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What is the Midas Touch?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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The term “Midas touch” is used to refer to an ability to make anything potentially profitable, allowing people to make and manage large amounts of money. People often use it enviously, declaring that someone has an almost magical skill that allows him or her to succeed where others fail. In fact, most people with such abilities work very hard for them, and they may have suffered their fair share of failures before they developed their keen business sense.

The name for this term comes from a legendary Greek king. Midas actually did exist, as ample historical evidence shows, although it is unlikely that he was actually able to turn things into gold by simply touching them. The desire to be able to turn things into gold is ancient; the entire discipline of alchemy was founded around the idea that it was theoretically possible to “transmute” various base metals into gold, for example, and the desire for gold in some form or another persists in many modern human societies.

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According to legend, when Dionysus approached Midas and offered him any boon, the king requested the ability to turn things into gold. Dionysus duly made it so, and at first the king was delighted with the fact that everything he touched turned to gold. The blessing quickly turned out to be a curse, however, as he found himself dying of starvation because the food and drink he touched also turned into gold, and in some versions of the story, he also turned his own daughter into a statue.

Midas came back to Dionysus, and begged him to revoke the gift. The king was informed that he could bathe in a particular river to get rid of his magical touch, which he duly did. In many stories, he goes on to abhor wealth, living a life of extreme asceticism. The original fable about the Midas touch was probably a cautionary tale about greed, pointing out that greed can swallow everything you love, leaving you with no happiness.

In the modern world, anyone who does remarkably well, especially in a challenging field like the stock market, may be said to have a Midas touch. While a touch of envy is involved, the term is also used with a note of caution; when someone has this ability, people may wonder how he or she got there, and whether happiness has come with the wealth.

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Mor
Post 3

@KoiwiGal - Actually, I think the way that story might have come about is pretty natural, and might not be from a single person.

Because I suspect the phrase "everything he touches turns to gold" is older than the myth.

If that phrase is used regularly, perhaps even used in reference to the original King Midas, it's pretty easy to take the idea one step further to see what the consequences of things turning to gold would really be.

My grandmother grew Midas Touch roses and I always used to tease her about how she had gold fingers rather than green fingers. There are a lot of sayings about a "special touch."

I think that kind of a saying would make sense to people even without the story.

KoiwiGal
Post 2
@browncoat - There is a version of the original myth where Midas, after being cured of the Golden Touch, happens to be asked to judge a music competition between gods.

When he picks one over the other, the loser curses him by saying "he must have the ears of an ass!" and that's how he grew donkey ears.

He tried to keep them a secret because he was embarrassed but eventually everyone found out.

I never liked that one as much as the part about the golden touch because I always thought the golden touch had a real moral lesson to it, while the donkey ears is just a random series of misfortunes.

Either way, you're right they are very clever stories.

browncoat
Post 1

I remember reading about the Midas Touch when I was a child. The story I read must have been adapted because I thought it was a relatively modern fairy tale, rather than an ancient Greek story.

I believe in the story that I read, the king also had to deal with having donkey's ears at some point. I can't remember exactly how that happens though.

It's actually a very clever story if there was a real King Midas. His touch has become famous enough to create a phrase in the English language that anyone can understand even if they haven't heard the story.

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