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Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 32

In the beautiful lines of Walter Savage Lando describing the sea- shell, there is an allusion to the sun's palace and chariot. The water-nymph says,

  "I have sinuous shells of pearly hue
  Within, and things that lustre have imbibed
  In the sun's palace porch, where when unyoked
  His chariot-wheel stands midway in the wave.
  Shake one and it awakens; then apply
  Its polished lip to your attentive car,
  And it remembers its August abodes,
  And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there."
  Gebir, Book 1

Chapter IV

Midas. Baucis and Philemon. Pluto and Proserpine.

Bacchus, on a certain occasion, found his old school master and foster father, Silenus, missing. The old man had been drinking, and in that state had wandered away, and was found by some peasants, who carried him to their king, Midas. Midas recognized him, and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with an unceasing round of jollity. On the eleventh day he brought Silenus back, and restored him in safety to his pupil. Whereupon Bacchus offered Midas his choice of whatever reward he might wish. He asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into GOLD. Bacchus consented, though sorry that he had not made a better choice. Midas went his way, rejoicing in his newly acquired power, which he hastened to put to the test. He could scarce believe his eyes when he found that a twig of an oak, which he plucked from the branch, became gold in his hand. He took up a stone it changed to gold. He touched a sod it did the same. He took an apple from the tree you would have thought he had robbed the garden of the Hesperides. His joy knew no bounds, and as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a splendid repast on the table. Then he found to his dismay that whether he touched bread, it hardened in his hand; or put a morsel to his lips, it defied his teeth. He took a glass of wine, but it flowed down his throat like melted gold.

In consternation at the unprecedented affliction, he strove to divest himself of his power; he hated the gift he had lately coveted. But all in vain; starvation seemed to await him. He raised his arms, all shining with gold, in prayer to Bacchus, begging to be delivered from his glittering destruction. Bacchus, merciful deity, heard and consented. "Go," said he, "to the river Pactolus, trace the stream to its fountain-head, there plunge in your head and body and wash away your fault and its punishment." He did so, and scarce had he touched the waters before the gold-creating power passed into them, and the river sands became changed into GOLD, as they remain to this day.

Thenceforth Midas, hating wealth and splendor, dwelt in the country, and became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields. On a certain occasion Pan had the temerity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and to challenge the god of the lyre to a trial of skill. The challenge was accepted, and Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen umpire. Tmolus took his seat and cleared away the trees from his ears to listen. At a given signal Pan blew on his pipes, and with his rustic melody gave great satisfaction to himself and his faithful follower, Midas, who happened to be present. Then Tmolus turned his head toward the sun-god, and all his trees turned with him. Apollo rose, his brow wreathed with Parnassian laurel, while his robe of Tyrian purple swept the ground. In his left hand he held the lyre, and with his right hand struck the strings. Ravished with the harmony, Tmolus at once awarded the victory to the god of the lyre, and all but Midas acquiesced in the judgment. He dissented, and questioned the justice of the award. Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer to wear the human form, but caused them to increase in length, grow hairy, within and without, and to become movable, on their roots; in short, to be on the perfect pattern of those of an ass.


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