The crazy god Dionysus is traveling to Mount Timolus (somewhere in Turkey) with a large group of followers.
One of his companions, Silenus, gets drunk and loses his way. Not all that strange in the scheme of Dionysus-related happenings.
But things get exciting when some peasants find Silenus and take him to their king, Midas. (Yep, that's the Midas of the title.)
Midas recognizes Silenus as a follower of Dionysus and honors him with a ten-day feast, because apparently that's a big deal.
When Midas returns Silenus to Dionysus, the god of wine rewards Midas by offering to grant him a single wish.
Midas's wish? That everything he touches would turn to gold. (Sounds like a good choice to us.)
At first, Midas loves his new power, but when even the food he tries to eat turns to gold, he panics. (Hmmm, we didn't think about that part.)
When Midas begs Dionysus to take back the wish, Dionysus tells him to bathe in the river Pactolus.
He does, and the power of his golden touch flows out into the water, leaving gold nuggets in the sand. Ta-da—wish ungranted.
The Less Short Story
Let's follow our favorite Roman poet Ovid through the story of good ol' King M. It all starts as Dionysus is on his way to Timolus.
Dionysus is fleeing after he punished the women who murdered Orpheus, rock star to the Greeks. (NB: Don't murder a god's favorite singer—they don't like it.)
Behind Dionysus comes a long line of followers, singing and partying as they go. Among the followers is Dionysus's teacher, Silenus.
Silenus is a satyr: a short, chubby dude with goat legs and horns.
While traveling, Silenus gets super drunk and loses his way. (This sort of thing tends to happen when you're drunk, so we don't recommend it.) Silenus wanders around aimless and unsure what to do about it, until he bumps into a group of peasants.
The peasants take pity on the drunken satyr and help direct him to the palace.
(Other versions of the story suggest that Silenus actually found the palace on his own, where he passed out in the rose garden. Still other versions say that Midas lured Silenus to the palace and tricked him into drinking from a fountain full of wine. Yeah, ancient Greeks often had trouble making up their mind.)
Back to the story: the peasants carry the drunken Silenus to the palace and hand him over to King Midas. As it turns out, King Midas is a follower of the rituals of Dionysus, which basically involve drinking lots of wine.
Midas recognizes Silenus as a member of Dionysus's group and immediately declares a feast in honor of the satyr. The party lasts ten days, which is exhausting to even think about.
After the party finally ends, Midas helps Silenus catch up with Dionysus.
Dionysus is so pleased to have his old teacher back that he offers to grant Midas one wish. (Can we get us one of those?)
Midas thinks it over for a minute and then wishes that everything he touches from now on will turn to gold.
Done and done.
Midas and Dionysus part ways, and the wine god continues his journey toward Timolus.
Midas, meanwhile, goes around touching everything he can get his hands on. Sounds kind of rash, but to be fair, if somebody told us that we could turn things into gold, we'd probably go around touching a bunch of stuff, too.
And get this: it works. Midas grabs a tree branch, and sure enough, it turns into a golden stick. He grabs a handful of dirt, and it turns into a fat, gold nugget.
Feeling awesome about his life (duh), Midas returns home.
And that's where things start to go wrong.
Imagine this: Midas gets home. He's had a long journey and he's tired. He hands his travel cloak to a servant, brushes off his pants, and heads for the dining room. A man needs food after a long trip, right? He orders the cooks to fry up some chicken and bake some fresh bread.
Then he pulls up a chair and plops himself down at the table. The food comes. It smells delicious. He grabs a slice of bread and takes a huge bite. Bam! The bread turns to gold. Angry, Midas throws the bread away and grabs some chicken instead. Bam! Gold.
He tries to gnaw at the food without using his hands, but when his teeth touch the meat it turns to gold. He tries to drink some wine, but as he swallows it turns to liquid gold in his throat.
Yeah, this isn't good.
At some point—basically when he gets so hungry he can't stand it—Midas realizes what a terrible wish he's made. (Other versions of the story say that Midas doesn't give up until he accidentally turns his daughter into a golden statue. Oops.)
Midas cries out to Dionysus, begging the god to take back his power. Dionysus hears Midas and agrees to save him from the golden curse.
He instructs Midas to travel into the hills, to the source of the river Pactolus. Midas obeys.
When he reaches the place where the river begins, Dionysus tells him to take a bath. And sure enough, as Midas bathes, the power of the golden touch flows out of him and into the water.
The water becomes speckled with tiny flakes of gold.
Midas leaves the river, free of his curse and feeling like a new man. In fact, he hates the whole idea of money now.
Just one problem: he's a king, and kings always have money. So to escape the burden of wealth, Midas decides to take a break from being king.
Instead he wanders the forest, worshiping the wilderness god, Pan.