Too Much of a Good Thing:
The Ancient Tale of King Midas and his Golden Touch
The astrological sign we know today as Sagittarius is symbolized by the centaur, a creature who bore the upper body of a human being and whose lower physicality consisted of the legs of a wild stallion. Despite being part animal, the race of centaurs were enlightened beings of high intellect that served both the gods of Mount Olympus and Mankind’s finest heroes as teachers of advanced and higher learning along with being mentors of exemplary judgement that regularly imparted their words of wisdom onto their students. The non-rational, animal side of the Centaur only emerged whenever these half horsemen became intoxicated and despite their large size, were susceptible to extreme displays of drunken behavior with even the smallest portions of wine. Once inebriated, the centaur would almost instantly become belligerent and could so easily fly into a rage, mortal men were known to have been ripped to shreds without the drunken centaur even giving it a second thought. Thus the only humans who dared to be in the presence of these knowledgeable yet highly volatile creatures were those considered to be truly brave of heart.
Aware of their species’ instinctual inclination to become violent while in the pursuit of pleasure, most centaurs refrained from any kind of exposure to wine and became life long sources of council to many of those whom they mentored and taught.
Thus was the case between the god of wine and debauchery, Dionysus and his childhood teacher, the centaur Silenus. Despite being one of the most influential gods over all of Humanity, Dionysus regularly sought out his aged centaur teacher, asking for Silenus’ thoughts regarding things which the god found philosophically vexing or considered to be in any way complex.
Each time the teacher and former student would convene, the Lord of the Bacchanal would try to entice Silenus to join him in some merriment by partaking in just a spot of wine together and every time Silenus would politely yet firmly refuse Dionysus’ offer.
Once, when Silenus was much advanced in years the god of wine had had his fill of the centaur’s constant protestations, so Dionysus decided to play a trick on his dear old friend. The god summoned for Silenus’ presence high atop Mount Olympus and as the aged centaur dutifully galloped his way up the rocky terrain towards the palace of the gods, Dionysus asked his brother Apollo, Lord of the Sun, to concentrate his solar energies directly upon the half horseman as he made his trek upwards toward the Heavens. The amplified Sunlight and sudden spike of temperature became practically unbearable for Silenus yet he remained focused on his goal. Despite being drenched in sweat and heavily panting, the centaur majestically bowed low upon approaching the god of wine’s divine presence. Noting how parched and overheated he looked, Dionysus insisted that his mentor rehydrate himself and offered Silenus a large chalice which the god of wine assured was filled with refreshingly cool ice water. Silenus gratefully accepted and downed the chalice’s contents in one gulp.
Fully unaware the drinking vessel was nearly filled to the rim with Ambrosian wine.
Not wanting his divine former student to see him become uncontrollably inebriated, Silenus dashed away in a frantic gallop back to Earth. The enchanted wine’s intoxicating effect was almost instantaneous as the centaur raced in a panic towards the world of men. Before his rational mind fully succumbed to the elixir, Silenus told himself to seek out a place where he stood a chance of being alone so as not to put himself at any risk of fighting, and in effect killing as many mortal men he possibly came across. Upon reaching the Earth’s surface, the centaur immediately could sense the sweet smell of roses. Wildly racing towards the lovely scent, Silenus came upon a garden of immensely tall rose bushes, all in full bloom. The centaur had exerted so much energy running both to and from Mount Olympus that the concentrated aroma from the many roses bushes in one central place along with the wine’s heavy intoxication forced the centaur to stumble to the ground motionless and pass out.
Rather than becoming embroiled in any kind of violent brawl, Silenus had instead fallen into a state of drunken deepest sleep in the heavily perfumed rose gardens of King Midas of Phyrigia.
Despite the luxurious vastness of his stately rose gardens, Midas was a simple man who ruled his Kingdom with little pomp or pretense. He was much loved by his subjects and was known throughout the land as a monarch who governed with fairness and wisdom. And the judgements Midas passed on others were always made with full consideration of the best solution for all parties involved. Privately, the King relished whatever time he could allot for his loving family which consisted of his wife whose striking looks were equally matched by her compassionate sense of caring for others, Queen Damodice along with his most treasured of all possessions, Midas’ 9 year old daughter whom he adored more than Life itself, the Princess Zoe.
In short, Midas of Phyrigia was a content man.
Wisdom, when exercised from a rougher, more intuitive place is better known through such terms as “street smarts” or “shrewdness” and Midas best expressed his shrewdness whenever issues involving his own self-protection or self-survival arose. When the King was informed a centaur was discovered passed out in a drunkenly unconscious state in the midst of the royal rose gardens out in the open for all eyes to see, Midas saw to it that the half horseman be left undisturbed exactly where he lay.
