King Midas – Arthur Rackham

If you could wish for anything at all, what would it be? World peace? Money? Life time supply of chocolate? I am sure there is something we would all wish for given the chance. I would love to say I would wish for something really honourable like solving world hunger, but right now what I really want is the ability to sleep for longer than 4 hours at a time, so I think I would be horribly selfish if I were to be asked.

While it’s nice to ponder about what you would wish for, if ever you were asked, we know that in myth wishes rarely pan out to what was actually desired.

I love the artwork of Arthur Rackham, he is probably the earliest artist I remember as a child, simply because I had books illustrated by him. His style is so identifiable and he is regarded as one of the leading illustrators from the ‘golden age’ of British book illustrations which spanned from around 1890 to the end of the First World War. Now we see a lot of his work on greeting cards and accessories, but at the time his work was published in limited edition books.

Rackham’s rendition of King Midas is a particularly harrowing one. It depicts the defining moment of the foolish kings realisation of his mistake.

The story goes, that satyr Silenus was missing. Silenus was the old schoolmaster of Dionysus and his foster father, and quite rightly he was worried. What had happened was, Silenus had gone on a bit of a bender, and passed out drunk in King Midas’s rose garden. Midas recognised the old satyr and invited him in to this home. Treating his with politeness and care, Midas looked after Silenus while he sobered up. Now it must have been one hell of a drunk up as Silenus stayed with Midas for 10 days. On the eleventh day, Midas escorted Silenus back to Dionysus.

Dionysus was overjoyed that his would be father was back with him and thanked Midas for his kindness. Dionysus wanted to thank Midas and offered a gift of anything that Midas wanted. Midas jumped at the chance and requested that everything he touched would turn to gold. Dionysus happily granted the wish.

Midas was excited, he rushed home, on the way touching trees and rocks turning them to gold. On reaching his palace, he entered his rose garden and touched every Rose, turning them all to gold. He was ecstatic. His love for gold, could now literally be in his hands.

Ordering his staff to make him a huge feast to celebrate his new found powers, he looked forward to settling down to eat, but soon realised that he could not eat a morsel as the food turned to gold as soon as he touched it.

As he went to leave the banquet, his young daughter ran to hug him, and before he could stop her, she flung her arms around him, turning her to a gold statue.

Beside himself at the lose of his daughter and the realisation that he would starve to death, Midas preyed to Dionysus to lift his wish turned curse.

Dionysus consented to help Midas, and told him to wash in the river of Pactolus, the river would also reverse his touch to anything turned gold.

Midas rushed to the waters and washed, his powers flowing in to the river and turning the sand to gold. Returning home Midas hugged his daughter and she reanimated. So over joyed that the curse was lifted, Midas told his people that gold could be found on the banks of the river and he shared the new wealth of the river with his people.

Rackham’s picture shows Midas, distraught at the vision of his daughter as a gold statue. You don’t need to see the emotion on his face to know that he is filled with regret.

What do you think of Rackham? Maybe you just want to tell me what you would wish for… let me know in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “King Midas – Arthur Rackham

Add yours

  1. It’s a great illustration, I’m guessing the face was covered to have as much as the image showered in gold.

    I’m really sorry to hear about your sleep problems, I hope you make it up with naps. I think I’d wish for a kind world, if I could have any wish granted. I see kindness (with its implicit selflessness) as the solution to wars, populism, social inequality, corruption etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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