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King Midas: Part 2

Story summary

After freeing himself of the golden touch Midas becomes a worshiper of Pan and is entranced by his music. When a boastful Pan angers Apollo they hold a musical contest to decide who is the better musician. The mountain Tmolus judges Apollo the winner but Midas, who has overheard the contest, challenges the result, thereby incurring the Apollo’s anger. The god punishes the king by giving him the ears of an ass. Midas tries to hide them under a turban but has to share his secret with his barber. Burdened by his secret, the barber attempts to bury it in the ground only to have the reeds reveal, when the winds blow through them: ‘Midas has the ears of an ass.’

Teaching activities

  • Starting points
  • Follow-up

What were the lessons Midas should have learnt from his experiences in Midas Part 1? (Be careful what you wish for, think before you speak, beware of the gods.)

Ask the class to find out about Apollo and Pan:

Apollo. One of the twelve Olympian gods. Apollo (so called by both Greeks and Romans) was the god of prophecy and divination, the patron of music and the arts, and the leader of the Muses. Like his half-brother Hermes, he was associated with the care of flocks and herds. Known from Homer onwards as Phoebus Apollo, the ‘Shining One’, he came to be seen during the fifth century BC as a sun-god, and was sometimes identified with the Sun-god Helios; but only much later did this identification become standard. He was the god of healing… and also the archer-god whose arrows could bring plague and death. Homer calls him ‘Lord of the silver bow’ and Apollo the ‘Far-shooter’.

(Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology pp. 110-11)

Pan. A god of shepherds and flocks – part-man part-goat… Pan was a god of the wild countryside, wandering the lonely reaches of mountain and forest, sleeping in the heat of the noon-tide (when it was thought very dangerous to disturb him), and playing soft and haunting melodies on the pipes of reed which he had himself invented… Pan had a lustful nature and was always pursuing nymphs who took his fancy… With such a nature Pan was thought to be responsible for the fertility of flocks and herds, and the animal domain in general.

(Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology pp. 582-83)

Initial questions:

  • How does Midas feel when he is punished?
  • How does he feel when his secret is exposed?
  • Does the barber break his promise?
  • Was it fair to expect the barber to keep the secret?

This story provides rich material for discussing character. What are the adjectives the students would use to describe the four main characters in the story and why? (Remind the class the importance of supporting their views with direct reference to the story.)

  • Apollo (unable to accept criticism, vain, haughty, proud, vengeful, powerful)
  • Midas (foolish, rash, flawed, courageous, decisive, arrogant)
  • Pan (boastful, arrogant, proud, skilful, confident, foolish)
  • the barber (loyal/disloyal, sly, greedy, foolish)

The story also provides an opportunity to examine the hierarchy of the gods:

  • How are the gods portrayed?
  • What is the difference in status between Apollo and Pan?
  • Should Pan have suffered for his boastfulness?
  • Can Apollo punish Pan?

Hot seating and/or role playing the characters. In character pupils retell their version of the story. [This is a useful comprehension strategy and allows pupils to demonstrate empathy.]

Storytelling. Prepare students for a performance. Divide pupils into small groups, provide large sheets of paper and ask pupils to storyboard this myth identify key scenes: remind them of the beginning, developing conflict and resolution. Allow time for pupils to add speech bubbles identifying possible dialogue. Groups can identify sound effects or props that would enhance the story telling. Provide opportunities for pupils to perform to each other. How will they judge the performances?

Language study 1. Identify the description used in the story of how the barber felt about the secret. (But it was as though he had a mouse pouched in his cheek. Every time he opened his mouth he thought the secret was going to jump out.) Ask pupils to brainstorm words/phrases that vividly portray to a reader what it feels like to have an exciting secret, something that you want to share with others but you know you cannot e.g. details of a surprise party, an award that is about to be given, a present etc. How does it feel when you have a guilty secret – you have broken a family treasure and not owned up to it, have accepted an invitation to a party that your friend has not been invited to. Discuss use of figurative language to produce vivid exciting writing similes, metaphors, oxymoron, hyperbole, onomatopoeia.

Language study 2. Present pupils with the section of the transcript which describes the music of Pan and Apollo and identify figurative language. Compare the descriptions of the music, how effective are they? What makes them effective? Could you describe a piece of music you enjoy?

Writing activity. Produce two versions of the story one appropriate for a tabloid the other for a more serious journal. Explore/ compare key features.

Discussion 1. Is it wise to pause and think before making judgements? What factors influence your judgements? Discuss how we make wise/ foolish judgements. Use popular television shows to demonstrate the difficulties. (X Factor, Britain’s got Talent, Dance Crew, etc.) Display two pieces of art, ask pupils to judge and argue/debate their case.

Discussion 2. Can we judge music, art, dance, literature or is it like comparing apples with oranges? Students can prepare an argument for their favourite music, artist, or debate the issue of subjective judgement. Can they find evidence to support their opinions show awareness of the opinions of others, counter those opinions politely, present their ideas in a logical order, be sincere, appear knowledgeable and convincing?

Or, discuss meaning of the word pan, as in ‘Simon Cowell panned the performance’. Is it ever useful to give this type of judgement? (N.B. there is no etymological link between the god Pan and this verb.)

Debate. ‘Is honesty the best policy?’