The bad judgment of King Midas
King Midas is a well-known figure from ancient Greek mythology famed for his bad judgment.
He is most remembered for his request, when granted one wish by the god Dionysus, that everything he touched would turn to gold -- a request which, when granted, made him so giddy with happiness that he could hardly believe what he thought to be his good fortune. As everyone knows, however, he soon came to regret that awful request.
There is another episode from ancient myth in which Midas again displays his bad judgment, this time when he was asked to judge a competition of musical skill between Apollo -- the very god of music who is referred to in some ancient texts as Apollo Musagetes, a title which signifies "leader of the Muses" (see for instance Diodorus Siculus Book I and chapter 18, fifth sentence, which you can read online here) -- and a satyr (in some accounts a satyr named Marsyas, and in others the god Pan himself).
Apollo of course played upon a lyre, and the satyr upon the pan-pipes, and in some accounts Midas, the King of Phrygia, was appointed to be the judge of the contest, while in other accounts it was the mountain of Timolus itself (or the god of that mountain) which was to be the judge. In those accounts, Timolus wisely judged that Apollo was the winner, but Midas loudly disagreed with him and indicated that the satyr was the more skilled, while in the accounts in which Midas alone was the judge, he also unwisely selected the satyr as the winner of the contest -- and as a punishment, Apollo gave Midas the ears of an ass, saying that the dull judgement of Midas and his lack of discernment in hearing should from then onwards be visible for all to see.
Both of these episodes have clear celestial foundations, and add to the overwhelming body of evidence which supports the conclusion that virtually all the world's ancient myths, scriptures, and sacred stories are built upon a system of celestial metaphor, in order to impart deep knowledge about the simultaneously "material-spiritual" universe in which we find ourselves, as well as our own inherently dual material-spiritual nature as men and women.
In fact, not only do I believe that overwhelming evidence points to the fact that virtually all the world's ancient myths are built upon celestial metaphor involving the constellations and heavenly cycles, but I also believe the evidence indicates that they are all built upon the same system of celestial metaphor -- a common, worldwide system which appears to indicate that they all somehow share the same common source.
This common system unites the ancient myths and sacred stories of all the varied cultures from around the world and across the millennia -- and should in fact be seen as uniting us all as men and women sharing an incredible common inheritance of tremendous value.
In fact, in both of the above episodes involving King Midas and his terrible judgment, we can see very clear echoes to two other well known "judgment myths" or sacred stories involving very much the same theme: the famous "Judgment of Paris," which ultimately leads to the Trojan War, and the equally-famous "Judgment of Solomon," in which -- unlike both Midas and Paris -- King Solomon displays right judgment when presented with a very similar choice.
In the Judgment of Solomon episode, the most famous aspect of the story involves two mothers and two babies, one of them alive and one of them dead, and Solomon's wisdom in solving the dilemma with which he is faced, in which each of the mothers claim that the living child belongs to her. However, as this previous post discusses in more detail, the famous scene with the two mothers as told in the text of I Kings chapter 3 actually follows immediately from a previous episode in the same chapter, found immediately preceding the two mothers scene, in which Solomon in a dream is visited by the Most High, who asks Solomon what he would like to be given.
This offer very much parallels the offer made to Midas in the myths of ancient Greece, in which Dionysus also offers to grant one request to Midas. Midas unwisely asks for unlimited riches -- specifically, the power to turn everything he touches into pure gold. In contrast, Solomon asks for a wise and understanding heart, so that he can be a better ruler on behalf of the people -- and the text tells us that this request pleases the Lord, who says:
Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life [literally: "many days"]; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment;
Behold, I have done according to thy words [. . .]
And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days. (I Kings 3: 11 - 13).
Note that Solomon's request for wisdom and discerning judgment is contrasted with other possible choices, including riches, honor, long life, or power over his enemies. Clearly, this story has points of resonance with with the story of Midas, who unwisely asked the divine Dionysus for the equivalent of riches -- with disastrous results.
