Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Greece by Mary Macgregor
The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

The Gordian Knot

After the battle of Granicus, many Persian towns submitted to the conqueror. Those along the coast of Asia Minor that refused to open their gates, the king quickly subdued.

During the winter he reached a city called Gordion, about which a strange story is told.

In the citadel of Gordion was an old, roughly built wagon, which had once belonged to a peasant named Gordius. Long, long ago Gordius had ridden into the town in his wagon, and the oracle had declared that this peasant had been chosen by the gods to be king of Phrygia, in which country Gordion stood.

When Gordius was made king, almost the first thing he did was to dedicate his wagon to the gods, tying the yoke to the pole with fibre taken from the bark of a tree. The Gordian knot, as it was named, was twisted and tangled in a bewildering way, and looked as though it would defy the most skilful fingers to untie. Yet an oracle had said that whoever should succeed in undoing this wonderful knot would become king over all Asia.

Many men who wished to wear a crown came to Gordion to try to undo the knot, but not one of them had been able to unravel the twisted fibre.

When Alexander, with his victorious army, rode into Gordion, every one wondered if the king would be able to untie the famous knot.

Alexander was not long in going to see the ancient wagon. He looked at the puzzling knot and soon saw that he would not be able to untie it.

But he did not mean to be beaten. He would solve the problem in his own way. So taking his sword in his impatient hands, with one swift stroke he cut the formidable knot in two.

The onlookers, both Phrygians and Macedonians, shouted with delight for lo! the oracle was fulfilled, and Alexander would become monarch of Asia.

As the knot was cut in twain, a great thunderstorm raged over the town, and the people said, "It is Zeus who sends the storm to show that he is pleased that the prophecy is fulfilled."

While Alexander had been conquering the towns along the coast of Asia, Darius had been gathering together another great army, which numbered, so it was said, six hundred thousand men. The king himself commanded the vast army, and in the spring of 333 b.c. he set out to find Alexander.

Darius was not a skilful general, nor was he a brave king, but he had no doubt that he would conquer Alexander.

When Alexander still lingered in one of the coast towns, Darius deemed that it was cowardice that kept him there, so little did he know of the character of his foe. It was illness alone that kept Alexander from advancing against the great king.

Some said that it was the hardships of the battlefield that had made the king ill, others that while he was still heated after a long march he had bathed in a river, the waters of which were very cold.

To the dismay of his soldiers, who adored their brave leader, the king grew worse and worse. He was so ill that it seemed that he must die.

His physicians were afraid to give the king medicine, for should he die they would be accused of giving him poison.

At length one of the physicians, named Philip, to whom Alexander had shown great kindness, determined that whatever happened to him, he would do his utmost to save the king's life.

Alexander himself was content to take what Philip ordered, so impatient was he to be well and at the head of his army once again.

So Philip left the king for a few moments to prepare the medicine that he believed would cure him.

While he was absent, a letter was brought to Alexander from his officer Parmenio. It besought the king not to trust Philip, as he had been bribed by Darius to poison him. Vast sums of money and the hand of the great king's daughter, said Parmenio, were to be the reward of the physician.

When Alexander had read the letter, he put it under his pillow, showing it to no one, not even to his beloved friend Hephæstion. He had no sooner done so than Philip returned with the medicine. The king took it without hesitation. Then, drawing the letter from beneath his pillow, he bade his physician read it.

Philip was horrified as he read the false accusation, and flinging himself down by the bed, he entreated the king to trust him and to fear nothing.

The drug was a powerful one, and after taking it the king was unconscious for hours. His nurses whispered to one another that he was dead.

But after a time he opened his eyes, weak indeed, but no longer in danger. Philip tended him until his strength returned, and he was at length able to go out to show himself to his Macedonians. For they had been in constant fear lest aught should befall their king, and nothing would satisfy them until they had seen his face.

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