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Behind Tmolus, who applauds Apollo, is King Midas. To the right is Pan holding his flute. villenave02097: Tmolus, Midas, Apollo and Pan. Drawing by Nicolas-André Monsiau, 1754-1837 (Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide, Paris 1806).

"A bronze maiden am I; and I am placed upon the tomb of Midas. So long as water runs and tall trees put forth leaves, remaining in this very spot upon a much lamented tomb, I shall declare to passers by that Midas is buried here." (Grave inscription. Plato, Phaedrus 264d).

Midas is remembered as a notorious lover of gold. This proverbially rich king of Phrygia, who is said to have discovered black and white lead, was the first to place offerings at Delphi, and it is told that he offered the royal seat on which he sat to give judgement. The seat was marvellous, but had he offered his judgement instead, he would have lost nothing.

His country

Midas is also called king of Mygdonia, the Mygdonians being originally a people from Thrace that emigrated to Phrygia, a country with uncertain boundaries. Mygdonia is also called Lydia, the region in western Asia Minor between Caria and Mysia. Midas is the founder of Ancyra, now called Ankara (Turkey). Something similar is asserted by Conon, who says that Midas, after being a disciple of Orpheus in Mount Pieria, let his people cross the Hellespont from Europe and settle beyond Mysia in Asia Minor. His subjects, Conon adds, were called Brigians, but by a slight alteration of the word they were renamed Phrygians.

The Golden Touch

It is told that when Dionysus 2 was leading his army into India, his adviser and instructor Silenus wandered astray and came to King Midas, who entertained him generously, and gave him a guide to help him find Dionysus 2. Because of this favor, Dionysus 2 gave Midas the privilege of asking for whatever he wanted. Midas then asked that whatever he touched should become gold. Having been granted this bizarre wish, he soon discovered that his new faculty prevented him from eating and condemned him to hunger. Therefore, he begged the god to take away the superb gift, and Dionysus 2 instructed him to bathe in the Pactolus (a river tributary of the Hermus in Maeonia), which became golden when Midas' body touched it. On the other hand, what exactly took place between Midas and Silenus is uncertain, since there are those who assert that the king captured him by mixing wine to the waters of a spring called the Spring of Midas.

Midas as judge (I)

Midas is also remembered for having acted as judge on the occasion of the musical contest between Apollo, playing the lyre, and Marsyas, playing the flute. Some say that Tmolus, father of Omphale (the mistress of Heracles 1), gave the victory to Apollo, but that Midas held the opinion that it should rather have been given to Marsyas. It was then that Apollo addressed Midas and informed him:

"You will have ears to match the mind you have in judging" (Apollo to Midas. Hyginus, Fabulae 191)

And as soon as the god have uttered those words, the ears of an ass appeared to adorn the head of the king of Phrygia.

Midas as judge (II)

Others assert, however, that this contest was between Apollo's lyre and Pan's reeds, and that it was the mountain god Tmolus who decided in favor of Apollo. They tell that Tmolus—after whom the mountain in Maeonia, Asia Minor, north of the river Cayster, is called—was married to Omphale, the mistress of Heracles 1. All approved Tmolus' judgement, but Midas called it unjust, and then Apollo punished him in that he would wear the ears of an ass. Midas, who after suffering such a disgrace was quite concerned about concealing his condition, started to wear a purple turban to cover his new ears. But the slave who trimmed his hair discovered his master's new anatomy; and since he was eager to tell it out, but all the same he did not dare to reveal the embarrassing secret, he dug a hole in the ground and into it he whispered about his master's ears. Then he filled up the hole again, covering the evidence of his voice. But whispering reeds grew up in the spot, and when they came to their full size, they betrayed to the wind the truth about Midas' ears, making it known to the whole world. Yet Conon gives what he deemed to be a more sober explanation on the issue of the ears. For he says that the rumour came about because Midas held his rule by having many people reporting to him, which kept his kingdom undisturbed by conspiracies, allowing him to reach old age. And he adds that the "long ears" that denoted the many spies were gradually changed by rumour into "the ears of an ass."


Midas is said to have died, after drinking the blood of a bull, at the time of a Cimmerian invasion of Phrygia.