In similar manner, in the episode from Greek myth known as the Judgment of Paris, the youth of the same name (Paris, a prince of Troy) is presented with a contest of beauty among three goddesses, each of whom offers him a reward if he will select her. The rewards offered to Paris by the three goddesses include rulership and power (offered by Hera), heroism and fame (offered by Athena), and the most beautiful woman in the world to be his bride (offered by Aphrodite).
As we know, Paris selected Aphrodite and in doing so launched the Trojan War, because the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, was already married to a king of the Achaeans, and all the other Achaean kings and heroes had previously promised to defend whichever among them would be so fortunate as to have won the right to marry Helen.
This disastrous decision by Paris again has clear echoes with the judgment offered to Solomon -- who decided not to request riches or honor, but rather asked for wisdom, and who was told that because of this choice, he would also be given those things for which he did not ask, such as riches and honor.
The episode in the Midas story which perhaps resembles the Judgment of Paris even more closely is the episode in which Midas must judge the musical contest between Apollo and either the satyr Marsyas or the god Pan -- because in both of those myths, there is an actual contest involved. Midas, clearly an exemplar of bad judgment, fails to recognize the god Apollo as the winner -- the very deity from whom all skill and talent in music proceeds in the first place. Thus, Midas inverts the proper order of things, disrespecting the divine source, and is punished by being given the ears of an animal (in this case, the long hairy ears of an ass or donkey).
Interestingly enough, this punishment brings to mind a masterpiece of esoteric fiction written by the later Roman author Apuleius (who appears to have been an initiate into the Mysteries of Isis, as well as perhaps other mystery schools). That story was originally called the Metamorphoses (not to be confused with the more famous work of the same title by Ovid), but the Metamorphoses of Apuleius is more commonly known as The Golden Tale of the Ass, or simply The Golden Ass. In that story, the narrator (Lucius) is himself transformed into an ass, and undergoes a series of outrageous adventures before he is restored to his original form by the goddess Isis herself.
Not only is the condition of Lucius when transformed into an ass reminiscent of the fate of Midas who is given long ass-ears for his lack of judgment, but the restoration of Lucius comes not long after a climactic episode in which Lucius witnesses a re-enactment in a Roman arena of the mythical episode of the Judgment of Paris itself! Thus, it would appear that the theme of "judging or discerning rightly or wrongly" is very much central to the tale of Lucius in The Golden Ass -- and that Apuleius himself understood the important thematic connection between the Judgment of Midas (in which King Midas ends up receiving donkey-ears, just as Lucius in the story is turned into a donkey) and the Judgment of Paris (the very episode Lucius sees enacted just before his own restoration, and an episode in which Paris brought "damnation upon mankind" by his desire to possess another man's wife, in the words of Apuleius -- an interesting way of viewing the story of the Judgment of Paris).
The fact that Paris in that beauty contest selects the winner by giving her an apple is extremely interesting -- especially because the mystery initiate Apuleius says that the disastrous choice of Paris brought "damnation upon mankind." We can all probably think of another ancient episode involving an apple (or other unspecified fruit) which was said to have brought damnation upon mankind as well.
I believe that all these ancient mythological episodes can be shown to be built upon celestial metaphor -- and therefore to be esoteric in nature, designed to impart knowledge to us about our own inner connection to the infinite realm: our own spiritual nature, even encased as we are in a material (animal) body of flesh during this life.
The story of King Midas can be shown to relate to very specific constellations in our night sky (constellations which are most visible in the late fall in the northern hemisphere, during the end of the month of October).
In the story of the disastrous request for the gift of the golden touch, several ancient sources tell us that Midas was at first overjoyed at the granting of his request, but soon realized to his horror that he could neither eat nor drink anything without it also turning to gold (a situation which would soon end in his own death as well).
In some versions of the story, the king's own daughter runs up to embrace her father and is herself transformed into solid gold. This particular aspect of the story does not seem to be present in many of the most ancient accounts, but it is perhaps the most well-known part of the King Midas story today.
