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Those Ancients Who Brought You
King Midas, Gordion, and Cybele -- Mother of Godessess

Not to be Confused with Cybill Shepherd and Fergie

History is nothing but a pack of tricks
that we play upon the dead.



Phrygia was in the Anatolian (preferably said like W.C. Fields) region of Asia Minor, which is now the country of Turkey. It was mentioned by the Assyrians, Greeks and Romans, (i.e. the Legend of King Midas based on a real ruler); and the region is mentioned several times in the New Testament biblical book, The Acts of the Apostles. The modern city of Ankara on the Anatolian plateau is near the the Phrygians' historic settlement. It was a site that was conveniently developed by the source of the Sakarya River. The thriving modern cities in the region, Afyon (site of the Arslantas rock monument), Eskisehir (has the ruins of Midas), and Kütahya are similarly populous for the same region their ancestors were: winds bring rain and life to food production in the region. The edges of its kingdom were the crossroads for clashing armies of East and West, from not just between Greeks, but between different combinations of Persians, Lydians, Romans, Galatians, Arabs, Crusaders, Seljuks, Ottomans, Mongols, Byzantines, and Turks.

Mysterious Beginnings

I'm a travelin' man, been around the world.
--Ricky Nelson

Around 1500 BC, though some experts claim half as much later, a group of feisty travelers, sometimes known as "the people of the Aegean Sea," moved southeastward from the Balkan European region of Thrace (northenmost part of the Aegean Sea {Thracian Sea}, east of Macedonia, and west of Byzantium) into Anatolia. One such conglomeration became known as the Phrygians. Their neighbors became the Aryans, Lydians, Troy, Caria and Greece. The story of rise of these people to the point where they were a culture and power to contend with is still being unravelled, but their end has been documented by archeology and ancient chroniclers. Gordion, their capital was named after an early King Gordius. They ended the mighty Hittite empire, built their civilization on those predecessor's ruins, and were probably the real inhabitants of Troy as sung by Homer in his Illiad.

Introducing Hulk Helen of Troy!
--hypothetical WWF announcement

Troy was actually called Ilium founded by their Phrygian King Ilus II who won the right to establish a metropolis after winning that and a cow after a wrestling competition. King Ascanius III was the leader as a Trojan coalition partner. The Phrygian language, an Indo-European group, was parallel to Greek in form as can be observed on almost a hundred script remnants uncovered. They eventually developed their own distinct style, after previously being influenced by first the Hittites, and then other imported goods from Uratu and Assyria mostly, and their polychromatic ceramics are on display in the Ankara Museum.

The Heyday and Payday of Phrygia

Watch out for the Bull!
--Malt Liquor Ad

The Phrygians at their peak in the Eighth Century were respectfully feared by not just the Greeks but also by the fierce warriors the Assyrians! (Sargon II wrote of King Mita of the Mushkis and their peace agreement.) Their zenith of glory was with and started to end under King Midas, whose rise and suicide are mentioned by the famous Greek historian, Herodotus. Though there might have been others with the same name, this Midas came to the throne in 738 BC, was successful for a time, built himself the Tumulus of Midas (sepulcral mound) --53 meters by 300 (this was the largest of many such edifaces). The existence of King Midas' actual burial site, that included his skeleton of a 60 year-old man and contained treasures (although ironically none were gold!) to spend in the afterlife, is what makes his story-book epic become something real. Herodotus wrote that he passed his magnificent throne to Delphis, he maintained fabulous gardens, and his wife was Greek Princess Hermodike, daughter of the King of Kyme, some say Agamemnon. He was the stuff of legends until the Cimmerians (Kimmerians) whomped up on them in 695. the Cimmerians are the people called Gomer in the Old Testament Biblical accounts. The story goes that after this defeat, and end of Phrygian sovereignty, Midas killed himself drinking bull's blood. We know that Gordion was ravaged, and the Assyrian's recorded the suicidal fate of Midas. In another seventy years the Lydians took what was the Cimmerians' and they successively became under someone else's dominance. Some historians claim that Phrygia was always a Lydian vassal state, and they just regained what they had lost; but then why was Phrygia always considered an impediment to trade between Occident and Orient in that time before the Cimmerians and Lydia regained control?

