Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, was a trivia-obsessed ten-year-old, and now he’s raising a few quiz kids of his own. This month he launches a new series of amazing-facts books for kids, The Junior Genius Guides. Since the first two books in the series introduce young readers to Maps and Geography and Greek Mythology, respectively, we’ve asked him to set us straight this month and debunk some popular misconceptions about classical mythology, which has always been all Greek to us. Myths about myths?! May Zeus have mercy on our souls.
The Debunker: Did King Midas Turn His Daughter into Gold?
Readers of Greek mythology know that Midas, king of Phrygia, was the Kevin Bacon of classical times: he shows up in story after story, and always does something awesome. My favorite is the myth where he gets asked to judge a divine music contest, and refuses to admit that Apollo is a better musician than Pan. Apollo punishes him with donkey ears, a fact which he desperately tries to hide from everyone. But his barber finds out, and is dying to tell the secret. Finally, he goes down to the riverbank and tells the reeds there, “Midas has ass’s ears!” But the reeds begin to whisper that phrase to everyone who passes by, and Midas puts the barber to death. Talk about blaming the messenger.