| Thirty More Famous Stories Retold|
|by James Baldwin|
|This volume was written by the author in answer to the requests of hundreds of children for more stories like the ones they had enjoyed in Fifty Famous Stories Retold. This volume includes stories of historical events, scientific discoveries, and legendary heroes. The richer vocabulary and more complicated plot elements in these stories gradually accustom children to following a longer narrative. Ages 7-10 |
THE GORDIAN KNOT
 IN the western part of Asia there is a rich and
beautiful region which in olden times was called
The people of that country were related to the Greeks,
and they were well-to-do and happy. Those who lived in
the mountains had mines of gold and quarries of fine
marble. Those who dwelt in the valleys had fruitful
vineyards and olive orchards. Those whose homes were
among the hills kept great flocks of sheep, the wool
from which was the best in the world.
For a long time these simple-hearted people had no
king. Every man was willing to do what he knew was the
best for all, and so there was no need of a ruler. But
by and by, as they grew wiser, every man began to do
that which he thought was best for himself alone. The
gold diggers ate the grapes and olives of their
neighbors in the valleys. The vine growers killed the
sheep of the dwellers in the hills. The shepherds stole
the gold which the mountaineers had dug from their
 then a miserable war began, and the land that had been
so prosperous and happy was filled with distress and
There were still many wise and good men in the country,
and these were much grieved at the sad state of
affairs. "It would be better," said they, "if we had a
king as other people have. He would punish the doers of
wrong, and would make laws for the good of all."
But they could not choose a king among themselves. Each
man claimed that he himself was the best fitted to be
the ruler of the rest; and, had it not been for one of
the wisest among them, they would have ended by
fighting one another.
"Since we do not know what to do," said this wise man,
"let us ask the gods. Let us send to the oracle of
Apollo and make our troubles known. Perhaps it will
tell us what to do."
All were pleased with this plan, and a messenger was
sent to consult the oracle.
The temple of Apollo was far across the sea and many
weeks passed before the messenger returned. Then all
the best people from the mountains, the plains, and the
hills met together near the chief town to hear what the
oracle had told him.
"The oracle did not tell me very much," said the
 messenger. "It merely repeated these two lines of
" 'In lowly wagon riding, see the king
Who'll peace to your unhappy country bring.'
I could not get another word from it."
The people were much puzzled by this answer of the
oracle. They could not understand it, and yet they felt
sure that it meant something. While all were standing
around the messenger and wondering and talking,
suddenly the loud creaking sound of wheels was heard.
They looked and saw a slow-moving ox wagon creeping
along the road. The wagon was loaded with hay, and on
the hay sat a humble peasant with his wife and child.
Everybody knew the peasant well. It was Gordius, the
faithfulest workingman in all that country. His poor
little hut, with its vine-covered roof, could be seen
half hidden among trees at the foot of the hill.
Suddenly, as the creaking wagon drew near, one of the
wise men cried out:—
"In lowly wagon riding, see the king!"
And another completed the rhyme,—
"Who'll peace to our unhappy country bring."
The people heard and understood. With a great shout
they ran forward and greeted the bewildered
 peasant. They ran in front of his wagon. He was obliged
to stop in the middle of the road.
"Hail to our king!" said some; as they bowed down
"Long live the king of the Phrygians!" shouted others.
"My friends, what does all this uproar mean?" asked
Gordius, looking down from his high seat on the hay. "I
pray you not to frighten my oxen with your noise."
Then they told him what the oracle had said, and
declared that he must be their king.
"Well," he finally answered, "if the oracle has said
that I am your king, your king I must be. But first,
let us do our duty to the great beings that have
brought all this about."
Then he drove straight on to the little temple of
Jupiter that overlooked the town. He unyoked the oxen
and led them into the temple. Just as people did in
those days, he slew them before the altar, and caught
their blood in a great wooden bowl. Then, while he
prayed, he poured the blood out as a thank offering to
"The wagon, too," said he, "will I give to the great
Being by whom kings are made and unmade;" and he drew
it into the inner part of the temple. Then he took the
ox yoke and laid it
 across the end of the wagon pole and fastened it there
with a rope of bark. And so deftly did he tie the knot
about the yoke that the ends of the rope were hidden
and no man could see how to undo it.
Then he went about his duties as king.
"I don't know much about this business," he said, "but
I'll do my best."
He ruled so wisely that there was no more trouble among
the people. The laws which he made were so just that no
man dared to disobey them. The land was blessed with
peace and plenty from the mountains to the plains.
All strangers who came to the temple of Jupiter were
shown King Gordius's wagon; and they admired the skill
with which he had fastened the yoke to the wagon pole.
Only a very great man could have tied such a knot as
that," said some.
You have spoken truly," said the oracle of the temple;
"but the man who shall untie it will be much greater."
"How can that be?" asked the visitors.
"Gordius is king only of the small country of Phrygia,"
was the answer. "But the man who
 undoes this wonderful work of his shall have the world
for his kingdom."
After that a great many men came every year to see the
Gordian knot. Princes and warriors from every land
tried to untie it but the ends of the rope remained
hidden, and they could not even make a beginning of the
Hundreds of years passed. King Gordius had been dead so
long that people remembered him only as the man who
tied the wonderful knot. And yet his wagon stood in the
little temple of Jupiter, and the ox yoke was still
fastened to the end of the pole.
Then there came into Phrygia a young king from
Macedonia, far across the sea. The name of this young
king was Alexander. He had conquered all Greece. He
had crossed over into Asia with a small army of chosen
men, and had beaten the king of Persia in battle. The
people of Phrygia had not the courage to oppose him.
"Where is that wonderful Gordian knot?" he asked.
They led him into the temple of Jupiter and showed him
the little wagon, with the yoke and wagon pole just as
Gordius had left it.
"What was it that the oracle said about this knot?" he
 "It said that the man who should undo it would have the
world for his kingdom."
Alexander looked at the knot carefully. He could not
find the ends of the rope; but what did that matter? He
raised his sword and, with one stroke, cut it into so
many pieces that the yoke fell to the ground.
" 'It is this that I cut all Gordian knots.' "
"It is thus," said the young king, "that I cut all
And then he went on with his little army to conquer
"The world is my kingdom," he said.
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