Two Midas

Despite the narrative above, it could be convenient to distinguish two characters with the name Midas:

Midas 1

Midas 1 is the son of Cybele, "the mother of the gods" identified with Rhea 1 (Cronos' sister and wife); this is the discoverer of black and white lead (Hyg.Fab.274). It is this 'Mygdonian' king who was judge when Apollo contested with Pan, or Marsyas. To him belongs also the adventure with Silenus, which occurred when Dionysus 2 was marching against India. Cicero says (Tusculan Disputations 1.114) that Silenus gained his release by granting a certain instruction to the king; this instruction is the well known opinion that asserts that the best thing for man is not to be born at all, but the next best is to die as soon as possible (compare for example: Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1225). This is also the Midas with "the golden touch" (Hyg.Fab.191). The gold of the river Pactolus is also mentioned by Virgil, Aeneid 10.142. Concerning Midas' ears of an ass (Ov.Met.11.175), it has also been said that this was so because Midas "had some of the blood of satyrs in his veins, as was clear from the shape of his ears" (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 6.27). This king of ancient times is presented by Diodorus Siculus (3.59.8) as a man devoted to beauty, who took part in the establishing of the cult of Cybele in Phrygia, and in the erection of a costly temple at Pisinus. Pliny (Natural History 7.57) attributes to Midas the invention of the crooked cornet. It is also told that Midas, who lived in effeminate luxury, was punished by a Lydian, who, opposing his opression (as well as that of Omphale, the mistress of Heracles 1), pulled him by the ears; the same author says that Midas became "deaf through his stupidity" (Ath.12.516).

Midas 2

Gordius 1 is the father of Midas 2, father of Gordius 2. This is the Midas who made the offering at Delphi (Hdt.1.4.2). Gordius 2 is the father of that Adrastus—"a Phrygian of the royal house"—who asked to be purified by King Croesus of Lydia (he had accidentally killed his brother). Croesus cleansed him, but later Adrastus killed—also by accident—Croesus' son (Hdt.1.35.1). Midas 2 is the one who died, after drinking the blood of a bull, at the time of a Cimmerian invasion (the raid of 696 BC according to the Suda). The Macedonian garden, where roses grow of themselves, was called the garden of Midas after the son of Gordius 1 (Hdt.8.138.2; Ath.15.683). One reason for this distinction is as follows: If Midas 1 is regarded as a contemporary of Orpheus (as Conon says), or of Silenus, then he cannot possibly be the same Midas who is the grandfather of that Adrastus whom Croesus cleansed. About 600 years would then separate the two Midases. But this distinction is not usually made. Generally, the authors referring to the anecdotes under "Midas 1" do not tell the anecdotes under "Midas 2" and vice versa (unless it is a compilation). Pausanias appears as an exception to this:

"The greater number of the Gauls crossed over to Asia by ship and plundered its coasts. Some time after, the inhabitants of Pergamus, that was called of old Teuthrania, drove the Gauls into it from the sea. Now this people occupied the country on the farther side of the river Sangarius capturing Ancyra, a city of the Phrygians, which Midas son of Gordius had founded in former time. And the anchor, which Midas found, was even as late as my time in the sanctuary of Zeus, as well as a spring called the Spring of Midas, water from which they say Midas mixed with wine to capture Silenus." (Description of Greece 1.4.5).

W. H. S. Jones—translator of the Description of Greece—informs us that the name Ancyra (now Ankara) derives from anchor. Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 10.415) says that one of these Midas had a bastard son Lityersas, who ate and drank copiously (in incredible quantities).






Gordius & unknown

Midas has also been called son of Cybele, who is "the mother of the gods", that is Rhea 1, Cronos' sister and wife.



Midas' son seems to have realized that his father, through being a great lover of gold, had obliterated his reason:

When once the earth opened at Celaenae, a city in Caria, and an oracle told Midas that if he should throw his most precious possession into the abyss, it would close, he then cast in gold and silver. When nothing happened, his son Anchurus, reasoning that there is nothing more precious than a human life, rode on his horse into the abyss, and the earth closed. In this way died Anchurus, who had married Timothea.

Related sections Apollo, Silenus, Marsyas, Phrygia  

Con.1; Hdt.1.14; Hyg.Fab.191; Ov.Met.11.91ff.; Pau.1.4.5; Plu.PS.5; Strab.1.3.21.