Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Summary
Analysis
Still angry at the Thracian women, Bacchus leaves Thrace. He brings a band of dancers with him, but Silenus—Bacchus’s old foster father—isn’t among them; Silenus had been found drunk by peasants of King Midas’s kingdom. Midas had once been trained in Bacchus’s rites. Pleased that Silenus is a fellow follower of Bacchus, King Midas invites him to a feast and then reunites him with Bacchus.
Silenus—who had taken care of Bacchus after he was born from Jupiter’s thigh when Semele died—is now an elderly man, showing that much time has passed since the time when Bacchus became a god. Since then, new kingdoms emerged, and Bacchus and Silenus became separated.
Themes
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Happy to be reunited with Silenus, Bacchus tells King Midas that he will grant him anything he desires. Without thinking, King Midas asks that everything he touches be turned into gold. Bacchus fulfils his promise reluctantly, knowing that Midas’s wish will be his downfall. Midas departs for home, touching trees and rocks along the way and turning them into gold. Ecstatic at his new ability, Midas sits down to supper. However, the food and drink he tries to consume turn to gold as soon as they touch his lips.  
As in the case of Phaëthon, the person that the god wants to reward often—out of greed or pomposity—chooses something that will be their downfall. Bacchus, like Phoebus, makes an oath to give Midas whatever he wants, showing that he expects the best of Midas—expects that he will choose more wisely than he does.
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Midas realizes that his love of gold will destroy him. He prays to Bacchus, confessing his stupidity and asking for Bacchus to reverse his gift. Bacchus lifts the gift and tells Midas to purge his guilt by bathing in a nearby stream. The king obeys. To this day, the stream leaves gold particles on its bank.
Midas is able to get the spell reversed because he admits that it was very stupid and thoughtless for him to ask for such a thing. In this way, his humility saves him from something that would have killed him.
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Midas is now disgusted by wealth and wanders the mountainsides worshipping Pan, the pipe-playing god. One day, Pan boasts that he is a better musician than Apollo, who plays the lyre. Pan decides to enter a competition with Apollo, judged by Tmolus—god of the mountain. Pan plays his pipe, Apollo plays his lyre, and Tmolus proclaims Apollo the winner.
When gold nearly kills Midas, he decides to abandon a life of pursuing material things altogether. He lives in the woods without a home or possessions. He also worships pipe music—a non-material pleasure. In this way, Bacchus’s spell changed Midas’s life.
Themes
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Midas overhears the competition and disagrees with Tmolus’s verdict. Irritated by Midas’s naivete, Apollo turns Midas’s ears into donkey ears. Midas conceals his ears with a purple turban, but his haircutter knows the secret. Wanting to confess what he knew but not wanting to betray Midas, the haircutter whispers the secret into a hole in the ground and covers it with dirt. Next spring, a cluster of reeds grows which whistle the confession the hairdresser had buried.
Although Midas has seemingly been changed and made wiser by his experience with gold, he still blunders and accidentally displeases Apollo. When the barber whispers his confession into the ground, it returns the next year as a whisper in the reeds, suggesting that, once something has come to be, it can’t disappear—it can only return in a different form.
Themes
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