Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 81

“Down from a lowly branch a twig he drew,
The twig straight glitter’d with a golden hue.
[178] He takes a stone, the stone was turn’d to gold:
A clod he touches, and the crumbling mold
Acknowledged soon the great transforming power,
In weight and substance like a mass of ore.
He pluck’d the corn, and straight his grasp appears
Fill’d with a bending tuft of golden ears.
An apple next he takes, and seems to hold
The bright Hesperian vegetable gold:
His hand he careless on a pillar lays,
With shining gold the fluted pillars blaze.”
Ovid (Croxall’s tr.).

The sight of these and many other wonders, wrought by a mere touch, filled his heart with joy; and in his elation he bade his servants prepare a sumptuous feast, and invite all his courtiers to share his merriment. His commands were obeyed with the utmost celerity, and Midas beamed with satisfaction as he took his place at the head of the board, and viewed the choice dishes and wines prepared for his delectation.

Here, too, however, a new revelation awaited him; for cloth, plate, and cup turned to gold, as did the food and drink as soon as they met his eager lips.

“Whose powerful hands the bread no sooner hold,
But all its substance is transform’d to gold:
Up to his mouth he lifts the savory meat,
Which turns to gold as he attempts to eat:
His patron’s noble juice of purple hue,
Touch’d by his lips, a gilded cordial grew,
Unfit for drink; and, wondrous to behold,
It trickles from his jaws a fluid gold.
The rich poor fool, confounded with surprise,
Starving in all his various plenty lies.”
Ovid (Croxall’s tr.).

In the midst of plenty, the gnawing pangs of hunger now made themselves felt; and the precious gift, which prevented his allaying them, soon lost all its attractions. With weary feet, [179] Midas now retraced the road he had traveled in his pride a few hours before, again cast himself at Bacchus’ feet, and this time implored him to take back the inconvenient gift, which prevented him from satisfying his natural appetites.

His distress seemed so real, that Bacchus bade him go and wash in the Pactolus River, if he would be rid of the power which had so soon turned into a curse. Midas hastened off to the river and plunged in its tide, noting that even its sands all turned to gold beneath his tread; since when,

“Pactolus singeth over golden sands.”

Bacchus’ favorite place of resort was the Island of Naxos, which he visited after every journey. During one of his sojourns there, he discovered a fair maiden lying alone on the sandy shore. Ariadne, for such was the girl’s name, had been forsaken there by her lover, Theseus, who had sailed away while she slept (p. 257). As soon as she awoke, she called her faithless lover; but no answering sound fell upon her ear except the mocking tones of Echo. Her tears flowed freely as she beat her breast in despair; but suddenly her lamentations ceased, as she caught the faint sound of music floating toward her on the summer breeze. Eagerly turning toward the pleasant music, she caught sight of a merry procession, headed by the God of Wine.

“‘And as I sat, over the light blue hills
There came a noise of revelers: the rills
Into the wide stream came of purple hue—
’Twas Bacchus and his crew!
The earnest trumpet spake, and silver thrills
From kissing cymbals made a merry din—
’Twas Bacchus and his kin!
Like to a moving vintage down they came,
Crown’d with green leaves, and faces all on flame;
All madly dancing through the pleasant valley.’”


Refer to caption

MARRIAGE OF BACCHUS AND ARIADNE.—Tintoretto. (Ducal Palace, Venice.)

Bacchus and Ariadne.

[181] Bacchus, the first to perceive the fair mourner, hastened to her side, and brought all his powers of persuasion into play to console her. His devotion at last induced her to forget her recreant lover, and, after a short courtship, Bacchus won her as a bride.

Their wedding was the gayest ever seen, and the feasting lasted for several days. The bridegroom presented the bride with a crown adorned with seven glittering stars,—an ornament which fitly enhanced her peerless beauty. Shortly after her marriage, however, poor Ariadne sickened and died, leaving a disconsolate widower, who took the crown she had so often worn and flung it up into the air. It rose higher and higher, until the gods fixed it in the sky, where it still forms a brilliant constellation, known as Ariadne’s Crown, or Corona.

“And still her sign is seen in heaven,
And, ’midst the glittering symbols of the sky,
The starry crown of Ariadne glides.”
Apollonius Rhodius.

Bacchus’ lightheartedness had all vanished, and he no longer took any pleasure in music, dance, or revelry, until Jupiter, in pity for his bereavement, restored Ariadne to his longing arms, and, to prevent her being again claimed by Death, gave her immortal life.

Story of Pentheus.

When but a short distance from Thebes, Bacchus once sent a herald to Pentheus, the king, to announce his approach, and bespeak a suitable reception and sumptuous entertainment. Rumors of the noise and disorder, which seemed to have been the invariable accompaniment of the god’s presence, had already reached Pentheus, who therefore dismissed the herald with an insolent message, purporting that Bacchus had better remain outside of the city gates.

To avenge this insult, Bacchus inspired the Theban women with a species of dementia, which made them rush simultaneously out of the city and join his followers. Then they all clamored [182] for permission to witness the religious rites in his honor, generally called Mysteries, which permission was graciously granted.

The king’s spies reported all that had occurred, and their accounts made Pentheus long to view the ceremonies in secret. He therefore disguised himself, and hid in a bush near the consecrated place, hoping to see all without being seen; but an inadvertent movement attracted the attention of the already excited Bacchantes, who, led by Agave, the king’s own mother, dragged him from his hiding place and tore him limb from limb.