The Sword of Damocles and the story of the Gordian Knot are two allegories that have survived to the present day. An allegory is the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.
The Sword of Damocles In Syracuse, Italy in the fourth century BC, Damocles, a subject of King Dionysius II, said that as a great man of power and authority surrounded by magnificence, Dionysius was truly fortunate. Dionysius offered to switch places with him to allow him to experience that fortune. Damocles accepted the King’s proposal but when he sat down in the king’s throne he discovered that a huge sword hung above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse’s tail. Damocles finally begged the tyrant that he be allowed to depart, because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate.
Dionysius wanted Damocles to learn that there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear always looms and of the peril faced by those in positions of power. It is used to denote the sense of foreboding engendered by a precarious situation, especially one in which the onset of tragedy is barely restrained.
The Gordion Knot The mythological King Gordius ofPhrygia tied his chariot to a pole with a very complicated knot which was impossible to unravel. An oracle predicted that the future king ofAsia would be able to undo the Gordion Knot. Over the years many people journeyed to Gordium where the chariot was located to try to undo the knot. All failed. In 333 BC Alexander the Great who was on his way to conquering a sizable chunk of the known world visited. After trying unsuccessfully to untie the knot, Alexander in a “Eureka” moment, drew his sword and cut through the knot n a single bold stroke. Of course, he did conquer most of the world, includingAsia. The phrase “cutting the Gordian knot” refers to solving a complicated problem by bold action or extraordinary insight.
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