|Age Of Fable Or Beauties Of
Author: Bulfinch, Thomas
Chapter VI: Midas - Baucis And Philemon.
Bacchus, on a certain occasion, found his old school-master and foster-
father, Silenus, missing. The old man had been drinking, and in that state
wandered away, and was found by some peasants, who carried him to their king,
Midas. Midas recognized him, and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for
ten days and nights with an unceasing round of jollity. On the eleventh day
he brought Silenus back, and restored him in safety to his pupil. Whereupon
Bacchus offered Midas his choice of a reward, whatever he might wish. He
asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold. Bacchus
consented, though sorry that he had not made a better choice. Midas went his
way, rejoicing in his new-acquired power, which he hastened to put to the
test. He could scarce believe his eyes when he found a twig of an oak, which
he plucked from the branch, become gold in his hand. He took up a stone; it
changed to gold. He touched a sod; it did the same. He took an apple from
the tree; you would have thought he had robbed the garden of the Hesperides.
His joy knew no bounds, and as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to
set a splendid repast on the table. Then he found to his dismay that whether
he touched bread, it hardened in his hand; or put a morsel to his lips, it
defied his teeth. He took a glass of wine, but it flowed down his throat like
In consternation at the unprecedented affliction, he strove to divest
himself of his power; he hated the gift he had lately coveted. But all in
vain; starvation seemed to await him. He raised his arms, all shining with
gold, in prayer to Bacchus, begging to be delivered from his glittering
destruction. Bacchus, merciful deity, heard and consented. "Go," said he,
"to the River Pactolus, trace the stream to its fountain-head, there plunge
your head and body in, and wash away your fault and its punishment." He did
so, and scarce had he touched the waters before the gold-creating power passed
into them, and the river sands became changed into gold, as they remain to
Thenceforth Midas, hating wealth and splendor, dwelt in the country, and
became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields. On a certain occasion Pan
had the temerity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and to challenge
the god of the lyre to a trial of skill. The challenge was accepted, and
Tmolus, the mountain god, was chosen umpire. The senior took his seat, and
cleared away the trees from his ears to listen. At a given signal Pan blew on
his pipes, and with his rustic melody gave great satisfaction to himself and
his faithful follower Midas, who happened to be present. Then Tmolus turned
his head toward the Sun-god, and all his trees turned with him. Apollo rose;
his brow wreathed with Parnassian laurel, while his robe of Tyrian purple
swept the ground. In his left hand he held the lyre, and with his right hand
struck the strings. Ravished with the harmony, Tmolus at once awarded the
victory to the god of the lyre, and all but Midas acquiesced in the judgment.
He dissented, and questioned the justice of the award. Apollo would not
suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer to wear the human form, but
caused them to increase in length, grow hairy, within and without, and movable
on their roots; in short, to be on the perfect pattern of those of an ass.
Mortified enough was King Midas at this mishap; but he consoled himself
with the thought that it was possible to hide his misfortune, which he
attempted to do by means of an ample turban or head-dress. But his hair-
dresser of course knew the secret. He was charged not to mention it, and
threatened with dire punishment if he presumed to disobey. But he found it
too much for his discretion to keep such a secret; so he went out into the
meadow, dug a hole in the ground, and stooping down, whispered the story, and
covered it up. Before long a thick bed of reeds sprang up in the meadow, and
as soon as it had gained its growth, began whispering the story and has
continued to do so, from that day to this, every time a breeze passes over the
The story of King Midas has been told by others with some variations.
Dryden, in the Wife of Bath's Tale, makes Midas's queen the betrayer of the
"This Midas knew, and durst communicate
To none but to his wife his ears of state."
Midas was king of Phrygia. He was the son of Gordius, a poor countryman,
who was taken by the people and made king, in obedience to the command of the
oracle, which had said that their future king should come in a wagon. While
the people were deliberating, Gordius with his wife and son came driving his
wagon into the public square.
Gordius, being made king, dedicated his wagon to the deity of the oracle,
and tied it up in its place with a fast knot. This was the celebrated Gordian
knot, which, in after times it was said, whoever should untie should become
lord of all Asia. Many tried to untie it, but none succeeded, till Alexander
the Great, in his career of conquest, came to Phrygia. He tried his skill
with as ill success as others, till growing impatient he drew his sword and
cut the knot. When he afterwards succeeded in subjecting all Asia to his
sway, people began to think that he had complied with the terms of the oracle
according to its true meaning.
Baucis And Philemon.
On a certain hill in Phrygia stand a linden tree and an oak, enclosed by
a low wall. Not far from the spot is a marsh, formerly good habitable land,
but now indented with pools, the resort of fen-birds and cormorants. Once on
a time, Jupiter, in human shape, visited this country, and with him his son
Mercury, (he of the caduceus,) without his wings. They presented themselves
as weary travellers, at many a door, seeking rest and shelter, but found all
closed, for it was late, and the inhospitable inhabitants would not rouse
themselves to open for their reception. At last a humble mansion received
them, a small thatched cottage, where Baucis, a pious old dame, and her
husband Philemon, united when young, had grown old together. Not ashamed of
their poverty, they found it endurable by moderate desires and kind One need
not look there for master or for servant; they two were the whole household,
master and servant alike. When the two heavenly guests crossed the humble
threshold, and bowed their heads to pass under the low door, the old man
placed a seat, on which Baucis, bustling and attentive, spread a cloth, and
begged them to sit down. Then she raked out the coals from the ashes, and
kindled up a fire, fed it with leaves and dry bark, and with her scanty breath
blew it into a flame. She brought out of a corner split sticks and dry
branches, broke them up, and placed them under the small kettle. Her husband
collected some pot-herbs in the garden, and she shred them from the stalks,
and prepared them for the pot. He reached down with a forked stick a flitch
of bacon hanging in the chimney, cut a small piece, and put it in the pot to
boil with the herbs, setting away the rest for another time. A beechen bowl
was filled with warm water, that their guests might wash. While all was doing
they beguiled the time with conversation.
