People - Ancient Near East: Midas (=Mita)
Ancient Near East
Midas (=Mita) in Wikipedia
Midas or King Midas (in Greek Μίδας) is popularly remembered in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. This was called the Golden touch, or the Midas touch. He bears some relation to the historical Mita, king of the Mushki in Western Anatolia in the later 8th century BC.
Midas was king of Pessinus, a city of Phrygia, who as a child was adopted by the king Gordias and Cybele, the goddess whose consort he was, and who (by some accounts) was the goddess-mother of Midas himself. Some accounts place the youth of Midas in Macedonian Bermion (See Bryges) In Thracian Mygdonia, Midas was known for his garden of roses: Herodotus remarks on the settlement of the ancient kings of Macedon on the slopes of Mount Bermion "the place called the garden of Midas son of Gordias, where roses grow of themselves, each bearing sixty blossoms and of surpassing fragrance". In this garden, according to Macedonians, Silenos was taken captive. According to Iliad (V.860), he had one son, Lityerses, the demonic reaper of men, but in some variations of the myth he had a daughter, Zoë or "life" instead. For the son of Midas, see Adrastus.
Arrian gives an alternative story of the descent and life of Midas. According to him, Midas was the son of Gordios, a poor peasant, and a Telmissian maiden of the prophetic race. When Midas grew up to be a handsome and valiant man, the Phrygians were harassed by civil discord, and consulting the oracle, they were told that a wagon would bring them a king, who would put an end to their discord. While they were still deliberating, Midas arrived with his father and mother, and stopped near the assembly, wagon and all. They, comparing the oracular response with this occurrence, decided that this was the person whom the god told them the wagon would bring. They therefore appointed Midas king and he, putting an end to their discord, dedicated his father’s wagon in the citadel as a thank-offering to Zeus the king for sending the eagle. In addition to this the following saying was current concerning the wagon, that whosoever could loosen the cord of the yoke of this wagon, was destined to gain the rule of Asia. This someone was Alexander the Great.
The Great Tumulus
Tomb of King Midas (reconstruction)
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey
In 1957, archaeologists connected with the University of Pennsylvania opened a chamber tomb at the heart of the Great Tumulus (53 meters in height, about 300 meters in diameter) on the site of ancient Gordion (modern Yassihöyük, Turkey), where there are more than 100 tumuli of different sizes and from different periods. They discovered a royal burial, its timbers recently dated as cut about 740 BC complete with remains of the funeral feast and "the best collection of Iron Age drinking vessels ever uncovered". This inner chamber was rather large; 5.15 meters by 6.2 meters in breadth and 3.25 meters high. On a wooden bedstead in the corner of the chamber lay a skeleton of a man 1.59 meters in height and about 60 years old. In the room there were decorated furniture and panels plus many vessels with grave offerings. Though no identifying texts were associated with the site, it is popularly dubbed the "Tomb of Midas" (Penn). Later investigations showed that this funerary monument could not have been constructed after the Cimmerian invasion in the early seventh century BC. Therefore, it is now understood to be the monument for an earlier king than Midas.
Previously in the nineteenth century, at Midas Sehri, a "Tomb of Midas" was discovered. The name was given on the basis of the word "Mida", identified in incompletely translated Phrygian inscriptions. That "tomb" is no longer believed to be a tomb, but rather a sacred site to Cybele.
Once, as Ovid relates in Metamorphoses XI Bacchus found his old schoolmaster and foster father, the satyr Silenus, missing.
The old satyr had been drinking wine and had wandered away drunk, later to be found by some Phrygian peasants, who carried him to their king, Midas (alternatively, he passed out in Midas' rose garden). Midas recognized him and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness, while Silenus delighted Midas and his friends with stories and songs.
On the eleventh day, he brought Silenus back to Bacchus in Lydia. Bacchus offered Midas his choice of whatever reward he wished for. Midas asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold.
Midas rejoiced in his new power, which he hastened to put to the test. He touched an oak twig and a stone; both turned to gold. Overjoyed, as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. "So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold; but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold, cursed his prayer" (Claudian, In Rufinem). In a version told by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Midas found that when he touched his daughter, she turned into a statue as well.
Now, Midas hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Bacchus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Bacchus heard, and consented; he told Midas to wash in the river Pactolus.
Midas did so, and when he touched the waters, the power flowed into the river, and the river sands turned into gold. This explained why the river Pactolus was so rich in gold, and the wealth of the dynasty claiming Midas as its forefather no doubt the impetus for this aetiological myth. Gold was perhaps not the only metallic source of Midas' riches: "King Midas, a Phrygian, son of Cybele, first discovered black and white lead".
Midas, now hating wealth and splendor, moved to the country and became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields and satyr. Roman mythographers asserted that his tutor in music was Orpheus.
Once, Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and challenged Apollo, the god of the lyre, to a trial of skill (also see Marsyas). Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen as umpire. Pan blew on his pipes and, with his rustic melody, gave great satisfaction to himself and his faithful follower, Midas, who happened to be present.
Then, Apollo struck the strings of his lyre. Tmolus at once awarded the victory to Apollo, and all but one agreed with the judgment. Midas dissented, and questioned the justice of the award.
Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer, and caused them to become the ears of a donkey. The myth is illustrated by two paintings, "Apollo and Marsyas" by Palma il Giovane (1544-1628), one depicting the scene before, and one after, the punishment.
Midas was mortified at this mishap. He attempted to hide his misfortune under an ample turban or headdress, but his barber of course knew the secret, so was told not to mention it. However, the barber could not keep the secret; he went out into the meadow, dug a hole in the ground, whispered the story into it, then covered the hole up. A thick bed of reeds later sprang up in the meadow, and began whispering the story, saying "King Midas has donkey's ears".
Sarah Morris demonstrated (Morris 2004) that donkeys' ears were a Bronze Age royal attribute, borne by King Tarkasnawa (Greek Tarkondemos) of Mira, on a seal inscribed in both Hittite cuneiform and Luwian hieroglyphs: in this connection, the myth would appear to justify for Greeks the exotic attribute.
In pre-Islamic legend of Central Asia, the king of the Ossounes of the Yenisei basin had donkey's ears. He would hide them, and order each of his barbers killed to hide his secret. The last barber among his people was counselled to whisper the heavy secret into a well after sundown, but he didn't cover the well afterwards. The well water rose and flooded the kingdom, creating the waters of Lake Issyk-Kul.
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