Friday, 24 October 2008

Origin and Meaning of Untying the Gordian Knot

What is a Gordian Knot?.
“The Gordian knot is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem, solved by a bold stroke” (Wikipedia).
The origin dates back to the times long before Alexander the Great, (333 BC.) Pythia, (Macedonia), consisted of a bunch of small, poor kingdoms continuously fighting with each other. They were not unified and had no King. A sorry state of affairs. An oracle had decreed that when the time arrived for them to choose a king, the person to be chosen was he who arrived at the temple in an ox-cart (wagon).
One day while the priests were discussing the appointment of a King, a certain Gordius arrived in his ox-cart. Confirmation that he was the right person for the job came in the form of an eagle that landed on his cart at the same time. An oracle also decreed this sign. Now the oracles had been fulfilled, and he was promptly appointed King. By all accounts Gordius was not of royal blood, he was a peasant. Anyhow, he was made King, and one of the first things he did was to place his ox-cart at the temple of Zeus, in dedication.
Using cornel bark he tied the yoke of the wagon to a pole, securing it with an extremely complicated knot that was impossible to untie.
Many tried, but nobody could untie the knot, too difficult. The Alexander the Great arrived in Gordium and he tried his hand at untying the knot, but he too was unsuccessful. What he did was he took his sword and severed the rope with a single stroke. Problem solved.
There are numerous Internet articles on the knot and cord, analyzing possible physical characteristics. One interesting point is that the knot had no ends; the two ends spliced or weaved together. For the technically minded there are lots of articles.
The meaning of Alexander’s action? By cutting, and not untying the rope, Alexander had a “quick and dirty” solution to a difficult problem. An example of thinking “outside the box?”. Definitions often include words such as a sudden, harsh, single fast, and even brutal decision.
A further oracle decreed that the person who untied the knot would become the King of Persia. Alexander might not have solved the problem, but he did find a solution to the problem, and did become the King of Persia.
Image and definition from Wikipedia, rest of the stuff from more sources than I can recall.


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Zubin said...

It helped me somewhat for my analytical essay on Gordian Knot, Watchmen (The comic book). Thanks.
I agree that it relates to something very brutal at the same time an "out of the box" solution.