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The Gordian Knot is a legend of Phrygian Gordium associated with Alexander

the Great. It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem

(disentangling an "impossible" knot) solved easily by finding a loophole or
thinking creatively ("cutting the Gordian knot"):

Turn him to any cause of policy,

The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter

— Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47


 1Legend
 2Interpretations
 3Use of the phrase
 4See also
 5References

The Phrygians were without a king, but an oracle at Telmissus (the ancient
capital of Lycia) decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart
should become their king. A peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on
an ox-cart and was immediately declared king.[1]Out of gratitude, his
son Midas dedicated the ox-cart[2] to the Phrygian god Sabazios (whom
the Greeks identified with Zeus) and tied it to a post with an intricate knot
of cornel bark (Cornus mas). The knot was later described by Roman
historian Quintus Curtius Rufus as comprising “several knots all so tightly
entangled that it was impossible to see how they were fastened.”[3]

The ox-cart still stood in the palace of the former kings of Phrygia
at Gordium in the fourth century BC when Alexander arrived, at which point
Phrygia had been reduced to a satrapy or province of the Persian Empire. An
oracle had declared that any man who could unravel its elaborate knots was
destined to become ruler of all of Asia.[3] Alexander wanted to untie the knot
but struggled to do so without success. He then reasoned that it would make no
difference how the knot was loosed, so he drew his sword and sliced it in half
with a single stroke.[3] In an alternative version of the story, Alexander loosed
the knot by pulling the linchpin from the yoke.[3]

Sources from antiquity agree that Alexander was confronted with the challenge
of the knot, but his solution is disputed. Both Plutarch and Arrian relate that,
according to Aristobulus,[4] Alexander pulled the knot out of its pole pin,
exposing the two ends of the cord and allowing him to untie the knot without
having to cut through it. Some classical scholars regard this as more plausible
than the popular account.[5] Literary sources of the story include Alexander's
propagandist Arrian (Anabasis Alexandri 2.3) Quintus
Curtius (3.1.14), Justin's epitome of Pompeius Trogus (11.7.3),
and Aelian's De Natura Animalium 13.1.[6]

Alexander later went on to conquer Asia as far as the Indus and the Oxus, thus
fulfilling the prophecy.

The knot may have been a religious knot-cipher guarded by Gordian/Midas's
priests and priestesses. Robert Graves suggested that it may have symbolised the
ineffable name of Dionysus that, knotted like a cipher, would have been passed
on through generations of priests and revealed only to the kings of Phrygia.[7]

Unlike fable, true myth has few completely arbitrary elements. This myth taken
as a whole seems designed to confer legitimacy to dynasticchange in this
central Anatolian kingdom: thus Alexander's "brutal cutting of the knot... ended
an ancient dispensation."[8] The ox-cart suggests a longer voyage, rather than
a local journey, perhaps linking Gordias/Midas with an attested origin-myth in
Macedon, of which Alexander is most likely to have been aware.[9] Based on the
myth, the new dynasty was not immemorially ancient, but had widely
remembered origins in a local, but non-priestly "outsider" class, represented by
Greek reports equally as an eponymous peasant "Gordias"[10] or the locally
attested, authentically Phrygian "Midas"[11] in his ox-cart.[12] Other Greek
myths legitimize dynasties by right of conquest (compare Cadmus), but the
legitimising oracle stressed in this myth suggests that the previous dynasty was
a race of priest-kings allied to the unidentified oracle deity.

Use of the phrase[edit]

