Too Much Gold; or, The First Story of Midas
T HERE were other beings besides men upon the earth in those days. You ought to know something about them now, because Apollo, while he was banished from the sky, had a great deal to do with them. These beings were called Nymphs, Fauns, and Satyrs.
The Nymphs were a kind of beautiful she-fairies.
Dryads were nymphs who lived in forests.
Hamadryads were nymphs who lived in trees. Every tree has a Hamadryad, who lives in it, who is born when it first grows, and who dies when it dies. So that a Hamadryad is killed whenever a tree is cut down.
Naiads were nymphs belonging to brooks and rivers. Every stream has its Naiad.
Ŏreads were nymphs who lived upon hills and mountains. They used to attend upon Apollo's sister Diana, who went hunting every moonlight night among the hills.
The Fauns and Satyrs were he-creatures, like men, with the hind-legs of goats, short horns on their foreheads, and long pointed ears. But there was a difference between the Fauns and Satyrs. The Fauns were handsome, gentle, innocent, and rather foolish. The Satyrs were hideous, clumsy, hairy monsters, with flat faces, little eyes, and huge mouths, great gluttons, often drunk, and sometimes mischievous: most of them were dull and stupid, but many of them had plenty of sense and knowledge. The Fauns and Satyrs lived among the woods and hills like the Dryads and Oreads.
The king of all these Nymphs, Fauns, and Satyrs was a god named Pan, who was himself a very hideous satyr. He had nothing to do with the gods of Olympus, but lived on the earth, chiefly in a part of Greece called Arcādia. "Pan" is the Greek for "all"—you remember the same word in the name of "Pan-dora." He was called "Pan" because he was the god of "all" nature—all the hills and mountains, all the woods and forests, all the fields, rivers, and streams.
The ugliest, fattest, greediest, tipsiest, cleverest, and wisest of all the satyrs was named Silēnus. He was hardly ever sober, but he knew so much and understood the world so well, that one of the gods, named Bacchus, made Silenus his chief adviser and counselor. You will hear more of Bacchus later on. I will only tell you now that he was not one of the great gods of Olympus, but lived on the earth, like Pan. Only, while Pan was the god of all wild, savage nature, Bacchus was the god of nature as men make it: Bacchus taught men to turn Pan's wild woods into corn-fields and gardens, to put bees into hives, and to make wine. I think Silenus had an especially great deal to do with the wine-making. You will often hear Bacchus called the god of wine, and so he was; but he was a great deal more and better.
This has been a long beginning to my story; but if you will get it well into your head, you will find it easy to remember, and will make a great step in understanding mythology.
Now once upon a time Silenus got very drunk indeed—more drunk even than usual. He was traveling about with Bacchus, but had strayed away by himself, and, when night came on, could not find his way back into the road. He could do nothing but blunder and stagger about in the middle of the thick, dark forest, stumbling and sprawling over the roots of the trees, and knocking his head against the branches. At last he gave a tremendous tumble into a bush, and lay there, too drunk and too fat to pick himself up again. So he went to sleep and snored terribly.
Presently some huntsmen passed by, and thought they heard some wild beast roaring. You may guess their surprise when they found this hideous old satyr helplessly drunk and unable to move. But they did not catch a satyr every day: so they took him by the head and shoulders, and brought him as a prize to the king.
This king was King Midas of Phrygia, which is a country in Asia Minor. As soon as King Midas saw the satyr, he guessed him to be Silenus, the friend of Bacchus: so he did everything to make him comfortable till his drunkenness should pass away. It passed away at last; and then King Midas sent all round about to find where Bacchus was, so that Silenus might go back to him. While the search was being made, the king and the satyr became great friends, and Silenus, keeping fairly sober, gave Midas a great deal of good advice, and taught him science and philosophy.
At last Bacchus was found; and Midas himself brought Silenus back to him. Bacchus was exceedingly glad to see Silenus again, for he was beginning to be afraid that he had lost him forever. "Ask any gift you please," he said to King Midas, "and it shall be yours."
"Grant me," said Midas, "that everything I touch shall turn into gold."
Bacchus looked vexed and disappointed. But he was bound by his promise, and said:—
"It is a fool's wish. But so be it. Everything you touch shall turn to gold."
Midas thanked Bacchus, said good-bye to Silenus and went home. How rich he was going to be—the richest king in the whole world! He opened his palace door, and lo! the door became pure, solid gold. He went from room to room, touching all the furniture, till everything, bedsteads, tables, chairs, all became gold. He got a ladder (which turned into gold in his hands) and touched every brick and stone in his palace, till his whole palace was gold. His horses had golden saddles and golden bridles. His cooks boiled water in golden kettles: his servants swept away golden dust with golden brooms.
When he sat down to dinner, his plate turned to gold. He had become the richest man in the world, thought he with joy and pride, as he helped himself from the golden dish before him. But suddenly his teeth jarred against something hard—harder than bone. Had the cook put a flint into the dish? Alas! it was nothing of the kind. His very food, as soon as it touched his lips, turned to solid gold!
His heart sank within him, while the meat before him mocked his hunger. Was the richest man in the world to starve? A horrible fear came upon him. He poured out wine into a golden cup, and tried to drink, and the wine turned into gold! He sat in despair.
What was he to do? What was the use of all this gold if he could not buy with it a crust of bread or a draught of water? The poorest ploughman was now a richer man than the king. He could only wander about his golden palace till his hunger became starvation, and his thirst a fever. At last, in his despair, he set out and followed after Bacchus again, to implore the god to take back the gift of gold.
At last, when nearly starved to death, he found him. "What!" said Bacchus, "are you not content yet? Do you want more gold still?"
"Gold!" cried Midas, "I hate the horrible word! I am starving. Make me the poorest man in the whole world. Silenus taught me much; but I have learned for myself that a mountain of gold is not the worth of a single drop of dew."
"I will take back my gift, then," said Bacchus. "But I will not give you another instead of it, because all the gods of Olympus could not give you anything better than this lesson. You may wash away your folly in the first river you come to. Good-bye—and only don't think that gold is not a good thing because too much of it is a bad one."
Midas ran to the banks of the river Pactōlus, which ran hard by. He threw off his golden clothes, and hurried barefoot over the sands of the river—and the sand, wherever his naked feet touched it, turned to gold. He plunged into the water, and swam through to the other side. The Curse of the Golden Touch left him, and he ate and drank, and never hungered after gold again. He had learned that the best thing one can do with too much gold is to give it away as fast as one can.
The sand of the river Pactolus is said to have gold in it to this day.