What Is the Touch of Midas?
The “touch of Midas” is the ability to turn everything to gold-or, in other words, to succeed. The gift of profiting from whatever one undertakes, is named for a legendary king of Phrygia. In ancient Greek mythology, Midas was the son of Gordius, the king of Phrygia, who devised the Gordian knot, and of Cybele, the goddess of caverns and the Great Mother of the Gods.
Midas succeeded his father on the Phrygian throne and showed himself a wise and pious king. One day, when he was strolling on the banks of the River Sangarius, he came across a drunken man who had been tied up by peasants. Midas released the man and thereby earned the gratitude of Dionysus, the god of wine, who promised to grant a wish as a reward. The king wished that everything he touched should be turned into gold and was granted the power to transmute whatever he touched into gold. But he soon regretted his choice, for even the food he took in his hand to eat turned to 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 touched every rose in the rose garden, and all became gold. He ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. Upon discovering how even the food and drink turned into gold in his hands, he regretted his wish and cursed it.
Claudian states in his In Rufinem: “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.”
In a version told by Nathaniel Hawthorne in A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (1852), Midas’ daughter Marygold came to him, upset about the roses that had lost their fragrance and become hard, and when he reached out to comfort her, found that when he touched his daughter, she turned to gold as well. Now, Midas hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Dionysus heard his prayer, and consented; telling Midas to wash in the river Pactolus. Then, whatever he put into the water would be reversed of the touch.
Midas did so, and when he touched the waters, the power flowed into the river, from then on the river was said to flow with gold dust 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. This ancient legend gave rise to the expression “the Midas touch”. When “Midas touch” is used today, the moral of this tale of greed is usually ignored.