Gordian Knot -- Spencer was fascinated by Greek Mythology and studied many of the ancient Greek and Roman texts extant in the mid-20th century. Of particular interest were the recorded legends of Herakles and the Trojan Cycles. He later taught these subjects at university level along with Chaucer and the Old English version of Beowulf.
The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander the Great. It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem, solved by a bold stroke, hence the phrase, cutting the Gordian knot.
Φρυγία was a kingdom in the west central part of Anatolia, in what is now modern-day Turkey. The Phrygians occupied a part of the region of what is now known as the southern Balkans.
When the city-state of Troy was dominant, the Phrygians seem to have emigrated to Anatolia as Trojan allies under the protection of Troy, and the state of Phrygia arose in the 8th century BC with its capital at Gordium. During this period, the Phrygians extended eastward and encroached upon the kingdom of Urartu, the descendants of the Hurrians, a former rival of the Hittites, who had existed in the same region as the Phrygians for some time.
The Phrygian Kingdom was subsequently overrun and dominated by Cimmerian invaders from Iran about 690 BC, then briefly conquered by its neighbor Lydia before it passed successively into the Persian Empire of Cyrus and the empire of Alexander and his successors, and was then incorporated into the extensive and ever-expanding Roman Empire.
The Phrygians had no legitimate king for quite some time. An oracle at the ancient capital of Phrygia, Telmissus, announced that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king -- he turned out to be a peasant known as Gordias. He was declared king by the priests. This oracle was further "proved" when an eagle landed on Gordias' ox-cart. In gratitude, his son, the semi-mythical and greedy Midas bound the ox-cart to a pillar in the temple with a complex "Gordian Knot". It was predicted that whoever could untie the knot would become the Emperor of the World.
The ox-cart was still in the palace at the arrival of Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. and when Alexander was told of the prophecy he immediately attempted to untie the knot. When he could find no end to the knot, he simply drew his sword and sliced the knot in half. This sword-slice became known as the "Alexandrian Solution" to the Problem of the Gordian Knot and represented his solution to pretty much every problem he encountered.
Alexander was a figure of the most outstanding celebrity, and the episode of the Gordian Knot was known to every literate person from the third century BC on to the present time.