Gordion Knot | Mythical Object

Gordion Knot Greek Mythology

The term Gordian knot refers metaphorically to a problem that has no apparent solution, finally resolved by radical action. By extension, the radical nature of the solution to this problem gave rise to the phrase "cutting the Gordian knot. This expression has its origins in the legend of Alexander the Great.

The Myth of the Gordian Knot

The legend of the Gordian knot has its roots in the city of Gordion (now Yassıhüyük), located in central Asia Minor and belonging to the Persian Empire. According to the legend, Gordios, a poor Phrygian who owned little land and only two pairs of oxen, saw an eagle landing on the yoke of his chariot.

The animal remained perched there until the hour when the oxen were untied. Disturbed, Gordios went to the village of Telmessos, in Lycia, in order to consult the inhabitants there who were known to have divinatory gifts.

On his way, he met a young girl, member of the community of Telmessians, who possessed these gifts herself. She advised him to return to the same place and to sacrifice to Zeus. She followed Gordios to the place of sacrifice; they married and had a son, named Midas.

When Phrygia was crossed by political disorders related to the election of a new king, an oracle announced to them that a tank would bring to them a king putting an end to the civil war. While the Phrygians, gathered in assembly, were still debating, Midas stopped in front of the Assembly on his chariot.

The Phrygians, interpreting the oracle, recognized in this event the prophecy. Consequently, they elected Midas king of Phrygia, and he had his father's chariot placed on the acropolis, in the temple of Zeus Bronton (Phrygian god of thunder), in order to express his gratitude for having sent him the eagle.

Later, another legend was established, saying that the one who would succeed in untying the Gordian knot would become master of the Asian Empire. This knot was attached to the chariot by the yoke and connected the tiller. According to Plutarch, this knot would have been a vegetable knot made of dogwood bark. It would therefore be "without beginning, nor apparent end".

This knot has a high symbolic significance and represents a turning point in the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great and the Gordian knot

The legend is told by Diodorus of Sicily, but it is the version of Aristobulus of Cassandreia that has provided the most information on the Gordian knot episode. It is at the beginning of the year 333 BC, in Gordion, that Alexander would have cut the Gordian knot.

Indeed, Alexander the Great, when he arrived in the city, was made aware of the legend and became fascinated by it. He then asked to be shown the chariot of Gordios. After having sought the solution, he cut the knot with his sword, according to some versions.

Historians still do not agree on this episode: some say that he cut the knot while others say that he managed to untie it. Legend has it that lightning and thunder rained down on the city the following night as a sign of heavenly approval.

This is why Alexander the Great offered a sacrifice, in thanks, to the gods who had shown by signs their approval. These signs validated the oracle which had predicted that the man who would untie the knot would rule the Asian Empire.

This episode represents a turning point in the conquest of Asia Minor by Alexander the Great, because it granted him an official consecration and a divine filiation to claim the conquest of the Phrygian kingdom, starting point of the Macedonian extension in Asia Minor.