The story of the Gordian Knot is usually embellished with
supernatural nonsense in works of fantasy, and omitted from
historical fiction and biographies of Alexander. But most
legends have a basis in fact, and this song is my take on it.

Alexander had almost certainly heard the legends of Gordius
and Midas, since they were well-known in Greece in his time.
It would naturally have occurred to him as his army fought
it's way through Phrygia that if he could solve the knot, it
would convince the regional religious and political authorities
to back him, minimizing the risk of civil unrest on his rear
positions when he moved on. And unorthodox solutions to
seemingly impossible problems were Alexander's specialty.


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8/5/2010: The instrumental break sounded kind of bare,
and the "Alexander solves a problem" theme was already
exposed in "Bucephalus", so I added a guitar solo.


High Priest:

Hail, King of Greece.
You honor us with your presence,
no doubt because you have heard our legend.

It is foretold the one who can undo the bindings
which secure the yoke of this ancient
cart shall rule all Asia.

Countless conquerors before you have
sought to fulfill the prophecy. All have failed.

By all means, examine the knot of Gordius
and hear the tale of its creation.


Peasant farmer / Joyous pilgrimage / Looming chaos / He is unaware
Desperate oracle / Analeptic prophecy / Predestined king / Drawn by oxen
Expectant mob / Timely arrival / Simple ox-cart / He is crowned
Bewildered successor / Solemn gratitude / Symbolic transport / Dedicated to Zeus

High Priest:

Great king, I beg, stay your hand
I have one more tale to tell
Sons and fathers, deja vu
Gordius and Midas, Philip and you
Gordius: famous, beloved king
Philip: famous uniter of Greece
Midas: famous error of will
Bitter anguish his cries echo still

choros (as the spirit of Midas):

"I exceeded my father's high spire
"For one shining moment I had it all

"I achieved my heart's greatest desire
"But attaining it cost me the one person I truly loved"

High Priest:

The ghost of Gordius bids us still
Heed the folly of his tragic son
The lesson of Midas endures
As his father's challenge will
The bindings of Asia's fate cannot be undone


My generals be calm; I know the source of your fear
If I fail and move on we risk attack from the rear
But these humble folk must abide by their tale
And gentlemen, have you ever known me to fail?


Hephaestion is pale but Alexander seems bored


He didn't say "untied"; he said "undone"


The crowd gasps as Alexander draws his sword
And with one swift stroke the challenge is won

A word of explanation:

What did the Phrygians make of Alexander? Well, the Phrygians were
stereotyped by later Greeks and the Romans as passive and dull, but on
the other hand they appear to have been treated reasonably well by the
Persians and were a fairly wealthy satrapy (province). Also, this took
place very early in Alexander's conquest, so it seems reasonable to
assume they were vaguely hostile and believed that Darius would prevail
in time, but were too cautious to actively resist Alexander's army
after the disastrous rout of the Persian forces at the Granicus.

So, the priests of the temple where the knot is revered smugly assume
the knot will thwart Alexander like it has all the conquerors before him.
Since the conditions of the prophecy seem fairly cut and dried (no pun
intended), they anticipate being able to shrug their shoulders and say,
"nice try kid, but you're not the chosen one". This will undermine
Alexander with the populace and let them tell Darius "we had your back,
buddy", but in a way that might let them keep their heads.

First, the priests tell Alexander the story of the knot's creation.
The story: in a time of near anarchy, the oracle made a desperate
prophecy that the next person to arrive in an ox-cart would become king
(seriously, you can't make this stuff up). Gordius fit the bill, the
people immediately crowned him king, and he dedicated the cart to the
temple and bound it to a post with the famous Gordian knot - a Turkish knot
with the ends tucked inside, soaked in water and dried in the sun so it
couldn't be untied. The oracle then predicted whoever could undo the knot
would be king of all Asia. I don't know if this meant the oracle believed
no one would ever conquer all of Asia because it was physically impossible
to untie the knot, or if the wording included an intentional loophole
(no pun intended) that the oracle knew could be used to solve the riddle.

Next the priests beg Alexander's indulgence to tell the tale of Midas, in
an attempt to psych him out before he attempts the knot. Gordius is famous
for being a great man who rose from humble origins to become a beloved
king. His son Midas (yes, Gordius' son is that Midas) became even more
famous than his father for a stupendous and tragic error in judgment.
Philip rose from somewhat less humble origins to unite all of Greece.
Will his son Alexander suffer an even more colossal failure than Midas?

But Alexander certainly wasn't the type to be easily rattled. He realizes it is
physically impossible to untie the knot, but he correctly reads their intentions
and devises his unorthodox solution to the puzzle, knowing they are too mellow
to scream "blasphemy!" and attack him, and that their own ploy has therefore set
them up so that they have no choice but to confirm him. Mission accomplished.

Copyright 2008 Jeff Buser.

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