The Peculiar Truth about the Gordian Knot

  • Asia Minor in the 4th Century BC: The kingdom of Phrygia, located in the western region of Anatolia (today’s Turkey), had no king.
  • Townspeople consulted an oracle and asked who would lead them. The Oracle said that the next man who rides into town on a cart would be their new ruler.
  • A dirt-poor peasant farmer named Gordius entered town on his ox cart. He was declared king. And he accepted.
  • The town was renamed after him — Gordium.
  • In honor of his new appointment and to thank his god Zeus, Gordius tied his ox cart to a post in the city square. The knot he tied was intricate and tight and seemingly impossible to undo.
  • The Oracle then made another prediction. Whoever could untie the Gordian Knot would conquer all of Asia.
  • Men tried, but no one could undo the fabled knot.
  • In the year 333 BC, a massive army passed through the region. It’s leader was Alexander the Great. He and his troops had conquered many lands and were en route to conquer more.
  • After learning of the local legend, Alexander visited Gordium and attempted to untie the knot. Like many before him, though, he failed to wrench the rope from the post. Yet the prideful man managed to claim success.
  • Two stories are told. The most popular legend has it that Alexander drew his sword and sliced away the rope, thereby untying it.
  • The second, less appealing explanation suggests that he removed the linchpin from the ox cart and slid the knot off the cart and post, thereby achieving his goal.
  • Either way, his actions were unorthodox and didn’t quite fit the definition of untying. But Alexander succeeded where others had failed.
  • And as the Oracle predicted, he went on to conquer Asia.
  • Today, the term Gordian knot is used to describe a problem that requires unconventional thinking in order to be solved.

ALSO: Gordius was succeeded as ruler by his son, the legendary King Midas.

Dan is the author of over a dozen novels. His latest is Tight Five.

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