Study Guide

King Midas Characters

  • Silenus

    Recap: Silenus is a satyr, a chubby dude with goat legs and horns. These guys often play the pipes and like to chase nymphs. Silenus is also a friend and teacher to the god of wine, Dionysus. In this story, Silenus is traveling with Dionysus when he gets stupidly drunk and loses his way. A group of peasants escort the satyr to King Midas. Midas throws Silenus a party before helping him locate Dionysus, and Dionysus rewards Midas for returning Silenus in good health.

    As a character, Silenus is what scholars would call comic relief. That means he's the funny guy. His job in the story is do stupid things that make the audience laugh. And on the whole, he's pretty good at it—especially if you follow the version of the story where he gets smashed and passes out in Midas's garden. And to be clear, we're laughing at him, not with him.

    As Dionysus's teacher, Silenus represents everything that's important to the wine god. Silenus loves music, wine, women, and having fun. In fact, he loves these things too much—this guy is always drunk and always getting into trouble. (In another myth about the satyr, Silenus is captured by a pair of shepherds and made to tell funny stories. You see how he is?)

    Bottom line: Silenus is all about excess. He shows us what happens when you have too much of anything. In this way, Silenus is actually a perfect addition to the story of King Midas. A little wine might be good (for the 21 and over crowd), but too much is bad. Same with gold, it seems.

    Through his role in this and other myths, Silenus has become a mythological poster boy for debauchery. Want to see him in action? Check out these sources:

    P.S. If you want to learn more about Silenus, take a look at Shmoop's guide to the Satyrs.

  • Dionysus (Bacchus)

    Recap: Dionysus is the god of wine and parties. He's all over Greek myths, but in the story of King Midas, he's the wish-granter. Spoiler alert: it doesn't end well.

    Dionysus doesn't get a ton of screen time during this story. In fact, the only time we really see him doing his thing is when he grants Midas's wish. But Ovid includes a pretty important detail when the wish-granting goes down. According to the Roman poet, Dionysus is "sorry that [Midas] had not chosen better."

    That's right: Dionysus knows that Midas has made a bad choice, but he grants the wish anyway. Why? Well, it might simply be a matter of keeping his word. Dionysus promised to grant any wish—he never said that it had to be a smart wish. Or maybe Dionysus wants Midas to experience the consequences of his decision. After all, one of the story's major themes is that greed has consequences. Ovid's text doesn't really provide much evidence for us, but chewing on it a bit might be central to deciding how we feel about the story.

    For much, much more about Dionysus, check out his profile on Shmoop.

  • King Midas

    Recap: After partying with Silenus for ten days (whew), Midas returns the satyr to Dionysus and is granted one wish. His choice? That everything he touches turns into gold. It works out well for him until he realizes that everything he tries to eat also turns to gold. He begs Dionysus for help, and Dionysus sends him to bathe in the river Pactolus, which finally frees him of the golden touch.

    If you judge Midas based on his actions during the story, you'll probably be forced to decide that he's an idiot. He's a nice idiot, yes, but he's still an idiot. But you know what? We think it's kind of unfair to look at him that way. Why? Well, we're glad we asked.

    You see, we might call it the story of King Midas, but it isn't actually about King Midas. It's about greed. King Midas is just a tool used to teach us about the dangers of being greedy. Fancy people call this kind of story a parable: a short story with an obvious moral or life lesson. You've probably heard plenty of 'em in your day.

    So how do we deal with a character that's been set up to teach a moral lesson? Simple. We recognize that he's been set up to teach us a lesson. Instead of trying to judge Midas like a regular character, we can judge him as a rhetorical tool. Let's do just that.

    Is Midas effective in teaching us about greed?

    Well, he does make a greedy wish, and his greedy wish gets him into a lot of trouble. So he does seem to suggest that greed is bad. But he also escapes his doom pretty easily. All he has to do is beg Dionysus for help. Is the lesson, then, that recognizing your own faults leads to being saved? Or do we learn that we can be as greedy as we want as long as we apologize later?

    What do you think?

    P.S. King Midas was a real dude. He probably never turned stuff into gold, but he ruled over an area in Asia called Phrygia sometime during the 8th century BCE. Myths and stories about him began to pop up later about 300 years later, and in addition to Ovid, the story of Midas has been covered by a ton of authors including

    • Geoffrey Chaucer, the first poet to be successful writing in the English language.
    • John Dryden, whose poetry dominated late-17th-century England.
    • And Nathaniel Hawthorne, the dude who wrote The Scarlet Letter.

    Not too shabby.

  • King Midas's Daughter

    Most people who know the story of King Midas will remember that Midas accidently turned his daughter into a golden statue. But here's the funny thing: most ancient stories make no mention of Midas having a daughter.

    Huh?

    That's right. Ovid, our main man, doesn't mention a daughter. Neither do the Greek historians, Herodotus and Xenophon, whom scholars often look to for answers about the Greek world.

    We're not exactly sure when the daughter came into the picture, but we do know that Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter guy) included it in his story called "The Golden Touch."