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Turning everything you touch into gold seems like an amazing ability until you stop and consider that you turn everything you touch into gold. Sure you could win or at least tie for first in all the games and sports you’d compete in, but you wouldn’t even be able to re-hydrate afterward without choking on gold dust. Gatorade is crappy enough without it changing into precious metals as it touches your lips.

King Midas has been for a potent symbol of the danger inherent in greed for a very long time. The complete story may not be known to everyone, but the general idea that whatever this man touched turned to gold and its terrible consequences is well known, especially in western cultures. So just how did Midas acquire his golden touch?

The myths say that Midas was a very wealthy and powerful king in the ancient world. One day, a group of peasants happened upon the drunken form of an old satyr named Silenus, one of the wine god Dionysus’s companions and his tutor. The peasants, not knowing what else to do with the strange man they’d found, brought him to Midas’s palace. The King, being a knowledgeable and worldly man, (said to have been taught by Orpheus himself, in some versions of the myth) recognized the Satyr at once and treated him with hospitality and grace, taking great care of this important figure. Silenus, in return, entertained Midas’s court with stories and songs and enjoyed ten full days of feasting and revelry with the King. On the 11th day, Midas brought Silenus back to Dionysus and, for being such a kind and gracious host to his friend, Dionysus offered the king anything he wished for.

Midas, at once, wished for the ability to turn anything he touched into gold and Dionysus consented.

On the road home, Midas was delighted when he touched a twig and it turned into precious gold. He was dazzled every time his hands changed some mundane object into something beautiful and valuable. He was joyful all the way home and, upon arriving, ordered his servants to whip up an incredible feast to celebrate this wonderful gift. The servants spared no expense, laying out a lavish spread across many tables, a feast that made Midas smile all the more. But Midas’s smile didn’t last for long. As he lifted each dish to taste it, he found its contents turned to gold. His wine froze into unmoving metal as it touched his lips. The food became hard and unyielding at his touch. Midas quickly realized the devastating mistake he’d made with his request. In some versions of the myth, he even accidentally turns his own daughter into a statue of gold with a touch before coming to this realization. In horror, he cried out to Dionysus, saying that he was wrong and wishing that the power might be taken away from him. Dionysus, being a good-natured deity, is touched by Midas’s confession and fulfills his request. Midas is told that he must go to the river Pactolus and wash his hands there to cleanse himself of the power.

As he dips his hands into the cool running stream, the King sees his curse washed away. Gold settles into the river sands. It was said this was the reason for this famous river yielding so much gold.

After these events, Midas decided to give up wealth, being disgusted with the whole affair. He became a follower of Pan and lived in the countryside, where he thought he would be happy, but there is another tale of misfortune in poor Midas’s life as a result of that choice as well.

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