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illustration of a golden hand with the text "The Golden Curse"
Shutterstock.com; Type and background by Gary Hanna
The Golden Curse

When a dream becomes a nightmare

By the editors of Scope, based on the myth of King Midas
From the April 2021 Issue

Learning Objective: to identify and respond to the theme of a play based on an ancient myth

Other Key Skills: character, inference, interpreting text, text structure, tone, author’s craft
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AS YOU READ

Think about what King Midas learns.

Scene 1

The Treasure Room

Illustrations by Gary Hanna; Shutterstock.com (gold)

SD1: King Midas sits in an enormous room overflowing with treasure.

SD2: There are piles of sparkling diamonds . . .

SD3: . . . heaps of twinkling sapphires . . .

SD1: . . . mountains of glittering gold coins.

Chorus 1: Behold King Midas of Phrygia, the richest man in all the land.

SD2: Midas reclines on a pile of coins, which clink each time he moves.

Midas (sighing dreamily): Hmmmm.

SD3: He tosses a handful of coins into the air.

Chorus 2: He has so much—and yet he wants more. Always, always more.

SD1: Midas sits up and begins to arrange the coins into stacks, counting.

Midas: One hundred, two hundred . . .

SD2: A young woman walks into the room and watches Midas, her expression grave.

Chorus 1: Behold, Midas’s daughter, Marigold, named for the golden flower.

Marigold: Father, will you come see my garden? The roses are blooming.

Midas ( frustrated): You made me lose my count!

Marigold: I’m told you have not left this room in days—that you have all your meals delivered here, that you even sleep here.

Midas: Why would I leave? My precious gold shines brighter than the sun.

Marigold: Is there nothing else precious to you?

SD3: Midas turns back to his treasure.

Midas: Oh, sweet riches, you feed my soul.

Chorus 2: Oh, misguided Midas, do you not know that a person cannot be nourished by treasure alone?

Scene 2

The Great Hall

SD1: Sounds of laughter and music fill the hall, where a merry crowd has gathered.

SD2: Midas storms in. The room falls silent.

Midas: How dare you drag me from my treasure room! What can possibly be so important?

Adviser: Apologies for disturbing you, sire. But this man says he knows you.

SD3: A disheveled man with a wild beard approaches.

Silenus: Hello, old friend.

Midas: Silenus, the woodland god! Last I heard, you were hunting with Dionysus and his friends.

Silenus: Indeed I was, but I took an ill-timed snooze, and they left me behind. I do not know where they went, so I came here for help.

Midas: As well you should have. We will send scouts to find your companions. In the meantime, we will honor you with a great feast.

Scene 3

The Forest

Illustrations by Gary Hanna; Shutterstock.com (gold)

SD1: Midas and Silenus ride through the forest on horseback.

Silenus: What a feast last night! The lentils, the figs, the honey cakes . . . (He burps.)

Midas: I am glad you enjoyed it, and gladder still that my scouts located Dionysus. He should be just up ahead.

SD2: They ride into a clearing and find Dionysus sitting on the bank of the River Pactolus.

Dionysus: Silenus, where have you been? We thought you’d strayed into the underworld.

Silenus: I found myself alone in the forest, but good King Midas fed and sheltered me.

Dionysus: King Midas, as a reward for your kindness, tell me your heart’s desire and I will grant it.

Midas: Anything?

Dionysus: Anything at all.

Midas: Well, gold certainly brings me great happiness. More gold would mean more happiness. . . .

SD3: Midas thinks for a moment.

Midas: My heart’s desire is that everything I touch would turn to gold.

Dionysus: Oh, Midas, what a terrible wish. Please, choose something else.

Midas: I cannot, for that is my heart’s desire. And you said you’d grant my heart’s desire.

Dionysus: And what will you do with all your gold?

Midas: I will treasure it, of course.

Dionysus (to himself  ): Ah, humans. (to Midas) Very well, I will grant your heart’s desire.

Chorus 1: For that is what Midas truly deserved.

Scene 4

The Treasure Room

SD1: Midas is lying on the floor of his treasure room, asleep. His own snoring wakes him up.

Midas ( looking around): What? Was it all a dream?

SD2: Midas stands and shuffles toward the door.

SD3: He is pushing it open when—

Midas: Gold! The door has turned to gold!

SD1: He touches the wall.

Midas: Again, gold!

SD2: Midas runs out the door and can be heard from offstage as he races through his palace.

Midas: My torches: gold! My windows: gold! My tapestries: gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!

SD3: His voice gradually grows fainter.

Midas: G-o-o-o-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-d!

Livius.org

What to Know: The River of Gold

This is the River Pactolus, which is located in present-day Turkey. (Today it’s called the Sart Çayı.) At one time, the river did actually contain gold. How does the myth of King Midas provide an explanation for how gold ended up in the river?

Scene 5

The Garden

SD1: Midas bursts into the garden. His daughter and two attendants are pruning a rosebush.

Midas: Marigold! Marigold!

Marigold: Father, look at my lovely roses. The scent is glorious, is it not? There are red roses and yellow and ivory—

Midas (impatiently): Yes, yes, yes—very nice. Listen, I have a surprise for you.

SD2: Midas touches the rosebush.

SD3: It immediately turns to gold.

Marigold and Attendants (gasping ): Oh!