 Miguel Cervantes references the Gordian Knot in Part 2 Chapter 19

of Don Quixote when the eponymous protagonist is talking about marriage.
 The Gordian knot is alluded to in the motto of Ferdinand II of
Aragon, Tanto monta ("It amounts to the same, (cutting as
untying)")[13] and in the yoke representing Isabella[14] in the emblem of
the yoke and arrows.
 Brian Coless has suggested that Donald Wiseman "cut the Gordian knot"
of "the intractable problem of identifying King Darius the Mede" in the Book
of Daniel, by identifying Darius with Cyrus the Great.[15]
 Honoré de Balzac makes a reference to the Gordian Knot in his
novel, Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, in which he likens it to the
relationship Lucien de Rubempré makes with Vautrin and French society.[16]
 W. G. Sebald in The Rings of Saturn recounts the episode of Joseph
Conrad who was shot or shot himself in the chest allowing him to "Cut the
Gordian Knot" of, in Sebald's telling, a stormy love affair. (Conrad did
attempt suicide at age 20, in a severe depression most probably precipitated
by his financial situation.)[17]
 Lord Upjohn, speaking of the allocation of beneficial interests between the
parties under a constructive trust in National Provincial Bank Ltd v
Ainsworth,[18] said that the parties' affairs are sometimes so inextricably
intermixed that "an equitable knife must be used to sever the Gordian Knot".
 Gottfried Leibniz argues in his essay "On Nature Itself" that refusing to
acknowledge an active force in things and instead "simply to absorb this force
into a command of God’s - a command given just once in the past, having
no effect on things and leaving no traces of itself in them - is so far from
making the matter easier to grasp that it is more like abandoning the role
of the philosopher altogether and cutting the Gordian knot with a sword."[19]
 Henry Purcell, an English composer, wrote a piece of music entitled "The
Gordion Knot Unty'd", Z. 597[20]
 Charles Spurgeon, preaching at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London,
England, made mention of the "many gordian knots which wicked men may
cut, and which righteous men may try to unravel, but which God alone can
 The Gordian knot is also alluded to in the fifth chapter of Nikos
Kazantakis' "The Saint's Life of Alexis Zorba". On the way from Uncle
Anagnostis's home to their hut, the writer (a.k.a. the Boss) and Zorba
conversed for a while; at some point of the talk, the writer thinks to himself:
"This man [A. Zorba] did not go to school, yet his mind is not impaired. He
has seen, done, an suffered much; his intellect has been opened and his heart
enlarged without losing its primordial stoutness. All the problems that are so
complicated and unsolvable for us: he solves them with a single sword-strike,
as did his compatriot Alexander the Great with the Gordian knot. It is
difficult for him to fall into error because the whole of him, from scalp to sole,
is planted in the earth. African savages worship snakes because their entire
body touches the ground, enabling them to know earth's secret through belly,
tail, testicles, head. They touch the Mother, join her, become one with her.
Zorba is similar. We educated folds are blockheaded birds of the air." (Cf. pp.
77-78 of Peter Bien's translation of the novel.)
 Albert Camus, in his lecture at the University of Uppsala on December
14, 1957, used the Gordian knot as a metaphor for the civilization falling
apart at the sword of rampant politics of power and nihilism of the 20th
century. He called for the newborn artists, the "anti-Alexanders", to heal the
wound and repair the knot: "Yes, the rebirth is in the hands of all of us. It is
up to us if the West is to bring forth any anti-Alexanders to tie together the
Gordian Knot of civilization cut by the sword. For this purpose, we must
assume all the risks and labors of freedom."[22]
 Jean-Paul Sartre, "In Sein und Zeit Heidegger seems to have profited by
study of his predecessors and to have been deeply impressed with this twofold
necessity: (1) the relation between "human-realities" must be relation of
being; (2) this relation must cause "human-realities" to depend on one
another in their essential being. At least his theory fulfills these two
requirements. In his abrupt, rather barbaric fashion of cutting Gordian knots
rather than trying to untie them, he gives in answer to the question posited
a pure and simple definition." (from "Being and Nothingness", Wash. Sq.
Press, 1956, p330)[23]
 The graphic novel Watchmen features a fictional Gordian Knot Lock
Company, with a running gag of the locks being easy to break with a single
kick. The name of the company also alludes to its true owner, Ozymandias,
who at one point styled himself as a new Alexander.[24]
 The card game, Android: Netrunner, which simulates computer hacking,
features a program card called "Gordian Blade". The card's flavor text says
that "it can cut through the thickest knots of data".[25]
 A gold brooch in the shape of a Gordian Knot features in the origin of the
Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, an American school that
features in J.K. Rowling's Pottermore writings. The brooch belonged to the
mother of Isolt Sayre, who founded the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and
Wizardry in Massachusetts. An image of the knot is set into the middle of the
stone floor of the school's entrance hall, and all Ilvermorny student robes are
fastened by a gold Gordian Knot.[26]
 In Disney's Phineas and Ferb episode "Knot My Problem", Phineas, Ferb,
and their friends recreate the Gordian Knot with large strands of licorice,
and Candace eats it after being shot by Dr. Doofenshmirtz's
All-You-Can-Eat Inator.
 In Submachine 8 - The Plan, someone references the Gordian Knot by
saying, "It's not a toy. It's a knot. You have to untie it. Unless you're
 Progressive metal band Gordian Knot takes their name from the
legendary knot, perhaps as an allusion to the complex, interwoven layers of
harmony and counterpoint in their music.
 In the film Batman v Superman (2016), Diana Prince is shown an
artifact (later revealed by Bruce Wayne as a fake) described as the Sword of
Alexander, which is said to be the one used to cut the Gordian Knot.
 The Delta Sigma Phi fraternity features the Gordian Knot as one of its
symbols. The Gordian Knot is also the title of its new member manual. The
Gordian Knot is considered to be one of the first pledge manuals to be
published on a fraternity-wide basis.[27]
 The song Alexander the Great by Iron Maiden makes reference to the
Gordian Knot.
 Season 3 Episode 4 "The Mole" of Numb3rs shows the hardest brain
teaser ever toy which requires 70 specific moves to solve. The toy is called
Gordian Knot which actually requires 69 moves to disassemble and then
requires reassembly for the complete solution.
 Riverdale Season 1 Episode 8 - Jughead refers to the situation of the
Coopers wanting Polly but not the baby and the Blossoms wanting the baby
and not Polly as a "true Gordian Knot".