O NCE upon a time the god Pan fell in love with a Naiad, or water-nymph, named Syrinx. She was very beautiful, as all the nymphs were; but Pan, as you know, was very ugly—so ugly that she hated him, and was afraid of him, and would have nothing to do with him. At last, to escape from him, she turned herself into a reed.
But even then Pan did not lose his love for her. He gathered the reed, and made it into a musical instrument, which he called a Syrinx. We call it a Pan-pipe, after the name of its inventor, and because upon this pipe Pan turned into music all his sorrow for the loss of Syrinx, making her sing of the love to which she would not listen while she was alive.
I suppose that King Midas still kept up his friendship for Silenus and the satyrs, for one day he was by when Pan was playing on his pipe of reeds, and he was so delighted with the music that he cried out, "How beautiful!" Apollo himself is not so great a musician as Pan!"
You remember the story of Marsyas, and how angry Apollo was when anybody's music was put before his own? I suppose that some ill-natured satyr must have told him what King Midas had said about him and Pan. Anyway, he was very angry indeed. And Midas, the next time he looked at himself in his mirror, saw that his ears had been changed into those of an Ass.
This was to show him what sort of ears those people must have who like the common music of earth better than the music which the gods send down to us from the sky. But, as you may suppose, it made Midas very miserable and ashamed. "All my people will think their king an Ass," he thought to himself, "and that would never do."
So he made a very large cap to cover his ears, and never took it off, so that nobody might see what had happened to him. But one of his servants, who was very prying and curious, wondered why the king should always wear that large cap, and what it was that he could want to hide. He watched and watched for a long time in vain. But as last he hid himself in the king's bedroom; and when Midas undressed to go to bed, he saw to his amazement that his master had Ass's ears.
He was very frightened too, as well as amazed. He could not bear to keep such a curious and surprising secret about the king all to himself, for he was a great gossip, like most people who pry into other people's affairs. But he thought to himself, "If I tell about the king's ears he will most certainly cut off my own! But I must tell somebody. Whom shall I tell?"
So, when he could bear the secret no longer, he dug a hole into the ground, and whispered into it, "King Midas has the Ears of an Ass!" Then, having thus eased his mind, he filled up the hole again, so that the secret might be buried in the earth forever.
But all the same, before a month had passed, the secret about the king's ears was known to all the land. How could that be? The king still wore his cap, and the servant had never dared to speak about it to man, woman, or child. You will never be able to guess how the secret got abroad without bring told.
It was in this way. Some reeds grew up out of the place where the servant had made the hole, and of course the reeds had heard what had been whispered into the ground where their roots were. And they were no more able to keep such a wonderful secret to themselves than the servant had been. Whenever the wind blew through them they rustled, and their rustle said, "King Midas has the Ears of an Ass!" The wind heard the words of the reeds, and carried the news through all the land, wherever it blew, "King Midas has the Ears of an Ass!" And all the people heard the voice of the wind, and said to one another, "What a wonderful thing—King Midas has the ears of an Ass!"