In almost every ancient version of the myth, Midas prays to heaven (in some versions to Dionysus, who had originally granted Midas one request, and in other versions to Apollo) to have the curse of the golden touch taken away from him, and is told to go immerse himself at the source of the river Pactolus (which is found at the aforementioned Mount Timolus). In some versions of the story, Midas is to immerse his head three times in the river at its source. Thereupon, all the things which had been turned to gold by Midas after his terrible choice were restored to their original condition -- and the river Pactolus from then on had golden sands which often yielded up gold flakes or gold nuggets.
For a variety of reasons, I believe it is almost certain that this story of King Midas is founded upon the constellation Perseus, who is presently rising above the eastern horizon in the hours after midnight. Perseus is a constellation who is located near the very "top" of the Milky Way band as it arches across the sky, on the far side of the galactic trail from the brightest and widest part found between Sagittarius and Scorpio (the galactic core). Thus, it can be envisioned as the "upper reaches" of the galactic river -- allegorized in the myth as the upper source of the river Pactolus.
There, Perseus can be clearly seen to be immersing himself in the river -- or even dunking his head in it! Here is a star chart with the constellation Perseus outlined in yellow, presented first unlabeled and then below it labeled:
Can you see the brilliant arc of the Milky Way band? In real life, if you go outside into the night sky, you will see this arc going over your head, beginning at the western horizon (on the right side of the image above) and crossing the center of the sky towards the east where you will see Perseus (on the left side of the image above). This image is from the perspective of a viewer in the northern hemisphere, looking towards the south.
Below is the exact same image, but this time the figure of Perseus (playing the role of King Midas) is outlined and labeled, rising out of the east. Now we can see why the myth tells us that he went to the source of the river Pactolus, and there he immersed his head (or his entire body, depending on the ancient account):
The most dramatic part of the episode of Midas and his golden touch, of course, comes when his daughter runs to him and is herself turned to gold, to the king's horror. This aspect of the myth is almost certainly inspired by the outstretched arm of Perseus on the western side of the constellation (the right side as we face the image above). That part of the constellation reaches out towards and almost touches the constellation Andromeda, representing a beautiful maiden in many myths:
Can you see how the story of Midas touching his daughter can be clearly seen in the above constellations? We can be very thankful that the god allowed Midas to change his mind and restore all that he had previously turned to gold, by immersing himself in the river!
I believe that the very same constellations that form the basis for the disastrous golden touch episode also play the main parts in the episode of the Judgment of Midas between the music of the god Apollo and either the satyr Marsyas or the god Pan.
Now, instead of playing the beautiful daughter of the king, the constellation Andromeda actually plays the role of the satyr, with arching tail and pan-pipes. Can you look at the image above and see which parts of the constellation play the role of the tail of the satyr, and the pan-pipes?
My interpretation of the story is seen in the star-chart below:
It is notable that the contest takes place in the vicinity of Mount Timolus (or Tmolus), which is also the source of the river Pactolus -- indicating that we are still in the same place in the sky (because Midas went to Pactolus' source at Timolus to dunk his head in the stream).
Look at some of the classical paintings from later centuries shown below, where we can see that the posture and attitude of Midas is very reminiscent of the constellation Perseus with its outstretched arm (sometimes envisioned as a sword or a wand):
In the above image, Midas can be easily identified by his pointed ass-ears. He is reaching towards Pan with his wand to indicate that he believes Pan to be the winner of the contest rather than the god Apollo. Apollo can be seen playing a viola instead of his usual ancient Lyre in this painting (from the early 1600s).
Below is another example, from the late 1800s:
Note in the above image that the pan-pipes are held aloft, in a manner very reminiscent of the way the constellation Andromeda holds up the part of the constellation that I believe can be identified as the pan-pipes in the constellation (when playing the role of the satyr Marsyas or the god Pan). Note also that Apollo in this painting exhibits the characteristic of "walking away while looking back" -- a very distinctive feature of the constellation Sagittarius found in countless ancient myths from around the world. I believe for a great number of reasons that Sagittarius frequently plays the role of the god Apollo -- and I discuss these reasons in detail in Star Myths of the World, Volume Two (which focuses almost entirely on the myths of ancient Greece).
