Phrases are often misused by those who do not understand their origins. â€˜Midas touchâ€™ exemplifies this trend. Nowadays it is used to describe someone for whom everything is going right. Gordon Brown is often held to have the opposite of the Midas touch, as everything he comes into contact with goes wrong (from sporting events to budgets). This misses the point of the mythological Midas story though, and the true meaning of the â€˜Midas touchâ€™ is of a gift that turned into a curse. It is meant to be a cautionary tale.
King Midas once entertained and sheltered a friend of Dionysusâ€™ (who was the god of wine). As a thank you, Dionysus offered to grant Midas one wish; Midas wished that anything he touched would turn to gold. Dionysus reluctantly agreed, and Midas went merrily round turning everything into gold. But when he sat down to eat, Midas found that the food he picked up turned to gold, while the water and wine he tried to pour down his throat become liquid gold as soon as it touched his lips. Soon he was hungry and thirsty, and was willing to trade all his gold for some bread and water. Eventually Dionysus took pity on him, and told him how to get rid of the â€˜Midas touchâ€™. Midas later became a hippy.
This myth seems to me to have some interesting parallels with Gordon Brownâ€™s premiership. By becoming prime minister, Gordon Brown achieved his heartâ€™s desire, and everything went really well at first. He stepped out of Tony Blairâ€™s shadow and became number one. Yet now everything is going wrong, and Gordon Brown does not look like he enjoys being a head of government. He does not like going abroad, or PMQs, or defending his subordinates when things go wrong. He seems as if he would be much happier in another role, and I suspect he would trade it all in for an opportunity to become chancellor again; power without the limelight. He has realised that his â€˜heartâ€™s desireâ€™ is not that at all: he has the Midas touch.
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