Midas was a character in Greek mythology, who is most recognized for his ability to turn anything he touched into gold. He was King of Pessinus, a city in Phrygia in Asia Minor. As a child, he was adopted by Gordias and Cybele. He was known for being a hedonist, and an excellent rose gardener. He had one son, Lityerses.
Historically it is known that Midas was king of Phrygia in the 8th century BC. He was the son of Gordius, a poor countryman, who was taken by the people and made king, in obedience to the command of the oracle, which had said that their future king should come in a wagon. While the people were deliberating, Gordius with his wife and son came driving his wagon into the public square.
Once, Dionysus found his old school master and foster father, Silenus, missing. The old man had been drinking, and had wandered away drunk, and was found by some peasants, who carried him to their king, Midas (alternatively, he passed out in Midas' rose garden). Midas recognized him, and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness, while Silenus entertained Midas and his friends with stories and songs. On the eleventh day he brought Silenus back to Dionysus. Dionysus offered Midas his choice of whatever reward he wanted. Midas asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold. Dionysus consented, though was sorry that he had not made a better choice. Midas rejoiced in his new power, which he hastened to put to the test. He touched and turned to gold an oak twig and a stone. Overjoyed, as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. Then he found that his bread, meat, daughter and wine turned to gold and became inedible.
Upset, Midas strove to divest himself of his power (the "Midas Touch"); he hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Dionysus heard and consented; he told Midas to wash in the river Pactolus. He did so, and when he touched the waters the power passed into them, and the river sands became changed into gold. (Note: this explained why the river Pactolus was rich in gold)
Midas, hating wealth and splendor, moved to the country, and became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields. Once Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and to challenge Apollo, the god of the lyre, to a trial of skill. Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen to umpire. Pan blew on his pipes, and with his rustic melody gave great satisfaction to himself and his faithful follower, Midas, who happened to be present. Then Apollo struck the strings of his lyre. Tmolus at once awarded the victory to Apollo, and all but Midas agreed with the judgment. He dissented, and questioned the justice of the award. Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer, and caused them to become the ears of a donkey.
King Midas was moritifed at this mishap. But he attempted to hide his misfortune with an ample turban or headdress. But his hairdresser of course knew the secret. He was told not to mention it. He could not keep the secret; so he went out into the meadow, dug a hole in the ground, whispered the story into it, and covered the hole up. A thick bed of reeds sprang up in the meadow, and began whispering the story and saying "King Midas has an ass' ears."
The story of King Midas has been told by others with some variations. Dryden, in the Wife of Bath's Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer, makes Midas' queen the betrayer of the secret.