Although Phyrigia’s King had never directly encountered such a creature, he was well aware of the centaur’s violent tendencies when intoxicated. Shrewdly, Midas called forth the shepherd who tended his rose gardens and commanded that he was to keep watch and wait for the centaur to rouse himself. The King specified that only when that took place should the creature be approached and offered food and drink. Midas also commanded that 10 hours would need to fully pass following the centaur first taking food that the shepherd be allowed to then present the creature before his royal presence in court.
The King kept his extensive knowledge of centaurs to himself, knowing a panic could very well ensue should anyone else be enlightened of the half beast’s proclivities towards destroying mortal men even while recuperating from an especially bad hangover.
After the passing of two full days, the loudly snoring centaur finally awoke. Silenus kept his eyes clamped shut upon first regaining waking consciousness, fearing when opened they would reveal himself being covered in the blood of a freshly killed human victim and not having the slightest clue as to what unfolded.
Cold and confused upon awakening from his drunken stupor, King Midas orders the shepherd who tends to his rose gardens to comfort and feed the centaur.
When his eyes did finally open Silenus was pleasantly relieved to see not a speck of blood along with hearing a man’s voice sheepishly inquiring from a distance if he was indeed awake.
Despite his immense embarrassment being found in a drunken slumber, Silenus expressed his deepest gratitude towards the shepherd whose simple but wholesome food was very much needed and appreciated by the centaur who had not eaten for days. And although every part of the aged centaur’s human and horse body intensely ached, Silenus gave his best royal bow with his body fully lowered and his forehead mere inches from the ground when he was presented before the King in Phyrigia’s royal court.
Silenus’ display of gracious manners along with expressing his heart felt gratitude left Midas dumbfounded at first, so impressed was the King with the centaur’s noble carriage.
Midas then asked the centaur if he could grace both the King and his court by providing the pleasure of his company as the esteemed guest of Phyrigia’s Royal Family while he regained his strength with the hope that his visit would last at least a fortnight.
Silenus warmly accepted the King’s generous offer of royal hospitality and the two became immediate close friends.
Days would pass before Silenus could piece together in his memory how he even ended up in Phyrigia. While the centaur convalesced and got to know the King along with his wife and daughter much better, the god of wine and debauchery sat alone for days, convinced his beloved teacher’s life was no more.
And all because the god of drunken ecstasy felt the peevish need to pull a childish prank. Dionysus desperately wanted to beg the messenger god Hermes along with his brother, the god of the Sun for their assistance in scanning the globe to find his mentor’s dead body. And if Apollo was unwilling to do so, the god of excess was prepared to fall to his knees at his brother’s feet and tearfully beg for allowance to drive the Chariot of the Sun, so the Lord of the Bacchanal could conduct the grim search himself.
But Dionysus said nothing and remained motionless and alone while unblinkingly staring outwards, too ashamed and stunned with guilt over what he had done to his wise old master.
When Silenus was at last able to fully recall what had transpired between he and the god of wine, with great haste King Midas sent two of his servants to immediately entreat to Delphi where upon reaching the mystical city they would entreat upon the great Oracle to send offerings of well being and thanksgiving directly in homage to the god of the harvest grape, mighty Dionysus.
Eleven days would pass in all before the god of wine would learn his dear friend was indeed, alive.
Upon hearing that his beloved mentor had not perished, the Lord of the Bacchanal shed tears of joy and wasted not a moment. He immediately alighted to Earth by appearing directly in the center of the King of Phyrigia’s court, bedazzling in his Dionysian splendor.
After warmly embracing his teacher, Dionysus turned to King Midas saying he would be bestowed with whatever his heart desired in grateful thanks for his hospitable deeds towards his reunited friend.
Totally unprepared, Midas stood in uncomfortable silence. His first internal thought was to beg the god’s pardon by stating he was in want of nothing and was truly content with all he possessed but then heard Silenus’ voice loudly whisper “Say you want everything you touch turning into gold.”
The centaur truly felt if it hadn’t been for the King’s compassion he surely would not have survived and felt he could take the liberty to strongarm his friend into making such a bold albeit greedy request.
Feign to squabbling over such divine generosity and before the presence of the divine source from which it came, King Midas genuflected and with bowed head asked the god of ecstasy if his touch could be bestowed with the ability to transform anything it encountered into pure, solid gold.
A flash of light more brilliant than lightning filled the King’s court and when Midas lifted his head, he discovered he was utterly alone.
Instinctively, the King rushed over to the court’s main window that overlooked the castle grounds and went to pull back its heavy brocade curtains expecting to spot any of his guests temporarily located outside.