On the bench designed for the guests was laid a cushion stuffed with sea
weed; and a cloth, only produced on great occasions, but ancient and coarse
enough, was spread over that. The old lady, with her apron on, with trembling
hand set the table. One leg was shorter than the rest, but a piece of slate
put under restored the level. When fixed, she rubbed the table down with some
sweet-smelling herbs. Upon it she set some of chaste Minerva's olives, some
cornel berries preserved in vinegar, and added radishes and cheese, with eggs
lightly cooked in the ashes. All were served in earthen dishes, and an
earthen-ware pitcher, with wooden cups, stood beside them. When all was ready,
the stew, smoking hot, was set on the table. Some wine, not of the oldest,
was added; and for dessert, apples and wild honey; and over and above all,
friendly faces, and simple but hearty welcome.
Now while the repast proceeded, the old folks were astonished to see that
the wine, as fast as it was poured out, renewed itself in the pitcher, of its
own accord. Struck with terror, Baucis and Philemon recognized their heavenly
guests, fell on their knees, and with clasped hands implored forgiveness for
their poor entertainment. There was an old goose, which they kept as the
guardian of their humble cottage; and they bethought them to make this a
sacrifice in honor of their guests. But the goose, too nimble, with the aid
of feet and wings, for the old folks, eluded their pursuit, and at last took
shelter between the gods themselves. They forbade it to be slain; and spoke
in these words: "We are gods. This inhospitable village shall pay the penalty
of its impiety you alone shall go free from the chastisement. Quit your house,
and come with us to the top of yonder hill." They hastened to obey, and, staff
in hand, labored up the steep ascent. They had reached to within an arrow's
flight of the top, when turning their eyes below, they beheld all the country
sunk in a lake, only their own house left standing. While they gazed with
wonder at the sight, and lamented the fate of their neighbors, that old house
of theirs was changed into a temple. Columns took the place of the corner
posts, the thatch grew yellow and appeared a gilded roof, the floors became
marble, the doors were enriched with carving and ornaments of gold. Then
spoke Jupiter in benignant accents: "Excellent old man, and woman worthy of
such a husband, speak, tell us your wishes; what favor have you to ask of us?"
Philemon took counsel with Baucis a few moments; then declared to the gods
their united wish. "We ask to be priests and guardians of this your temple;
and since here we have passed our lives in love and concord, we wish that one
and the same hour may take us both from life, that I may not live to see her
grave, nor be laid in my own by her." Their prayer was granted. They were the
keepers of the temple as long as they lived. When grown very old, as they
stood one day before the steps of the sacred edifice, and were telling the
story of the place, Baucis saw Philemon begin to put forth leaves, and old
Philemon saw Baucis changing in like manner. And now a leafy crown had grown
over their heads, while exchanging parting words, as long as they could speak.
"Farewell, dear spouse," they said, together, and at the same moment the bark
closed over their mouths. The Tyanean shepherd still shows the two trees,
standing side by side made out of the two good old people.
The story of Baucis and Philemon has been imitated by Swift, in a
burlesque style, the actors in the change being two wandering saints and the
house being changed into a church, of which Philemon is made the parson. The
following may serve as a specimen: -
"They scarce had spoke, when, fair and soft,
The roof began to mount aloft;
Aloft rose every beam and rafter;
The heavy wall climbed slowly after.
The chimney widened and grew higher,
Became a steeple with a spire.
The kettle to the top was hoist,
And there stood fastened to a joist,
But with the upside down, to show
Its inclination for below;
In vain, for a superior force,
Applied at bottom, stops its course;
Doomed ever in suspense to dwell,
'Tis now no kettle, but a bell.
A wooden jack, which had almost
Lost by disuse the art to roast,
A sudden alteration feels,
Increased by new intestine wheels;
And, what exalts the wonder more,
The number made the motion slower;
The flier, though 't had leaden feet,
Turned round so quick you scarce could see 't;
But slackened by some secret power.
Now hardly moves an inch an hour.
The jack and chimney, near allied,
Had never left each other's side.
The chimney to a steeple grown,
The jack would not be left alone;
But up against the steeple reared,
Became a clock, and still adhered;
And still its love to household cares
By a shrill voice at noon declares.
Warning the cook-maid not to burn
That roast meat which it cannot turn.
The groaning chair began to crawl.
Like a huge snail, along the wall;
There stuck aloft in public view,
And with small change, a pulpit grew.
A bedstead of the antique mode,
Compact of timber many a load,
Such as our ancestors did use,
Was metamorphosed into pews,
Which still their ancient nature keep
By lodging folks disposed to sleep."