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King Midas: Part 1

Story summary

The satyr Silenus, favourite of the god Dionysus, becomes separated from his master’s company. He is found by mortals, bound with ropes and brought before King Midas. The king, furious at this treatment, at once frees the satyr and personally delivers him to Dionysus. In gratitude Dionysus rewards Midas with one wish. He wishes that everything he touches may turn to gold, a wish which soon becomes a curse. Midas petitions to be released from it and his request is granted by Dionysus.

Teaching activities

  • Starting points
  • Follow-up
  • Further activities

Before listening to the story, ask the class what they would choose if they were granted just one wish, making sure that they can give a reason for their choice.

The message of this story is ‘Be careful what you wish for!’ and the tale of Midas provides an ideal platform for considering the nature of greed. Is it only associated with food? Does greed always create problems? Is it human nature to be greedy?

After the initial discussion tell the class they are going to hear a story about someone granted a wish and that they will have to decide whether he was foolish, reflective, greedy or merely mortal, supplying evidence from the story to back up their opinions. They will also be expected to reflect on the actions of the god Dionysus.

Initial questions:

  • What impression do we get of King Midas at the beginning of the story?
  • Why does Dionysus grant King Midas one wish?
  • How does Dionysus react to King Midas’ wish?
  • Does Dionysus know Midas has made a foolish wish?
  • At what point does King Midas realise that his wish is really a curse?
  • Why does Dionysus undo King Midas’ wish?
  • How does the storyteller draw us into the story?
  • What is the climax of the story?
  • What does ‘Midas touch’ mean? How is it used today?

Midas thinks only of short-term gain: as a mortal he does not have the ability to look ahead and see the inevitable consequences of his wish. [For a similar story about a man granted godlike powers only to find he is unable to handle these powers, read the story of Phaethon, who chose to drive the chariot of the sun, with disastrous results.] Midas like many people comes to realise too late that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Writing activity 1. Write your own Midas-style story, using a different wish (e.g. for endless junk food, computer games etc.) as the starting-point for the story.

Writing activity 2. Write an alternative ending, trying to bring the story full circle. Ensure it is satisfying and that the final sentence sums up the message of the story. First discuss different types of endings and the need to bring out the characters’ feelings and how or if they have changed.

Debate. ‘There is more to life than money’.

Possible starting point. Ivan Boesky, an American stock market trader who was sent to prison for insider trading, famously defended greed in his commencement address at the UC Berkeley's School of Business Administration, in which he said, “I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself”. This speech inspired the 1987 film Wall Street, in which Gordon Gekko, a character based in part on Ivan Boesky says “greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

Discussion. Ask pupils to discuss/identify their feelings about money. How much is enough? Can we ever have too much? How important is it to them? Are they spenders or savers? When they are buying something, do they check prices, use comparison websites, and consider value for money? Or do they buy on impulse, as soon as they see what they want?

Ask pupils to write a letter from Midas to Dionysus then swap letters and ask students to reply as Dionysus.

Write to Midas as a friend trying to persuade him to reconsider his wish.

What product/company could you associate Midas with? Design advertisement to promote this link or write a script for television promotion.

If you could personify ‘Greed’ what would he/she look like?

Write a poem/ piece of descriptive writing to describe greed; what colour would it be, where would you find it, how would it feel, taste, smell and move? What sound would it make? How would it make you feel?

Create a dramatic interpretation of the story and write a play script.

Winning the lottery — is it a blessing or a curse? What are the benefits/ problems?