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Ancient Proverbial Expressions in Pictures


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To Cut the Gordian Knot
Alexander Slashing the Gordian Knot.

Alexander Slashing the Gordian Knot. 1692-1700. Augsburg Marx Weinold. Silver repoussé. Warsaw National Museum.

Sword of Damocles | Sour Grapes | The Lion's Share | Weight of the World | Achilles' Heel

One oracle had told a troubled town in Phrygia, in Asia Minor, that their civil unrest would end when their new king arrived riding on an oxcart.

When Gordius, his wife, and his son, Midas, arrived on such a cart, the people of the city, trusting in the oracle, proclaimed Gordius king.

In gratitutde, Gordius dedicated his cart to Zeus and tied it with a knot named Gordian for the new king.

Another oracle foretold that the person who undid the Gordian Knot would rule Asia.

Many years later, when Alexander the Great came to the city in Phrygia, which had been named Gordium in honor of this ancient king, he determined to undo the knot. He could have spent time trying to figure out which way the ropes were wrapped or tried to pry out an end, as eager ambitious hopefuls may have done before him, but instead Alexander made one quick, decisive move.

Normally, it is said that Alexander sliced the knot with a sword, but an equally probable method is that he removed the pin around which the knot was bound.

Today to say that someone cut the Gordian Knot means the person made a quick, decisive move or took drastic action.

  • "The Legend of Midas," by Lynn E. Roller; Classical Antiquity, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Oct., 1983), pp. 299-313
  • "Midas and the Gordian Knot," by Lynn E. Roller; Classical Antiquity, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Oct., 1984), pp. 256-271

Image: CC Flickr User covilha

  1. Sword of Damocles
  2. Sour Grapes
  3. The Lion's Share
  4. Cut the Gordian Knot
  5. Weight of the World
  6. Achilles' Heel

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