After leaving behind his life as a king, Midas lived in the countryside and studied music. He began to worship the god Pan, who was god of the fields.
One day Pan decided he wanted to challenge Apollo, the god of music, to a competition. They would both play the pipes, and a judge would say who played better.
Pan played first, and everyone thought it very good; however, when Apollo began to play the judge immediately said Apollo was the winner. Midas, who worshipped Pan, said the decision was wrong.
Apollo was angry with Midas for arguing – after all, Apollo was the god of music! – and hated the idea of Midas being such a bad judge of music. As punishment, he turned Midas’s ears into the ears of a donkey.
Midas was embarrassed, and every day after that he wore a headdress so nobody could see his ears. However, when it came time to cut his hair he had to take off the headdress.
‘Tell nobody!’ he said to the barber.
The barber promised, but the secret was too big for one man to keep. After Midas had gone, the barber went into the field, dug a hole in the ground, whispered the secret into it, and then covered it.
In the ground, however, the secret began to grow, and in Spring some reeds came from the ground. As they waved in the wind, the reeds spoke:
‘King Midas has an ass’s ears.’