas seized his cup of wine, but the red wine had become one with the golden vessel that held it; nor could he quench his thirst, for even the limpid water from the fountain was melted gold when it touched his dry lips. Only for a very few days was Midas able to bear the affliction of his wealth. There was nothing now for him to live for. He could buy the whole earth if he pleased, but even children shrank in terror from his touch, and hungry and thirsty and sick at heart he wearily dragged along his weighty robes of gold. Gold was power, he knew well, yet of what worth was gold while he starved? Gold could not buy him life and health and happiness.
[Pg 138] In despair, at length he cried to the god who had given him the gift that he hated.
“Save me, O Bacchus!” he said. “A witless one am I, and the folly of my desire has been my undoing. Take away from me the accursed Golden Touch, and faithfully and well shall I serve thee forever.”
Then Bacchus, very pitiful for him, told Midas to go to Sardis, the chief city of his worshippers, and to trace to its source the river upon which it was built. And in that pool, when he found it, he was to plunge his head, and so he would, for evermore, be freed from the Golden Touch.
It was a long journey that Midas then took, and a weary and a starving man was he when at length he reached the spring where the river Pactolus had its source. He crawled forward, and timidly plunged in his head and shoulders. Almost he expected to feel the harsh grit of golden water, but instead there was the joy he had known as a peasant boy when he laved his face and drank at a cool spring when his day’s toil was ended. And when he raised his face from the pool, he knew that his hateful power had passed from him, but under the water he saw grains of gold glittering in the sand, and from that time forth the river Pactolus was noted for its gold.
One lesson the peasant king had learnt by paying in suffering for a mistake, but there was yet more suffering in store for the tragic comedian.
He had now no wish for golden riches, nor even for power. He wished to lead the simple life and to listen to the pipings of Pan along with the goat-herds on the mountains or the wild creatures in the woods. Thus [Pg 139] it befell that he was present one day at a contest between Pan and Apollo himself. It was a day of merry-making for nymphs and fauns and dryads, and all those who lived in the lonely solitudes of Phrygia came to listen to the music of the god who ruled them. For as Pan sat in the shade of a forest one night and piped on his reeds until the very shadows danced, and the water of the stream by which he sat leapt high over the mossy stones it passed, and laughed aloud in its glee, the god had so gloried in his own power that he cried: