Why Rivers Have Golden Sands
A Greek Legend
Once a poor peasant named Gordius thought he would give himself and his family a holiday in the city. He had no horses, but his yoke of oxen could draw the heavy wagon very well. He fastened them to his cart and, putting in his wife and boy, climbed in himself.
When near the city, the capital of Phrygia, he thought it would look better for him to walk and drive his oxen. This he did. As he approached the city he heard a great noise in the marketplace. He hurried his oxen to find out what it was all about. He had to jump into his wagon to avoid the crowd that was following him, and so drove to a great oak in the public square.
Such a welcome as this poor countryman had!
"Here comes our king!" was the cry from everyone. "We were told he should come this day in a wagon drawn by oxen, and here he is!"
Gordius could not believe what he heard. But the chief men brought the crown and put it on his head and declared him king, and he agreed to do his best to deserve the honor.
The oak near which he had stopped was in front of a temple. Gordius gave away his oxen and, taking a heavy rope, tied his wagon with a tremendous knot to the oak. The priest came out and declared that whoever in times to come should be able to untie that knot would be king of all Asia. No one ever did untie it. But Alexander the Great came to Phrygia many years after and, failing to untie it, he took his sword and dealt the rope such a blow that one stroke cut through the magic knot.
A short time after he left Phrygia all Asia owned Alexander the Great as king, and maybe that was the way the knot was to be undone. Anyway, he did not give it up, and that is a good thing for us to remember. Cut the Gordian knots if they will not be untied.
The little boy who rode in the wagon with Gordius was Midas. After his father Gordius died, Midas was chosen King of Phrygia. He was kind and just to the people, as Gordius must have been, or they would not have chosen his son Midas to be their king.
One day while Midas was king some peasants found an old man wandering about in the woods. The forest was strange to him and he had lost his way. Midas knew him as soon as the peasants had brought him to the king's palace. It was Silenus, a teacher whose fame had gone through all the world. Midas treated Silenus with the greatest respect. For ten days there was feasting and games in the palace in honor of Silenus. On the eleventh day Midas took him back to the house of his greatest pupil. This pupil was more than mortal, so the story goes. His name was Bacchus. Midas told him all about the finding of Silenus, and Silenus told all about the pleasant time he had at the king's palace. Then the wonderful Bacchus told Midas he might have anything he should wish for as a reward.
Now Gordius, his father, had always wished for more money, though he had been made king and there was more gold for him and his good queen to spend than you would think he could manage. Midas, too, had wished for money. Yet all his life, since that lucky wagon ride, Midas had seen riches and jewels enough to make him grow tired of such things. But, no; when Bacchus asked him what he would have, Midas said, "Let everything I touch turn into gold."
If you had been there and could have had your choice, what would you have wished for? Can you tell? Never wish for anything quite so foolish as King Midas did, for see what trouble it made him.
After making the wish, King Midas leaped into his chariot to return home. As soon as his feet touched the chariot floor, it turned into solid gold. The reins in his hands became gold. He returned to his palace and the people thought it must be Apollo come to earth, everything was so glorious. His wife met him in the palace halls. One touch and she was turned into a golden statue. No help, no rescue! Midas went out into his garden and reached for the fruit that hung on the trees. Nothing but gold after he had touched it. Gold, gold, gold! How he hated the sight of it! His food and drink were gold. His friends, his home, even his pillow was cold hard gold.
In a few hours he raised his arms, glittering with cloth of gold, in prayer, beseeching Bacchus to take his gift away. Bacchus was kind and said: "Go to the river Pactolus, find its fountain head, plunge in, and when your body is covered your fault will be washed away."
Poor King Midas did just as he was told. When he touched the water the strange power went into the river. The river sands changed into gold, and to this day grains of gold are found by the river Pactolus.
After that, Midas lived in the country and dressed as plainly as the poorest peasant. He was so thankful to be free from his terrible gift that he never wanted anyone to remind him of the time when everything he touched turned to gold. But even in the country, the yellow plums, pears, and apples reminded Midas of the fruit he had touched in his own garden.
In autumn, when golden leaves are falling everywhere and the grain is waving in the field, one may fancy King Midas is in our own land.
Sources And Further Reading
Project Gutenberg Classic Myths Retold by Mary Catherine Judd with drawings entirely from classic sources