Midas: See how beautiful your roses are now!

Attendant 1: My lord, can this be real?

Midas: It can, and this is only the beginning!

Marigold: I do not know what you have done to attain such a power, but you have ruined my flowers. They have lost their color. They smell like metal. And (touching a petal) the petals are so sharp.

Midas: But they are worth a fortune.

Marigold: They are ruined—as I fear are you.

Attendant 2: My king, could you spare one golden rose for me?

Attendant 1: Even one petal fallen on the ground would feed our families for an entire year.

SD1: But Midas is not listening. He is gleefully touching butterflies as they flit past. They thud to the ground—

Chorus 2: Thud. Thud.

Chorus 1: Thud.

Illustrations by Gary Hanna

The Midas Touch

 

Today, if you say someone has the “Midas touch,” it means everything that person does is successful. It’s a compliment. What do you think King Midas would say about that?

Scene 6

The Banquet Room

SD2: That night, the lords and ladies gather at the palace of King Midas for a lavish feast.

Attendant 2: My lady, would you care for a piece of pigeon pie?

Lady Tas: I would prefer a slice of roasted goat.

Lord Ates: I would like some of that pudding with rose water. Did the roses come from your garden, Marigold?

Marigold: Yes, although I fear this may be the last you will ever taste of them.

Lord Ates: Why?

Marigold: I will let my father answer that.

Midas: Yes, I have something to reveal. (standing ) Lady Baba, hand me your plate.

SD3: The moment the king touches the plate, it turns to gold.

All (gasping ): Oh!

Lady Baba: Is that . . . solid gold?

Lord Ates: My lord, turn my plate to gold!

Lord Dymas: And mine!

SD1: Before their eyes, King Midas transforms everything on the table.

SD2: Even the flames on the candles.

Lady Baba: Phrygia will be the richest country in the world!

Lady Tas: Thanks to your golden touch.

Lord Dymas: The Midas touch!

SD3: Smiling, King Midas lifts his goblet to take a drink.

SD1: At once, the liquid hardens into solid gold.

SD2: Midas turns pale. His hand trembles as he reaches for a hunk of bread.

SD3: At his touch, it hardens into a golden stone.

Marigold: Father, you look ill.

Midas: Oh, Marigold, what have I—

SD1: Without thinking, he clasps his daughter’s outstretched hand.

SD2: Instantly, she turns to gold.

Midas: NOOOOOOOO!

Chorus 2: Marigold’s skin now shines as brightly as the flower for which she was named.

All (shrieking in horror): Aaaaaah!

SD3: The guests bolt from the palace in terror.

SD1: Some fill their arms with golden treasure as they flee.

SD2: But Midas does not notice. He collapses, weeping, beside his daughter, who is now a gleaming gold statue.

Chorus 1: Behold, the richest man in all the land.

Illustrations by Gary Hanna

Scene 7

The Treasure Room

SD3: Midas sits alone, slumped against a pile of gleaming gold bricks.

SD1: He is deathly thin.

SD2: His skin is sallow, his hair stringy.

SD3: Golden tears slide down his sunken cheeks.

SD1: Dionysus appears.

Dionysus: Why so forlorn, Midas? Do you not have your heart’s desire?

Midas: Please, my stomach twists inside my body.

Dionysus: I warned you.

Midas: I am cursed !

Dionysus: I can see that.

Midas: My hunger is not the worst of it. I would gladly endure this misery until I die if only my daughter could be freed from her golden prison.

SD2: Dionysus looks at the statue of Marigold, which stands nearby.

Midas: I beg you. Save her! Why should she suffer for the foolish deeds of her father?

Dionysus: You have learned your lesson, Midas, and so I will help you. You must bathe in the River Pactolus. Only then will all be restored.

SD3: Midas drags his withered body out of the treasure room, groaning with effort.

SD1: He crawls all the way to the forest, leaving a trail of golden ground behind him.

SD2: His arms ache, his skin blisters.

SD3: At last, he reaches the river and tumbles in.

SD1: He begins to heal, to grow strong. He stands, refreshed.

SD2: He wades to the side of the river and touches a twig. Then a rock. Nothing happens.

Midas: I am free!

SD3: He sprints back to the palace. In the garden, red, yellow, and ivory roses bloom. Butterflies flutter through the air.

SD1: Marigold rushes out to meet him.

Marigold: Father!

Midas: Oh, Marigold, can you ever forgive me? You are so precious to me.

Marigold: More precious than gold?

Midas: More precious than anything.

Chorus 2: From that day on, Midas was a changed man.

Chorus 1: He shared his riches with his kingdom.

Chorus 2: Some said that flecks of gold sparkled in the River Pactolus.

Chorus 1: But Midas never went to look.

Chorus 2: For he never wished to see gold again.

Writing Prompt

What big idea about wealth does the story of King Midas convey? Do you agree with it? Answer both questions in the form of a written essay or slideshow. Support your ideas with evidence. 


This play was originally published in the April 2021 issue.

Slideshows (1)
Audio ()
Activities (9)
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (1)
Slideshows (1)
Audio ()
Activities (9)
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (1)
Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ (10 MINUTES)

2. READING AND DISCUSSING (45 MINUTES)

3. SKILL BUILDING AND WRITING (30 MINUTES)