For those still not fully convinced that the constellation Andromeda, usually envisioned in myth as a beautiful maiden, can also play the role of a satyr (as the constellation does in this episode of the Judgment of Midas), please observe the characteristic "arching tail" of the satyr in the ancient Greek artwork below, which corresponds very well to the "upper leg" of the constellation Andromeda (which is labeled as "tail" in the star-chart above):
Recall also that in the story of King Midas, after his poor judgment in the music contest involving the god of music himself, the hapless king receives ass's ears as a punishment and a sign of his brutish lack of discernment. In almost every ancient version of the story, the detail is included that the king usually tried to hide his deformity beneath a tall cap -- known specifically as a "Phrygian cap" (King Midas, after all, was the King of Phrygia).
Note that the constellation of Perseus, as outlined in the star-charts above and as labeled in the chart below, does indeed feature a tall, peaked cap! This is only evident if you follow the inspired outlines suggested by H. A. Rey and discussed in this previous post (among other posts and also my published books as well).
This celestial detail should pretty much cement the identification of Midas King of Phrygia with the constellation Perseus in these mythical episodes.
Below is an image of a classic Phrygian cap, for those not familiar with them. Note that in many cases, the cap has "ear flaps" which can perhaps be envisioned in the constellation outline as seen above.
Significantly, the above figure from an ancient temple is thought to represent Paris -- the very character responsible for the disastrous judgment that led to the Trojan War! The ear-flaps on his Phrygian cap appear to be "tied up" so that they will not hang down, in this particular case.
And, if all of the above discussion does not thoroughly establish that Midas in these myths is associated with Perseus the constellation, there is also the fact that Perseus is almost directly above the constellation Taurus in the sky -- and that the long horns of the constellation Taurus could sometimes in ancient myth be envisioned as the long ears of an ass instead of the long ears of a bull. For this reason Perseus-characters in many myths are described as riding upon an ass or donkey -- as Balaam is described as doing in another Old Testament story, this time from the book of Judges (see extended discussion here, containing star-charts showing the horns of Taurus immediately below Perseus).
This connection adds still more weight to the mountain of evidence we have already discovered linking Midas to Perseus, and linking the Midas episodes described above to the region of the sky surrounding Perseus.
This discussion should help to firmly establish the argument that the world's myths are all in fact closely related, and built upon a common system of celestial metaphor. The purpose of this ancient system is, I am convinced, to impart to our deep understanding the true nature of the simultaneously material and spiritual universe in which we find ourselves, and the simultaneously material and spiritual nature of the human condition.
In the Midas story, we see powerful illustrations of the teaching that we are not advised to contact the invisible realm for the purpose of acquiring wealth or riches. Midas is given a wish by the god Dionysus, and can ask for anything he chooses -- and Midas chooses unwisely.
In contrast, Solomon is approached by the Lord in a dream and similarly offered anything Solomon wishes to request -- and Solomon does not ask for riches, or for harm to his enemies, or long life. I believe that one way to interpret this story is that we are strongly advised not to use our contact with the invisible or the divine realm in order to try to obtain riches for ourselves, or power over others.
Instead, Solomon asks for wisdom in order to help others: this request is in fact a proper request to make of the divine and the infinite.
Midas with his animal ears is a picture of our own condition in this world, entangled with an "animal nature" and prone to becoming seduced by that which is material and that which is lower -- instead of seeking that which is spiritual, which is in fact the true source and fount of everything which we see manifested in the material realm. The mistaken judgment of Midas in the contest with Apollo is a dramatic example of this failure to acknowledge the true divine source from which everything flows and has its fount (in this case, Apollo is the divine source of music, but Midas fails to acknowledge this truth).
Failing to acknowledge and properly value the infinite realm, the spirit world -- or trying to use it for personal gain or for destroying one's opponents -- leads to objectification of oneself and others, turning us and them into objects, as Midas ends up doing to his own daughter after his disastrous wish for gold.
The ancient myths provide us with powerful teaching to help us to overcome the "Midas condition" and elevate our spiritual awareness, and to put us in touch with the true divine source which we should acknowledge and recognize and revere and uplift.
I am convinced that our ability to hear their powerful message is greatly enhanced when we begin to understand the celestial language that they are speaking.