History of the Gordian Knot

Each day was a "challenge" for Midas. He lived in a marshy area of Asia Minor then called Phrygia. Lore has it that years of civil unrest and aimless wandering of the Phrygians had led the elders to call a meeting of the high council to decide which warring faction would rule next. An ancient oracle had foretold that a man with a wagon would eventually come and end their constant quarreling. Midas wandered into town with his ox-cart while the high council met, the oracle’s prediction had come true. Midas was appointed king.

As a reminder of his good fortune, and to thank the gods for his rule, Midas erected a shrine and dedicated his wagon to Zeus. Instead of being yoked to an ox, Midas placed his wagon in the center of the acropolis tied to a pole with a large knot. Curiously, the knot was intricate and complex, having no ends exposed. Hundreds of tightly interwoven thongs of cornel-bark made the knot an impressive centerpiece for the shrine.

Month after month the bark hardened, and stories grew up around the shrine. It was eventually moved and housed near the temple of Zeus in an ancient city called Gordium, ruled by Midas’ father Gordius. Gordius, being the proud father that he was, encouraged the lore about his son’s now famous shrine. People speculated as to its purpose. Most regarded it as a curious puzzle. Eventually, an oracle foretold that whoever loosed the Gordian Knot would lord over the whole of Asia. The lore grew and grew.

It became quite a tourist attraction and generated lots of revenue for local business. Residents considered it the duty of every wanderer to visit their shrine and attempt to solve their puzzle. They regarded it as extremely unlucky for visitors to leave their city without trying to loose the knot.

No one knows how many visitors attempted the puzzle of the Gordian Knot. One thing is certain. Only one man solved it. We know him as Alexander The Great.

In May 333 B.C. Alexander faced a crucial decision concerning his Persian conquests. Lacking reinforcements, his men ragged, and with Macedonia poverty stricken from funding his war effort, Alex waited near Gordium for inspiration from the gods. Upon resolving to continue his campaign, Alexander was halted by his personal seer just before leaving the city. To depart without attempting the Gordian Knot would cause bad luck to befall his armies. Alexander had to attempt the puzzle.

Making his way to the acropolis, Alexander was followed by a great crowd. Anxious, they gathered to see the great king struggle with their famed puzzle as all had before him. The townspeople were not disappointed. For nearly two hours Alexander racked his brain for a solution. Finally, in a fit of frustration he asked of his advisors, "What does it matter how I loose it." He drew his sword and, in a single spinning flourish, sliced the Gordian Knot open to reveal the ends hidden inside.

That night a wicked storm descended upon Gordium. Thunder raged and lightning crackled. Oracles and soothsayers gathered around. Alexander and the seers interpreted the storm as a sign that Zeus was pleased and would grant Alexander’s armies victory. The next day Alexander left Gordium and conquered the world.