Study Guide

King Midas King Midas

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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.

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