What the King did not expect was a loud metallic “thump” that was so startling, Midas involuntarily jumped back and away from the window. He was stupefied to discover that the heavy curtain he had grabbed to pull back had become much much heavier, its weight forcing it to hit the wall with a loud, resonating thump…..
Due to the curtain from ceiling to floor being turned into one big mass of solid gold!
Could this really be happening? Midas thought to himself. Feeling light headed the King put his hand against the window pane to steady himself only to hear yet another strange sound as if a long alleyway filled with water was being steadily frozen into ice. Midas stood back to see that the metallic etching which held the framed glass in place now brightly shimmered due to the window’s entire latticework having been turned to pure gold.
Feeling even more lightheaded, Midas quickly made his way to his bedchamber where a basin of fresh water was always freshly prepared. Closing his eyes, the King put both his hands into the basin to throw some water on his face only to immediately open them as he nearly knocked himself out due to partially being hit in the face with the liquid now hardened into a misshapen brick of solid gold.
“I need to eat.” the King said aloud to himself. “I am famished from all the excitement and will feel much better once I have eaten something.”
From the corner of his vision Midas then noticed a silver fruit bowl positioned near the water basin and in it lay the fattest grapes the King had ever seen. They glistened from being freshly washed with every grape naturally aglow a delectable, deep purple. Freshly cut for the harvest, these luscious fruits from the vine would make even Dionysus himself green with envy.
In a single motion, Midas’ open hand clutched the grapes anticipating the fruits’ succulent juice to engulf his mouth and tongue. But what awaited was searing pain and the only liquid which engulfed the King’s mouth was Midas’ own blood due to three of his molars cracking open after chomping down hard on the metallic balls of gold which the grapes had become upon entering his mouth. Screaming in both exasperated frustration and sharpened pain, Midas fell to his knees and openly sobbed as the remaining grapes in his hand each dropped to the floor with a staccato thud before rolling across the marbled floors of the King’s bedchamber in every direction imaginable.
Amidst his wailing, a voice could be heard saying “Dearest Father! Are you ill?” as a 9 year old girl rushed into the room and urgently ran into the King’s open arms.
Midas tightly embraced the girl as he comforted his daughter saying how much better he now felt while gently rubbing her back. The first thing Midas’ brain processed was how suddenly quiet the room had become as if there was a void of all sound. Continuing to hug his little girl as tightly as he could, Midas became motionless as his eyes clamped shut.
“This is not happening. None of this is happening. I have my little Zoe here with me and everything is fine. Everything is completely fine.”
Midas kept mumbling the last sentence over and over and seemed to be in a hypnotic trance to convince himself that indeed, everything truly WAS fine when the piercing sound of hysterical shrieking suddenly filled the room. Midas opened his eyes to see his wife unable to move yet also unable to stop her blood curdling screams as she stood just feet away, her arm outstretched with her index finger stuck pointing as if rigor mortis had set in.
Due to the Queen’s finger pointing in suspended terror towards his daughter’s back. Midas pulled the girl away from his embrace only to see that everything was most certainly not fine.
Little Zoe’s face was frozen with the same expression of alarm as when she first had entered the room searching for her father. Her eyes appeared much larger than usual due to being focused with pure fear. Her mouth was fixed in a tight circle of concern and her cheeks were etched with hardened long lines which once were the girl’s tears before her father’s hands had rendered her lifeless in the purest gold.
Midas could not ascertain any other details due to immediately fainting after he understood what had taken place.
But upon being revived back to consciousness, the King’s only desire was to never awake again upon learning his wife had taken his sword and ended her life after the Queen realized her only child was gone for all eternity.
There was nothing Midas wanted more than to join his wife and daughter and remove himself from the veil of tears that was now his life but the King thought that would be far too easy. Instead Midas beseeched for the Lord of the Bacchanal’s presence and begged Dionysus to remove the golden gift that had now become the King’s marked curse. The god of wine granted Midas’ request saying his golden gift would be removed provided he journey far to the east by himself until he came upon a river whose waters flowed into the Aegean Sea that was called “Pactolus”. It was at the banks of the Pactolus that if Midas so chose, he could remove the golden touch from his hands just by washing them at the river’s edge.
Midas obeyed and upon submerging his open hands into the river, its bed and the adjoining sands along its shores became a golden hue that could clearly be seen glimmering through the Pactolus’ clear waters.
Thus the story of King Midas whose moral tells us there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing was what the ancient Greeks used to explain how the fresh watered rivers of Asia Minor that flowed into the Aegean Sea had gotten their abundantly rich deposits of both black and white lead and lest we not forget, pure gold as well.
For even Nature herself must pay a price to become richer in scale.
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