Midas and the River Pactolus

The myth of King Midas and his golden touch has been told and retold as a fairy tale for centuries on end. However, it is not commonly known that this tale is really this etiological myth, i.e. a myth that explains a real-world phenomenon. In this case, they say the actions of King Midas account for the rich alluvial deposits of the Pactolus river.

According to the myth, King Midas earned the gratitude of Dionysus, Greek god of winemaking and revelry, for hosting the god’s mentor. As thanks, Dionysus agreed to grant Midas any wish he desired. Midas wished that whatever he touched would turn to gold. However, he soon realized his blessing was a curse when the food he tried to eat turned to gold and hugging his daughter resulted in the same.

Saddened and starving, Midas prayed to Dionysus to remove his golden touch. Dionysus answered and said that if Midas would wash his body in the river Pactolus, he would wash away his curse. When Midas did this, his powers washed away from him into the river.

The Pactolus was known for its rich deposits of electrum. The river was so rich in fact, that the ancient state of Lydia based its economy on it. In addition, the Lydians are credited with inventing the first gold coins in or around 7th century BCE. All thanks (mythically) to King Midas.

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