The story of King Midas, a classic myth, is a depiction of the drive for wealth and power at the expense of family. This is a modern tragedy with ancient roots. Midas finds the satyr Silenus passed out drunk in his rose garden. Silenus is the beloved tutor of the god Dionysus. In return for taking care of the sodden Silenus, Dionysus grants Midas a wish. Midas wishes that everything he touches should turn to gold.
In haste, and with a growing lust for wealth and power, Midas begins touching things – his roses, tree branches, household objects – and amasses a golden fortune.
Inadvertently, he gets around to the family. With a slight brush of the hand, Midas’ beloved daughter is accidently turned to gold.
There are two endings to this story. In one version, King Midas is unable to feed himself and starves to death due to his shortsighted wish. In another, Dionysus takes pity on the grief-stricken king. Midas is instructed to cleanse himself in the river Pactolus, releasing the golden touch to the waters.
This is a timeless reminder to those of us who believe that the riches of the world hold a solution to all our problems.
The story of Midas is reenacted on a daily basis, whether we pursue success with the single-mindedness of a young executive, or like a titan who fails to recognize the dire consequences of his all-consuming addiction to power.
The god of intoxication – here represented by Dionysus – fills us with a blinding need to satisfy empty places within ourselves by acquiring things.
The satyr is a metaphor for an out-of-control consumer society – drunk, unconscious and driven by base needs.
We disconnect from the natural beauty within us, symbolized here by the rose garden, and lose ourselves in the shortsighted acquisition of golden objects.
We regain our senses only when we discover, in horror, that what we really need has been mortally sacrificed for what we think we need.
At this point we have a choice. We can remain addicted and end up famished for what we have lost, or we can immerse ourselves in the river of the heart, which cleanses and releases us from a wish that has become a curse.
As our culture hurtles towards consuming itself to death, the personal choices we make have an even greater collective impact. To the river!
© Patrick O’Neill 2013. All rights reserved.