Q: What is the knot?
A: It represents controversies. Levi talks about “controversies” when he begins to talk about arguments and what they are. He says,
“An argument is given when an arguer takes a position or stand on an issue and offers support or backing for it.”
An argument is given in connection with a controversy, but the controversy is not the argument. We are talking about an argument given for or against a position in the controversy: to be giving an argument, arguers must be doing more than merely taking a stand; they must offer support for it.
(Don Levi, Critical Thinking and Logic, page 27.)
A controversy is where the issues and the positions get all intertwined and confused. A controversy is one big nest of arguments that are, seemingly, not easy to sort out.
Q: What do we know about the knot?
A: If we untie the knot, it’s said, we’ll be Emperors of all Asia.
Q: How does one untie the knot?
A: You have to understand the knot. You might have an understanding of how knots are tied, in simple and more and more complex ways. When you examine the Gordian knot, you look at the way the rope wraps around itself. You figure out the details of these wrappings. You try this way to untie it, and that, as it won’t be easy to untie without trial and error. It will take patience.
Q: How does Alexander undo the knot?
A: He takes out his sword and hacks it to pieces. The leaders of Gordium, seeing Alexander and his massed armies before them, called this “untying” the knot.
Looking up “Gordium,” we find,
At one time the Phrygians were without a king. An oracle at Telmissus (the ancient capital of Phrygia) decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king. This man was a poor peasant, Gordias, who drove into town on his ox-cart. He was declared king by the priests. This had been predicted in a second way by a sign of the gods, when an eagle had landed on that ox-cart. In gratitude, his son Midas dedicated the ox-cart to the Phrygian god Sabazios (whom the Greeks identified with Zeus) and either tied it to a post or tied its shaft with an intricate knot of cornel (Cornus mas) bark. The ox-cart still stood in the palace of the former kings of Phrygia at Gordium in the fourth century BC when Alexander arrived, at which point Phrygia had been reduced to a satrapy, or province, of the Persian Empire.
In 333 BC, while wintering at Gordium, Alexander the Great attempted to untie the knot. When he could not find the end to the knot to unbind it, he sliced it in half with a stroke of his sword, producing the required ends (the so-called "Alexandrian solution"). That night there was a violent thunderstorm. The prophets took this as a sign that Zeus was pleased and would grant Alexander many victories. Once Alexander had sliced the knot with a sword-stroke, his biographers claimed in retrospect that an oracle further prophesied that the one to untie the knot would become the king of Asia.