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King Midas, a Golden Myth

Among all the myths that the Kingdom of Phrygia has given us the most famous is the one that tells the story of King Midas. The legend contains an enriching message and a historical motif.

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At the end of the second millennium before Christ, the Hittite Empire collapsed in the Anatolian peninsula, after the attacks of the enigmatic People of the Sea. The power vacuum is taken advantage of by different groups, among them the Phrygians, coming from the Balkans. The Phrygian Kingdom will bequeath to the Ancient World part of its culture and its legends, some of which have survived to this day. From expressions like “Gordian knot”, referring to problems that require creative solutions, going through the classic Phrygian cap erroneously symbolizing republicanism, even its most famous king: Midas.

The reign of the mythical King Midas had to be placed approximately in the VIII century a. C. and supposed the culmination of the Phrygian power. During this time, Anatolia established strong and frequent relations with the Greek orb. It will be through the Greek stories, or from the interpretations that the Romans made of them, as we will know the history of this town.

A timeless legend

It is precisely the Roman poet Ovid who transfers the definitive version of the myth to us. According to his lyric, Midas would have been a monarch who managed to capture the genius Silenus. He lived free in a Macedonian garden, but he could not get away from the cunning of Midas, who substituted the water from the fountain where Silenus drank for wine. Already drunk, he was able to capture it without difficulty, and that’s when he understood its nature. He decided then to give it to Dionisio, who was delighted to recover it and decided to grant Midas the gift he desired.

At first, the ability to transform objects fascinated him. He began to turn all kinds of objects into golden metal, first the poorest and then the very elements of his palace. Even joyful, he metamorphosed spikes of cereal, fruit in even the water that slipped in his hands. But as is well known, the gift contained a ruse; Thus, when he needed to eat or drink his own food, they could not resist his contact. In the story of Ovid, Dionisio accepts the humility discovered by the king and detaches him in a bath in the Pactolo river of his fateful talent.

«Let everything that touches my body become shining gold.»

-King Midas in Metamorphosis XI, 85 Ovidio-

Who is Midas?

Perhaps the story has lasted to this day for its effectiveness in denouncing greed. Far from being an unreal fantasy, the history of Midas is that of those who value wealth more than human needs. The teaching that he transmits is none other than one of the first expositions of the sentence repeated a thousand times “money does not give happiness” in the same way that gold does not satisfy the soul. After all, gold is not eaten.

The story is obviously legendary, but the links with the character can be traced. Of all the kings of Phrygia, Midas was the most powerful, and also the richest. Both their native lands and the establishment of the Phrygians of the time were rich in gold deposits. In the eyes of its Greek neighbors it must have been a splendid kingdom.

But the success of Midas had nothing to do with the intervention of Dionisio. The complex balance of power of the Near East and Asia Minor was seen by the ruler as a possibility of promotion.

We know that he intrigued against Sargon, the Assyrian king, and for that he collaborated with Armenia. He also sought to expand into Cilicia and support popular uprisings in Cappadocia. All this did not prevent, at the time of greatest power, ignoring allies such as Urartu in pursuit of the protection of ancient enemies such as Assyria. It was political intelligence, and not gold, the great key to its success.

The death of Midas

Perhaps fearful of the gods, perhaps eager to demonstrate his power, his luxurious offerings to the sanctuary of Delphi were narrated to us by Herodotus. Against some versions of his fable, Midas did not die of starvation or convert it into gold. At one point, the crisis and the invasions reached his kingdom and the Assyrians denied him his protection. Thus, before being killed, the king decided to ingest a deadly poison.

His kingdom would still survive him for several decades until he disappeared as an independent entity. His tomb would still await the arrival of Alexander the Great, who would cut the impossible Gordian knot that tied his funeral chariot. A sign that he would be the conqueror of Asia.

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