The Phrygians left behind enough accrutements of their civilization to give us a picture of expertly designed and executed buildings and artwork. Their fame, especially Midas was echoed by the Greeks, who noted that Midas was the first non-Greek to make an offering at Delphi.

Dust in the wind, all we are is just dust in the wind...

They lost all vestiges of independence under the Persian rule of Cyrus in 546. By the time Alexander the Great came through in 336, and had to untie the "Gordion Knot," (but merely cut through it with his sword), it was mostly an area relegated to history. In the first century it still was a 'region' as Paul of Tarsus traveled through there, and visitors to Jerusalem could hear the Phrygian 'tongue' spoken, amongst others, from the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost ("sign" manifested after the Holy Spirit came to fill Christian believers.)

The Midas Myth

Nothing's gonna touch you in those Golden Years.
--David Bowie

Most school kids have heard of the "Midas touch," where anyone with that attribute can touch anything and it will turn to gold. Well the Greeks, and later the Romans told that story with a couple of twists.

Hey buddy, pass that bottle of wine!

One fable tells us that he was granted one wish by Dionysos after saving and caring for the drunken god's inebriated buddy, Silenus. Interestingly, Dionysos was Greek for the Lydian deity Baki (and translated Bacchus in Latin). Against Dionysos' counsel, Midas got his wish for turning all that he touched to gold. When the dilemma of not being able to eat food that automatically turned gilded, he begged to undo his prayer. He was told he could reverse the gift turned curse by washing in the River Pactolus in Lydia, and of course, after obeying he was cured, but even to this day one can see the gold dust floating in the stream.

Only your hairdresser knows for sure.
--Clairol Ad

The second ancient antecdote involves King Midas having to judge between the musical god Apollo and a satyr, Marsysas. He sides with the saytr -- Eghhhhhh! Wrong choice! Apollo is so ticked that he gives Midas donkey's ears, but like Michael Bolton before his haircut, or Yanni as of this writing, he hides them. However, his barber is privy to this humiliation, but is warned under penalty of death to keep it to himself. The agony of internalizing this great gossip is too much for the royal stylist; so he excavates a big hole in a field and whispers in it the secret that one can hear today when the wind blows through the grass: "Midas has ass's ears."

Leftovers Again?

Where's the beef?
--Burger Ad

In the 1950's the University of Pennsylvania Museum performed excavations at the Midas Mound at Gordion. The feasting utensils found still had chemical remains which upon scientific examination gave the first analysis of ancient meals other than the written records. We know that they washed down their lentils, herb marinated BBQ'd goat and lamb with a thyme and saffron, honey and yellow muscat grape sweetened barley malt beer, chugged down from their favorite long-sieved jug.

Exporting the Mother of All Mothers

Momma said there'd be days like this...

The ancients write of the sacred books of Phrygia. Certainly the fame of Matar (Ma) called Cybele, (from Kubileya) by the Greeks and Romans, the Mother of the gods was widespread. Though the Curetes brought this religon to Phrygia from Crete, the Dactlys and the expatriated Corybantes promoted her in Mt. Ida. Some Italian Ausonian royal envoys came to King Attalus of Phrygia to ask to bring the cult of Cybele to their country. This major deity who wore a fez and veils specialized in the wild parts of nature and fertility had a lover, her son Attis. She castrated him after a little double-dealing, but did not die until after a fit of fury or mania. Folks liked to celebrate and recreate this perverted death and rebirth ritual in the night with wild ecstatic screaming and dancing to instruments and lots of drums.

Hopper, R.J, The Early Greeks, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1976.
The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of World History, ed. William L. Langer, ed. William L. Langer, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975.

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