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Useful weblinks: King Midas Part 1

Paintings, Pictures and Sculptures

  • Nicolas Poussin’s painting shows Midas on one knee in front of Bacchus. Questions to explore with students: What emotions are the characters feeling? Which part of the myth do you think this is meant to be depicting – the beginning or the end? The Midas in Alex Fishgoyt’s oil painting looks as if he has turned himself to gold! Notice his supernaturally long finger pointing downwards, bringing attention to his power.

Foolishness

  • Foolishness is when something is so lacking in good sense or wisdom as to be laughable. Although his myth can be taken as a moral warning (not to be greedy, for instance, or to think carefully before asking for something), Midas is often represented as a comical figure!

Have a look at these cartoon drawings of Midas: 1, 2 and 3. Do you think these are fitting ways to portray the old king?

Greed

  • Ivan Boesky, an American stock market trader who was sent to prison for insider trading, famously defended greed in his commencement address at the UC Berkeley's School of Business Administration, in which he said, “I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself”.
  • This speech inspired the 1987 film Wall Street, in which Gordon Gekko, a character based in part on Ivan Boesky says “greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
  • Yet the Christian Bible clearly holds a different view! Mark 8.36: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?” Take a look at these two opposing quotes about greed: for and against. What do students think about greed? Is it a positive driving force or a destructive desire?

Dionysus

  • Take a look at this brief outline of Dionysus’ birth and life as a god.
  • Depictions of the god range from archaic to modern, the god being old and the god being young. Usually he is associated with grapes and wine and revelry, sometimes accompanied by wild beasts. Discuss with students how they would portray him.
  • The story of Dionysus and Pentheus (told both in Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book III and in Euripides’ Bacchae) shares similarities with the god’s involvement with Midas: Dionysus tricks the mortal man by exploiting a character flaw (suspicion and curiosity on Pentheus’ part) with a potentially disastrous outcome (Pentheus is torn apart by his female relatives and in some versions of the Midas myth, the king starves to death because of his ‘gift’)! Why do students think Dionysus treats these men as he does? Is he just bored? Or cruel? Or does he wish to set an example for other mortals?
  • Dionysus’ treatment of women is generally much friendlier! His bands of worshippers are composed of only women and when Ariadne is abandoned by Theseus, the god rescues her (here is a painting of Dionysus swooping down to Ariadne’s aid; the artist is Titian). You could ask students what reasons might Dionysus have for favouring one gender over another?

Popular Culture

  • The modern definition of the phrase ‘Midas touch’ is the ability to make, manage and maintain huge amounts of money.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne in "The Golden Touch" from A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys writes his own narrative of the story, from Midas’ point of view. See also illustrations of this narrative by Kinuko Y Kraft.
  • Carol Ann Duffy wrote the poem “Mrs Midas” from the point of view of Midas’ wife, set in a modern time period. She followed the tradition according to Aristotle, that Midas died of starvation because of his vain wish rather than being cured through washing the gift away. Which version do students prefer? Do they think Midas deserved to die?
  • Ted Hughes wrote his own version of the story in his Tales from Ovid. Here is a reading of it by the author himself.
  • The Family Guy episode “Family Guy Viewer Mail 2” makes fun of the myth by having the main character, Peter, possessing the ability to turn everything he touches into actor Robin Williams!
  • In the 1996 video game Tomb Raider, as well as its 2007 remake Tomb Raider: Anniversary, there is a part where Lara Croft explores an underground palace dedicated to King Midas and is greeted by a miraculous golden death if she stands on a large stone hand (the Hand of Midas); the hand's alchemical power is ultimately used for solving a puzzle to reach the next level.
  • In the 1996 Direct-to-Dvd film Aladdin and the King of Thieves, the third and final film in the Aladdin film series, the hand of Midas is an ancient golden hand that can turn anything it touches into gold. Aladdin's father Cassim wishes to find it to become rich instead of poor. Saluk, the main antagonist of the film gets turned into gold when he touches it.
  • There’s even an itunes app that tells the story in an interactive fashion! 

Other Versions

  • According to Aristotle, Midas died of starvation because of his wish. Do you think that would be a better or worse ending?