Ovid (43 B.C. - A.D. 17?), Metamorphoses. Bk. 11

The Tale of Midas

The hospitality of Midas towards Silenus, the tutor of Bacchus, is rewarded by the grateful deity with a permission to choose whatever recompense he pleases. Midas imprudently demands that whatever he touches may be turned into gold. His prayers are granted ; and he is in danger of perishing by hunger, when the indulgent god supplies a remedy. Some time after this adventure Midas has the folly to maintain the superiority of Pan to Apollo in musical skill; for which rash opinion his ears are exchanged into those of an ass, to denote his ignorance and stupidity.






























NOR this sufficed ; the god's disgust remains,
And he resolves to quit their bated plains:
The vineyards of Tymole ingross his care,
And with a better choir he fixes there;
Where the smooth streams of clear Pactolus roll'd,
Then undistinguished for its sands of gold.
The satyrs with the nymphs, his usual throng,
Come to salute their god, and jovial danced along:
Silenus only miss'd; for while he reel'd,
Feeble with age and wine, about the field,
The hoary drunkard had forgot his way,
And to the Phrygian clowns became a prey;
Who to king Midas drag the captive god,
While on his totty pate the wreaths of ivy nod.

Midas from Orpheus had been taught his lore,
And knew the rites of Bacchus long before:
He, when he saw his venerable guest,
In honor of the god ordain'd a feast.
Ten days in course, with each continued night,
Were spent in genial mirth and brisk delight;

Then on the eleventh, when, with brighter ray,
Phosphor had chased the fading stars away,
The king through Lydia's fields young Bacchus sought,
And to the god his foster-father brought.
Pleased with the welcome sight, he bids him soon
But name his wish, and swears to grant the boon.
A glorious offer! yet but ill bestow'd
On him whose choice so little judgment show'd.

`Give me,' says be, (nor thought he ask'd too much)
`That with my body whatsoe'er I touch,
Changed from the nature which it held of old,
May be converted into yellow gold.'

He had his wish: but yet the god repined,
To think the fool no better wish could find.
But the brave king departed from the place

With smiles of gladness sparkling in his face;
Nor could contain, but, as he took his way,
Impatient longs to make the first essay.

Down from a lowly branch a twig he drew,
The twig straight glitter'd with a golden hue
He takes a stone, the stone was turn'd to gold:
A clod he touches, and the crumbling mould
Acknowleged soon the great transforming power,
In weight and substance like a mass of ore :
He pluck'd the corn, and straight his grasp appears
Fill'd with a bending tuft of golden ears.
An apple next he takes, and seems to hold
The bright Hesperian vegetable gold:
His hand he careless on a pillar lays,
With shining gold the fluted pillars blaze
And, while he washes, as the servants pour,
His touch converts the stream to Danae's shower.
To see these miracles so finely wrought
Fires with transporting joy his giddy thought.

The ready slaves prepare a sumptuous board,
Spread with rich dainties for their happy lord;
Whose powerful hands the bread no sooner hold,
But its whole substance is transformed to gold:
Up to his month be lifts the savory meat,
Which turns to gold as he attempts to eat:
His patron's noble juice of purple hue,
Touch'd by his lips , a gilded cordial grew,
Unfit for drink; and, wondrous to behold,
It trickles from his jaws a fluid gold.

The rich poor fool, confounded with surprise,
Starving in all his various plenty lies;
Sick of' his wish, he now detests the power,
For which be ask'd so earnestly before ;
Amidst his gold with pinching famine cursed,
And justly tortured with an equal thirst:
At last, his shining arms to heaven he rears,
And, in distress, for refuge flies to prayers.
`O father Bacchus, I have sinn'd,' be cried,
And foolishly thy gracious gift applied;
Thy pity now, repeating, I implore,
O may I feel the golden plague no more!'

