Many, many centuries ago, King Midas was chosen to judge a musical competition. But this was not just any competition, as the contenders were Apollo, god of music, and Pan, a demi-god.
The proud Pan, boasted of being a better musician than the god of music himself. Apollo, of course, disagreed. So, they decided to hold a contest to settle the dispute once and for all, and each of them was allowed to choose one person to serve as judge.
Apollo chose Tmolo, a minor god of the mountains. And Pan, being a close friend of Midas, chose the mortal king.
Apollo sang a beautiful song on his lyre, a harp-like stringed instrument, while Pan played the syrinx, a flute-like wind instrument. Tmolo voted for Apollo, who had shown clear superiority. But Midas, because he was his friend and did not want to disappoint him, voted for Pan.
Apollo was furious:
“How dare this mortal say that a demigod beat the god of music at his own art? Midas, you have no taste,” Apollo exclaimed. You must have donkey ears if you think Pan is better than me!
And Apollo turned Midas’s ears into the long, shaggy ears of a donkey.
King Midas was terribly ashamed. How could he appear to his people with those huge donkey ears? What would the kings of other lands say when they found out? No one would take him seriously again.
At night, he managed to return to the palace without anyone seeing him. From then on he was seen wearing a large and heavy turban at all times. His subjects and the kings of other lands often commented:
“Where did King Midas get that strange turban and why does he insist on wearing it all the time?”
For a year, King Midas was able to keep his secret until the day came when he needed a haircut. The barber saw the king’s ears and promised to keep the secret. But the weight of that secret became unbearable for him. Desperate, he went out to the banks of the river and dug a hole in the ground. Then, he shouted his secret into the hole: “King Midas has donkey ears.” Feeling much better, the barber plugged the hole and went home.
But the following spring, reeds grew where the barber had buried the shameful secret. When the wind blew, the reeds whispered to the four winds the words of the barber.
Great was the surprise of King Midas when he learned that the reeds had spread his secret throughout the kingdom: “King Midas has donkey ears! King Midas has donkey ears! …”