“It’s this attraction to gold which becomes their downfall, has always been at the back of his mind.”
-Richard Armitage (http://collider.com/richard-armitage-the-hobbit-interview/)
The allure of gold, the danger of succumbing to greed, is a recurrent theme in many world societies, and it was certainly of interest to the ancient Greeks. Arguably the most famous cautionary tale from Greek mythology is the story of King Midas. As the Greeks tell the story (and a lot of them do!) Midas was a powerful king of the kingdom of Phrygia in central Anatolia. He was renowned for a lot of things, including wisdom and a love of the arts and literature, but it is the story of The Golden Touch that most everyone remembers.
A lot of authors tell this story and virtually all the versions start with the wanderings of the reveling followers of Dionysus, his favorite satyr friend Silenus in particular. The revelers were travelling through Midas’ neck of the woods and Silenus was separated from the group, ending up in the famous rose gardens of Midas.
When the drunken old satyr (half man, half goat) was apprehended and brought before the king, Midas treated him with cordiality and hospitality. When Dionysus heard of the friendly reception that Silenus had received from Midas, he offered the king anything he wished in thanks. Midas asked Dionysus to grant him a golden touch…that is, that everything he touched would turn to gold.
In theory, this sounds like a good idea, but in practice it turns into one of those “be careful what you wish for” scenarios. Dionysus told Midas as much, warning him of the potential dangers of such a wish, but Midas would not be talked out of it, so the wish was granted. Initially, Midas was ecstatic…touched a branch – Presto! – gold branch. Touched a rock – Shazam! – er…you get the picture. Midas made his way home, touching everything in sight as he went. (Good thing ancient kings always traveled with large retinues – somebody had to carry all that gold!)
By the time he made it back to his palace, Midas was jubilant…and famished. Gold making is hungry and thirsty work! He ordered a feast to be laid out for him and quickly encountered the catch of his golden wish. Everything he touched turned to gold…everything, including the bread he picked up to eat and the wine he tried to drink. When he tried to sleep, his comfy bed with its sumptuous coverings, turned to cold hard gold too. Before long, the very sight of gold was abhorrent and Midas was headed back to beg Dionysus to reverse the “gift.”
This story served two purposes for the Greeks. It was an etiological myth that explained why gold was so plentiful in a certain river in Lydia…Dionysus instructed Midas to bathe in the river Pactolus to lose the golden touch. It also served as yet another illustration of the Greeks’ assertion that sophrosyne was the way to go. Midas would have been fine with a moderate gift of gold from Dionysus, but his greed in wanting it all was his undoing.
Thorin’s ability to withstand the lure of the “dragon sickness” that had consumed his grandfather is certain to be a major theme in the remaining films of The Hobbit trilogy. Thorin is even more aware of the potential dangers than Midas. Midas had only been warned of the threat…Thorin has seen for himself the damage that greed for gold wrought on his house. I will be very interested to see how Richard Armitage characterizes this growing obsession in Thorin’s character….the peeks from the trailer are alluring!