Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

A Golden Girl

Silenus was a careless old fellow, who is often seen in pictures wearing a garland of ivy and riding on a wine cask. Dionysus, the god of vineyards, was fond of him, for the old man had been his schoolmaster. Once he wandered away, not exactly knowing what he was doing. Some countrymen found him and took him to their king, Midas. He knew Silenus and led him kindly into the palace. For ten days he treated him with the best of everything and then conducted him to Dionysus.

The god was pleased, and said to Midas, "Choose what you would like best. That shall be the reward for this kindness."

Midas said, "Grant this, that everything I touch may turn to gold."

Dionysus answered, "It shall be as you wish, but let me tell you that you have made a poor choice."

King Midas did not think so. He went away glad and proud. He broke off an oak-branch and was delighted to find in his hand a cane of solid gold. He picked up a stone; it went into his pocket a heavy lump of gold. He gathered a flower; in a moment it was a golden rose. He reached up his hand and took an apple; it changed into shining gold.

"I shall be richer than anybody," he thought. He went along singing a little song, "Rich and happy, rich and happy."

He entered his palace and said to his servants, "Bring me all the cups and dishes in the house." They obeyed. He touched the vessels, and they changed into gold.

"Of what is my dining-table made?" he asked.

The servants answered, "Of oak, your majesty."

"Follow me!" he said. They all went into the dining-hall and saw him touch the table, which was then no longer oaken, but became bright gold.

"Now bring me a splendid dinner," he ordered. "We have a proper table service, let us have something good to eat."

He sat down upon a chair; it turned to gold. His clothes had already become cloth of gold, so stiff that he could hardly move in them.

Dinner was brought in. His chair was too heavy to move, so he had another placed at the table and sat down. That seat also became gold in a moment. He took up a piece of bread; before he could break it, a change had taken place, and it was hard gold. He laid his hand on a bunch of grapes; they were so heavy that he dropped them with a clatter of gold upon the golden dish.

The king began to be frightened. "Why, at this rate I shall starve to death," he cried. "Since I can not eat, I will drink."

He seized a gold cup, full of milk with instantly turned yellower than any cream, yellow as gold. No drop could pass his lips. He was more than ever frightened.

"Miserable man that I am," he said, "I fear there is nothing but starvation before me. Bring me the princess, bring my litter daughter, and let her comfort her poor rich father."

She came running in and was pleased to see so much gold. "Oh, father," she said, "where did all these pretty things come from? Gold cups and dishes, and gold grapes, and gold bread! Why, this is wonderful!"

"Come to me, darling," her father cried. "Your poor father has made a great mistake. Come and kiss me, dearest!"

She ran into his arms. She was a pretty girl, with yellow hair that some people called golden. As her father touched her, she stood still as a statue. Her rosy face changed to yellow. Her hair became an orange color. Her smile showed yellow teeth, that had once been white. Her pink arms, her lily hands, her red shows, all were yellow. She did not move or speak, or even cry. She could not; she was a golden girl. Her father tried to lift her on his lap but she was too heavy.

He ran as fast as he could to Dionysus.

"Oh, I was wrong," he sobbed. "You told me I had made a mistake, and it is too true. Take back your fatal gift, and oh, give me back my darling little girl!"

The god told him, "Take your child with you to the head of the river Pactolus. Wash yourself and her in the water, and you both shall be like other people again."

Midas obeyed. The little girl turned red and white again and said, "How strange! See, father, how the sands in the river-bed sparkle! They look like gold!"

They were gold, but she was flesh again. Midas had lost his strange power, but he was much happier. Ever afterwards the sands of Pactolus were golden.

Midas made another mistake. He said that the god Pan could make better music than the god Apollo. From that time his ears began to grow long and hairy.

To hide them he put on a large turban, such as the Turks wear now. But his barber could not help seeing them. The hair-dresser did not dare to tell his wife, but he could not keep such a secret. He went out by the river bank, dug a hole, whispered into it, "King Midas has ass's ears!" and filled up the hole again.

Soon a crop of reeds sprang up there, and as the wind blew through them, the people passing by heard them whisper,