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Useful weblinks: King Midas Part 2

Paintings and sculptures

  • The French artist Jean-Joseph Carriès created a sculpture of Midas based on his own face – a ‘Self-Portrait as Midas’, c.1885. Here, the ears grow out of the side of his head! How realistic is this? (compare with this real miniature Mediterranean donkey on a farm in Dartmoor).
  • Abraham Govaerts painted The Judgement of Midas in the early 17th century. In what ways has the artist made it obvious who each of the characters are? The Judgement of Midas inspired two paintings by Jacob Jordeans: 1 and 2. In both paintings he has tried to capture all of the action in one scene – in the first one, for instance, Tmolus is giving Apollo the victor’s wreath as Midas points towards Pan (indicating his own personal choice of winner) and Apollo points at Midas, causing him to grow ass’s ears!
    Questions for students: How are the two paintings different? Why do you think he painted two? Which do you like the most and why?


  • A brief description of this god can be found in Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology pp. 582-83: Pan. A god of shepherds and flocks – part-man part-goat…Pan was a god of the wild countryside, wandering the lonely reaches of mountain and forest, sleeping in the heat of the noon-tide (when it was thought very dangerous to disturb him), and playing soft and haunting melodies on the pipes of reed which he had himself invented…Pan had a lustful nature and was always pursuing nymphs who took his fancy…with such a nature, Pan was thought to be responsible for the fertility of flocks and herds, and the animal domain in general.
  • Pan’s musical tendencies and his invention of the pan-pipes acts as the main focus in other depictions of the god.


  • A brief description of this god can be found in Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology pp. 110-11: Apollo. One of the twelve Olympian gods. Apollo (so called by both Greeks and Romans) was the god of prophecy and divination, the patron of music and the arts, and the leader of the Muses. Like his half-brother Hermes, he was associated with the care of flocks and herds. Known from Homer onwards as Phoebus Apollo, the ‘Shining One’, he came to be seen during the fifth century BC as a sun-god, and was sometimes identified with the Sun-god Helios; but only much later did this identification become standard. He was the god of healing…and also the archer-god whose arrows could bring plague and death. Homer calls him ‘Lord of the silver bow’ and Apollo the ‘Far-shooter’.
  • Apollo is often shown playing the lyre – in fact, there is a name for these types of statues: ‘Apollo citharoedus’. Here two examples: one from the Vatican museum, and another from the Museuo Pio-Clementino
  • Yet a lyre was not Apollo’s only instrument - he was also very adept with a bow! Consider this modern representation of him. Both here and in statues from antiquity, Apollo has a toned body with clearly defined muscles and it is from this concept of the god’s body that we get our term ‘Apollonian’ (meaning having the traits of classical beauty)!


  • Foolishness is when something is so lacking in good sense or wisdom as to be laughable. Is Midas foolish?
    Have a look at these cartoon drawings of Midas: 1, 2 and 3. Do students think these are fitting ways to portray the old king?

Keeping a secret

  • Some people are much better at keeping secrets than others (perhaps through practise?) and it also probably depends on what the secret is. But generally keeping a secret isn’t easy. There’s even a wikihow page giving helpful tips to people struggling with staying quiet about something important! (look at advice number 9 especially – this is similar to what the barber did in this myth).
  • Questions for students: Do you blame the barber for ‘telling’ Midas’ secret? Did he actually break his promise to Midas? What would you have done in his position?


  • Consider popular TV shows such as the X factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Great British Bake Off and The Apprentice (to name but a few!). Some are judged by the audience, some by experts, and people often disagree about who should win.
  • Questions for students: Who has the authority to judge? With subjects such as music and art, for example, is it possible to say for sure what is ‘better’ or is it just a matter of taste?

Popular Culture

  • Nick Bottom is a comic relief character in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream whose entire head gets transformed into that of an ass by the playful Puck. See this amusing drawing of the metamorphosis!
  • Geoffrey Chaucer wrote ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’, in which the female narrator mentions Midas’s ears and how it was his wife who let the secret slip (because women can’t keep secrets, is the lesson trying to be taught here!). This is the relevant extract:

950         Pardee, we wommen konne no thyng hele;
                  By God, we women can hide nothing;
951         Witnesse on Myda -- wol ye heere the tale?
                  Witness on Midas -- will you hear the tale?
952         Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale,
                  Ovid, among other small matters, 
953         Seyde Myda hadde, under his longe heres,
                  Said Midas had, under his long hair,
954         Growynge upon his heed two asses eres,
                  Two ass's ears, growing upon his head,
955         The whiche vice he hydde as he best myghte
                  The which vice he hid as he best could
956         Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,
                  Very skillfully from every man's sight,
957         That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo.
                  That, except for his wife, there knew of it no others.
958         He loved hire moost, and trusted hire also;
                  He loved her most, and trusted her also;
959         He preyede hire that to no creature
                  He prayed her that to no creature
960         She sholde tellen of his disfigure.
                  She should tell of his disfigurement.
961         She swoor him, "Nay"; for al this world to wynne,
                  She swore him, "Nay"; for all this world to win,
962         She nolde do that vileynye or synne,
                  She would not do that dishonor or sin,
963         To make hir housbonde han so foul a name.
                  To make her husband have so foul a reputation.
964         She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.
                  She would not tell it for her own shame.
965         But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde
                  But nonetheless, she thought that she would die
966         That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;
                  If she should hide a secret so long;
967         Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte
                  She thought it swelled so sore about her heart
968         That nedely som word hire moste asterte;
                  That necessarily some word must escape her;
969         And sith she dorste telle it to no man,
                  And since she dared tell it to no man,
970         Doun to a mareys faste by she ran --
                  She ran down to a marsh close by --
971         Til she cam there hir herte was afyre --
                  Until she came there her heart was afire --
972         And as a bitore bombleth in the myre,
                  And as a bittern bumbles in the mire,
973         She leyde hir mouth unto the water doun:
                  She laid her mouth down unto the water:
974         "Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,"
                  "Betray me not, thou water, with thy sound,"
975         Quod she; "to thee I telle it and namo;
                  She said; "to thee I tell it and no others;
976         Myn housbonde hath longe asses erys two!
                  My husband has two long asses ears!
977         Now is myn herte al hool; now is it oute.
                  Now is my heart all whole; now is it out.
978         I myghte no lenger kepe it, out of doute."
                  I could no longer keep it, without doubt."
979         Heere may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,
                  Here you may see, though we a time abide,
980         Yet out it moot; we kan no conseil hyde.
                  Yet out it must come; we can hide no secret.
981         The remenant of the tale if ye wol heere,
                  The remnant of the tale if you will hear,
982         Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it leere.
                  Read Ovid, and there you may learn it.