(Part of a series about creating a new production of “Metamorphoses” by Mary Zimmerman at Georgia Shakespeare, summer, 2013.)
Our play begins with the story of King Midas, to whom the gods give a magical power: everything he touches turns to gold. Before it happens, though, Midas imagines what it would be like to have such a gift. “Wouldn’t that be something?” he asks.
Well, wouldn’t it?
I dream of wealth as much as the next person. I don’t want more possessions, necessarily. (I already have too much to clean and organize.) What I desire is the freedom never to worry about money again. Wouldn’t that be something?
The question is whether money guarantees that freedom. Or, to put it differently, how much money is enough? How much of anything is enough?
I periodically reread Timothy Miller’s interesting book, How to Want What You Have. Miller argues that we are programmed, for good evolutionary reasons, to want more – more wealth, more status, more love. Our instincts tell us that the more we have, the better our chances are to attract a mate and produce offspring (which might not be our personal goals, but are definitely the goals of the species).
We can’t get rid of our instincts, and we shouldn’t. We need them. But they do get out of hand sometimes, leading us to want much more than we need.
Mythology explores this human dilemma in story after story: the agony of Erysichthon, whose hunger cannot be abated; the plight of Myrrha, who wants what she must not have; and of course, the sad story of Midas.
But it also gives us Baucis and Philemon, who are poor but always have enough to share with a passing stranger.
Hmm. Knowing that we always have enough. Wouldn’t that be something?