On to Act II of Mary Shelley's play about King Midas.
As we will see in Act II.
Midas is partying as the curtain rises. He’s so impressed with his new power to create gold with a mere touch (I’d sell all my gold stocks, by the way (not that I have any): supply and demand, you know?); he believes, in fact, that he rivals the gods. Great Jove, he cries, / Transcends me but by lightning….
I’ve learned a few certainties in life, and this is one of them: You don’t declare yourself the equal of the gods, most of whom have no sense of humor. Then tend to send out a quick reminder that you are manifestly not their equal. Check out the story of Bellerophon, who, as you recall, thought he’d ride Pegasus to the summit of Mt. Olympus, maybe have a latte with Zeus? (Didn’t work out. Didn’t get even a tall decaf.) Think, too, of poor Icarus …
Midas is a little slow to catch on that things are not going to work out. His servants and attendants complain: All their garments are now gold and are, well, heavy. He doesn’t care.
But soon he does. Whenever he tries to eat or drink, the food and liquid immediately turn to gold, which, as I’m sure you know, is a little difficult to chew. And digest.
He quickly sends his advisors to Bacchus to make some sort of sacrifice that will remove the “blessing.” Bacchus—probably smiling—assents, and all Midas has to do is bathe in the stream at Pactolus. Easy enough. But then he has to throw all the Midas-minted gold into the stream, as well.
Midas eagerly complies. And cries out: Look at the grass, the sky, the trees, the flowers, / These are Jove’s treasures and they are not gold. He goes on in this, uh, vein for a while, then ends the play with these words about how he has shed himself of Man’s curse, heart-bartering, soul-enchaining gold.
As I said above, Mary certainly learned this story from her father—probably from his lips and certainly from his book about mythology for young readers, The Pantheon (1805). In that account, Godwin chides Midas for his grasping and foolish spirit. Godwin mentions the same river—but notes only that Midas had to bathe in it (nothing about tossing away all his goodies), and he adds this tidbit: … and from that time the Pactolus became distinguished from all other rivers by rolling over sands of gold.
(The Pactolus, by the way, is a wee river (sixteen miles in length) in Turkey, and, via Google, you can easily find photographs and further information about its history.)