The hungry wretch, his folly thus confess'd,
Touch'd the kind deity's good-natured breast;
The gentle god annull'd his first decree,
And from the cruel compact set him free.
But then, to cleanse him quite from further harm,
And to dilute the relics ofthe charm,
He bids him seek the stream, that cuts the land
Nigh where the towers of Lydian Sardis stand;
Then trace the river to the fountain head,
And meet it rising from its rocky bed;
There, as the bubbling tide pours forth amain,
To plunge his body in, and wash away the stain.

The king, instructed, to the fount retires,
But with the golden charm the stream inspires;
For, while this quality the man forsakes,
An equal power the limpid water takes;
Informs with veins Of gold the neighboring land,
And glides along a bed of golden sand.

Now loathing wealth, the occasion of his woes,
Far in the woods, be sought a calm repose
In caves and grottos, where the nymphs resort,
And keep with mountain Pan their sylvan court.
Ah! had he left his stupid soul behind
But his condition alter'd not his mind.
For where high Tmolus rears his shady brow,
And from his cliffs surveys the seas below
In his descent, by Sardis bounded here,
By the small confines of Hypaepa there,
Pan to the nymphs his frolic ditties play'd,
Tuning his reeds beneath the chequer'd shade.

The nymphs are pleased, the boasting sylvan plays,
And speaks with slight of great Apollo's lays.
Tmolus was arbiter; the boaster still
Accepts the trial with unequal skill.
The venerable judge was seated high
On his own hill, that seem'd to touch the sky.
Above the whispering trees his head he rears,
From their incumbering boughs to free his ears;
A wreath of oak alone his temples bound,
The pendant acorns loosely dangled round.

`In me, your judge,' says he, `there's no delay;'
Then bids the goat-herd god begin and play,
Pan tuned his pipe, and with his rural song
Pleased the low taste of all the vulgar throng.
Such songs a vulgar judgment mostly please,
Midas was there, and Midas judged with these.

The mountain sire, with grave deportment, now
To Phoebus turns his venerable brow
And, as he turns, with him the listening wood
In the same posture of attention stood.
The god his own Parnassian laurel crown'd,
And in a wreath his golden tresses bound;
Graceful his purple mantle swept the ground.
High on the left his ivory lute he raised;
The lute, emboss'd with glittering jewels, blazed;
In his right hand he nicely held the quill,
His easy posture spoke a master's skill;
The strings be touch'd with more than human art,
Which pleased the judge's ear, and soothed his heart;
Who soon judiciously the palm decreed,
And to the lute postponed the squeaking reed.

All, with applause, the rightful sentence heard,
Midas alone dissatisfied appear'd;
To him unjustly given the judgment seems,
For Pan's barbaric notes he most esteems.
The lyric god, who thought his untuned ear
Deserved but ill a human form to wear,
Of that deprives him, and supplies the place
With some more fit, and of an ampler space,
Fix'd on his noddle an unseemly pair,
Flagging, and large, and full ol'whitish hair;
Without a total change from what he was,
Still in the man preserves the simple ass.

He, to conceal the scandal of the deed,
A purple turban folds about his head,
Veils the reproach from public view, and fears
The laughing world would spy his monstrous ears.
One trusty barber-slave, that used to dress
His master's hair, when lengthen'd to excess,
The mighty secret knew, but knew alone,
And, though impatient, durst not make it known.

Restless, at last a private place be found,
Then dug a hole, and told it to the ground;
In a low whisper he reveal'd the case,
And cover'd in the earth, and silent left the place,

In time, of trembling reeds a plenteous crop
From the confided furrow sprouted up,
Which, high advancing with the ripening year,
Made known the tiller, and his fruitless care;
For then the rustling blades and whispering wind
To tell the important secret both combined.

From Ovid, tr. by Dryden, Pope, Congreve, Addison, and Others, London, 1833, Vol I, pp. 280-287. Note that the line numbers refer to this edition, not to Ovid's Latin text.

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