Unit 4: Hubris and Nemesis
King Midas and the Golden Touch
Adapted from Favorite Greek Myths by Lilian Stoughton Hyde,
One day Silenus, the oldest of the satyrs who was now very weak, became lost in the vineyards of King Midas. Someone found him wandering helplessly about, barely able to walk, and brought him to the king. Long ago, Silenus had acted as nurse and teacher to the little wine-god, Bacchus. Now that Silenus had grown old, Bacchus, in turn, took care of him. So King Midas sent the man who found him to carry the satyr safely to Bacchus.
In return for this kindness, Bacchus promised to grant whatever King Midas might ask. King Midas knew well enough what he most desired. In those days, kings had treasuries in their palaces, that is, safe places where they could store away valuable things. The treasury of King Midas contained a vast collection of rich jewels, bowls of silver and gold, chests of gold coins, and other things that he considered precious.
When Midas was a little child, he used to watch the ants running back and forth over the sand near his father’s palace. It seemed to him that the ant-hill was like another palace, and that the ants were working very hard carrying in treasure; for they came running to the ant-hill from all directions, carrying little white bundles. Midas made up his mind, then, that when he grew up, he would work very hard and accumulate treasures.
Now that he was a man, and the king, nothing gave him more pleasure than to add to the collection in his treasury. He was continually devising ways of exchanging or selling various things or making some new tax for the people to pay and turning it all into gold or silver. In fact, he had gathered treasure together so diligently, and for so many years, that he had begun to think that the bright yellow gold in his chests was the most beautiful and the most precious thing in the world.
So when Bacchus offered him anything that he might ask for, King Midas’s first thought was of his treasury, and he asked that whatever he touched might be turned into gold. His wish was granted. King Midas was hardly able to believe in his good fortune. He thought himself the luckiest of men.
At the time his wish was granted, he happened to be standing under an oak tree, and the first thing he did was to raise his hand and touch one of its branches. Immediately the branch became the richest gold, with all the little acorns as perfect and shiny as ever. He laughed triumphantly at that, and then he touched a small stone on the ground. This became a solid gold nugget. Then he picked an apple from a tree, and in his hand it became a beautiful, bright, gold apple. Oh, there was no doubt about it: King Midas really had the Golden Touch! He thought it too good to be true. After this he touched the lilies that bordered the walk. They turned from pure white to bright yellow, but bent their heads lower than ever, as if they were ashamed of the change that the touch of King Midas had given them.
Before turning any more things into gold, the king sat down at the little table that his servants had brought out into the court. The corn was fresh and crisp, and the grapes juicy and sweet. But as soon as he bit into a grape from one of the luscious clusters, it became a hard ball of gold in his mouth. This was very unpleasant. He laid the gold ball on the table and tried the corn, only to have his mouth filled with hard yellow metal. Feeling as if he were choking, he took a sip of water, and at the touch of his lips even this became liquid gold. His daughter walked towards him, then started running, with arms out to give him a hug. But just as her hand reached him, she, too, had become a golden statue. Suddenly all his bright treasures began to look ugly to him, and his heart grew as heavy as if that, too, were turning to gold.
That night King Midas lay down under a gorgeous golden blanket, with his head upon a pillow of solid gold, but he could not rest. Sleep would not come to him. As he lay there, he began to fear that his queen and all his kind friends might also be changed to hard, golden statues. This would be more dreadful than anything else that had resulted from his foolish wish. Poor Midas saw now that riches were not the most desirable of all things. He was cured forever of his love of gold. The instant it was daylight, he rushed to Bacchus and begged the god to take back his fatal gift.
“Ah,” said Bacchus, smiling, “so you have gold enough, at last. Very well. If you are sure that you do not wish to change anything more into that metal, go and bathe in the spring where the river Pactolus rises. The pure water of that spring will wash away the Golden Touch.”
King Midas gladly obeyed and became as free from the Golden Touch as when he was a boy watching the ants. But the strange magic was transferred to the waters of the spring, and to this day the river Pactolus has golden sands.
Answer the following questions. Compare your answers with a partner.
- Give a short summary of the events of the story of King Midas.
- What is King Midas’ “hubris and nemesis”?
- This story is the origin of the phrases “the Midas touch/the golden touch” and “everything (someone) touches turns to gold”. What do these phrases / idioms mean?
- Give an example of someone you know with the Midas touch. Why do they have this?
- Although the idiom seems very positive, there is a serious lesson to learn here. What is the moral of the “Midas’ touch” part of the story?
- Go to https://www.midas.com/services. Take a look at the different “services” pages. What does this company do? Look at the advertisements and the logo for the company. In what 2 ways is it related to this story?
- Discuss the following two cartoons with a partner. How do they relate to the story of King Midas?
CEFR Level: CEF Level B1