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The Curious Case of The Gordian Knot

Updated on June 29, 2020
Danny Fernandes profile image

Compiling articles on Self-help, Metaphysics, and unsolved mysteries has always been a side hustle and I enjoy writing on it sometimes.

A Ball of Gordian Knot

Gordian Knot Puzzle
Gordian Knot Puzzle | Source

Gordian Knot: Origin and Meaning of the Term

We all face challenges in our lives and look for ways to overcome them. But at times the issues are so complex, that it leads us to scratch our head in despair. In this article, I am going present before the readers, a concept as difficult as its solution - The Gordian Knot.

Origin of Gordian Knot:

The 'Gordian knot' is a legend of Alexander the Great associated with Phrygian, Gordium. It was called the 'Gordian Knot' since it was resolved at Gordium.
Gordium was the capital city of Phrygia. Its located in present-day Turkey, 70-80km southwest of Ankara.

The Phrygians were bereft of a king. An oracle prophesied that the next king would be a person riding into the town on an ox-cart. To their good fortune, a peasant drove into the town and was immediately declared a king.

Out of gratitude, his son Midas dedicated an ox-cart to Zeus, the Greek god. He tied it to a post with an intricate knot made of cornel bark. The knot was so complex that it was difficult to identify the point of origin.

Time passed away and the ox-cart stood still in its place, till Alexander arrived on the scene. By this time, Phrygia had reduced to a satrapy of the Persian Empire.

A seer decreed that anyone who unfastens the knot would rule the whole of Asia.

Alexander thought hard to untie it and struggled at a few attempts. Then he reasoned it would make no difference in loosening the origin and sliced it with his sword in a single stroke.

An alternate theory states that Alexander may have unfastened the linchpin from the yoke, which exposed the ends.

Alexander went on to conquer Asia as far as the Indus Valley fulfilling the prophecy of the oracle. He considered the cutting of the Gordian Knot as the most decisive victory in his lifetime.

Alexander Cutting The Gordian Knot
Alexander Cutting The Gordian Knot | Source

Meaning of Gordian Knot:

The term 'Gordian knot' is used to define an insurmountable problem, which is unsolvable by itself. It is often used as a metaphor to define an unsolved problem, solved fast by finding the root of the problem. Thinking creatively and outsmarting the problem, are the buzzwords to cut the Gordian Knots of life.

Due to the popularity of Alexander's tale, the term Gordian Knot has entered in the jargon to define an intractable issue.

'Cutting the Gordian Knot' implies using an out-of-box solution to the complex problem at hand.

Gordian Knot was also associated with Shakespeare's play, Henry V. wherein the central character was adulated for his ability to unwind the Gordian Knot of political mismanagement.

Classic Quote on 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)

Gordian Knot and its Usage in Current Environment:

Although the term Gordian Knot relates to solving an intricate problem, it can also be used in present situations. There are many business-related, political, and personal scenarios in life, wherein you need to find creative ways to solve the issue.

Instead of cribbing and cringing over the origin of problems, a single creative strike can work wonders.

This principle can be applied to any situation of life. Approaching the issue as Alexander, will solve the complexities swiftly and get you over the problem.

There may be various Gordian knots in business, politics, health sector, traffic congestion, personal life, etc, and each one of them requires a different approach. We have to gather that bold step and solve the knots fast before they become gargantuan.

Glossary on Gordian Knot:

Listed below are terms which relate to the mystery of Gordian Knot:

  • Untying the Knot
  • Unraveling the knot
  • Unwinding the knot
  • Untangling the knot
  • Uncovering the knot

Final Thoughts:

It is often said that the most complex issues have the least solutions. Going back to the basics and solving the problems, can get the task done faster than you imagine. There are hidden clues that we need to uncover before we get on the issue at hand.

We should not let the complexities of the knots sway us from finding the answers. Sometimes an answer may be just around the corner where you least imagine.

Gazing at the endless Gordian loop will only add to the complexity. We need to find the lynchpin to loosen the knots. This would be the real essence of the Gordian principle.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Danny


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    • Danny Fernandes profile imageAUTHOR


      26 hours ago from India

      Thank you, Ann. Yes, a different theory on it states Alexander just detached the lynchpin which loosened the whole knot.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      27 hours ago from SW England

      Interesting. I didn't know the details of the background to the Gordian Knot, though I do think Alexander was cheating a bit!!

      Yes, a huge problem can be solved if one thinks simply - a paradox.

      Educational hub, Danny.


    • Danny Fernandes profile imageAUTHOR


      2 days ago from India

      Thanks, mam. The Accolades of Hubbers like you keep us moving.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      2 days ago from USA

      This is a terrific explanation.

    • Danny Fernandes profile imageAUTHOR


      2 days ago from India

      Thanks Eric, Manatita for your lovely comments.

    • manatita44 profile image


      2 days ago from london

      Educational. I have learnt something new. Thanks.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Real interesting and informative. I knew only the notion and not where it came from - Thank you.


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