Midas, the King of Lydia, has done Bacchus, God of wine, a good turn by returning his foster-father Silenus, who has wandered under the influence of age and alcohol. As we will see, Midas will regret the use he makes of the wish that Bacchus grants him as a reward. All is well that ends well: Bacchus will tell Midas where to wash his unwanted gift away in a river that, naturally, will be famous for its golden sand for ever after.
In myth the Hesperides, or Daughters of the Evening, were famed for their golden apples, and Danaë was seduced by Jupiter in the form of a shower of gold.
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Huic deus optandi gratum, sed inutile, fecit
muneris arbitrium gaudens altore recepto.
ille male usurus donis ait ‘effice, quicquid
corpore contigero, fulvum vertatur in aurum.’
adnuit optatis nocituraque munera solvit
Liber et indoluit, quod non meliora petisset.
laetus abit gaudetque malo Berecyntius heros
pollicitique fidem tangendo singula temptat
vixque sibi credens, non alta fronde virentem
ilice detraxit virgam: virga aurea facta est;
tollit humo saxum: saxum quoque palluit auro;
contigit et glaebam: contactu glaeba potenti
massa fit; arentis Cereris decerpsit aristas:
aurea messis erat; demptum tenet arbore pomum:
Hesperidas donasse putes; si postibus altis
admovit digitos, postes radiare videntur;
ille etiam liquidis palmas ubi laverat undis,
unda fluens palmis Danaen eludere posset;
vix spes ipse suas animo capit aurea fingens
omnia. gaudenti mensas posuere ministri
exstructas dapibus nec tostae frugis egentes:
tum vero, sive ille sua Cerealia dextra
munera contigerat, Cerealia dona rigebant,
sive dapes avido convellere dente parabat,
lammina fulva dapes admoto dente premebat;
miscuerat puris auctorem muneris undis:
fusile per rictus aurum fluitare videres.
Attonitus novitate mali divesque miserque
effugere optat opes et quae modo voverat, odit.
Joyful to have Silenus back, Bacchus gave Midas the
welcome, but unprofitable, choice of a wish.
Midas, who would make poor use of the gift, said “grant
that whatever I touch be turned to shining gold!”
Bacchus granted the wish and gave the gift, harmful as
it was to be, and was sorry Midas had not asked for better.
Off goes Midas the hero and glories in his misfortune,
and tries out if his promised gift is real by touching things,
hardly believing his senses. From a low holm-oak
he plucked down a green twig: the twig was turned to gold;
he picked up a stone: the stone, too, gleamed with gold;
he picks up a clod from the ground: at the potent touch,
the clod becomes solid gold; he plucked dry ears of corn;
the harvest was golden; he holds an apple from a tree:
you’d think the Hesperides had given it; if he touches
the high doorposts with his fingers, the posts are seen
to shine; and when he washed his hands in water,
what flowed from them could have deceived Danaë; he
can barely mentally contain his hopes, turning everything
to gold. His servants spread the table for him in his joy,
covered in food and with no shortage of bread:
but then, if he touched the bread with his hand,
the gift of Ceres turned rigid, or if he eagerly
went for a mouthful with his teeth, his teeth
were clamping a sheet of gold; when he mixed
pure water with the wine of Bacchus, the giver of his gift,
you would have seen liquid gold flow into his open mouth.
Amazed at this sudden evil, enriched but impoverished,
he wants to escape wealth, hates what he just prayed for.