A Book of Myths

Page: 71

For the space of many seconds all was silence.

Then, in low voice, Apollo asked:

“Ye who listen—who is the victor?”

And earth and sea and sky, and all the creatures of earth and sky, and of the deep, replied as one:

“The victory is thine, Divine Apollo.”

Yet was there one dissentient voice.

Midas, sorely puzzled, utterly un-understanding, was relieved when the music of Apollo ceased. “If only Pan would play again,” he murmured to himself. “I wish to live, and Pan’s music gives me life. I love the woolly vine-buds and the fragrant pine-leaves, and the scent of the violets in the spring. The smell of the fresh-ploughed earth is dear to me, the breath of the kine that have grazed in the meadows of wild parsley and of asphodel. I want to drink red wine and to eat and love and fight and work and be joyous and sad, fierce and strong, and very weary, and to sleep the dead sleep of men who live only as weak mortals do.”

Therefore he raised his voice, and called very loud: “Pan’s music is sweeter and truer and greater than the [Pg 142] music of Apollo. Pan is the victor, and I, King Midas, give him the victor’s crown!”

With scorn ineffable the sun-god turned upon Midas, his peasant’s face transfigured by his proud decision. For a little he gazed at him in silence, and his look might have turned a sunbeam to an icicle.

Then he spoke:

“The ears of an ass have heard my music,” he said. “Henceforth shall Midas have ass’s ears.”

And when Midas, in terror, clapped his hands to his crisp black hair, he found growing far beyond it, the long, pointed ears of an ass. Perhaps what hurt him most, as he fled away, was the shout of merriment that came from Pan. And fauns and nymphs and satyrs echoed that shout most joyously.

Willingly would he have hidden in the woods, but there he found no hiding-place. The trees and shrubs and flowering things seemed to shake in cruel mockery. Back to his court he went and sent for the court hairdresser, that he might bribe him to devise a covering for these long, peaked, hairy symbols of his folly. Gladly the hairdresser accepted many and many oboli, many and many golden gifts, and all Phrygia wondered, while it copied, the strange headdress of the king.

But although much gold had bought his silence, the court barber was unquiet of heart. All day and all through the night he was tormented by his weighty secret. And then, at length, silence was to him a torture too great to be borne; he sought a lonely place, there dug a deep hole, and, kneeling by it, softly [Pg 143] whispered to the damp earth: “King Midas has ass’s ears.”