Do you think that Alexander the Great cheated when he cut apart a knot that no one else could untie? Or used a different shortcut? Two versions of the story exist. You can read a history of this legend here, but I am more concerned with how an ancient event became a wonderful, if underused, metaphor today.
I encountered Gordian Knot to represent an intractable problem, only later learning it can imply a clever solution as soon soon as the right person shows up.
Remember Rubik’s Cube? It never went away, but at first no one could solve the problem. We had them all around our dorm rooms in the early 80s. Now in contests the cube can be solved in a few seconds. There’s a trick to that, Alexander might say.
Metaphorically, our term has been applied to geopolitics in areas ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The US National Debt (and its ever-rising limit) have been called Gordian Knots, as has human-driven climate change. Some knots got cut (the Soviet/US nuclear-arms standoff) only to be retied recently.
Students will encounter this metaphor in academic work; it hearkens back to a time when Classical metaphors abounded. I came on the scene in the twilight of that era and enjoy classics to this day. Have a look when you can, because these metaphors linger in modern academic prose.
image of work by Jean-Simon Berthélemy courtesy of Wikipedia.