The Gordian Knot
An oracle foretold that whoever undid the incredibly tight and twisted Gordian Knot would become the king over all Asia. Over the years, many people tried and failed, until one man came to town, drew his sword, and undid the knot by hacking it to pieces. That man was Alexander the Great and he went on to conquer all of Asia.
Lopping Off The Tall Ones
A new tyrant came to power in Corinth and sent a messenger to his ally, the tyrant of Miletus, to ask how he could best secure his power. The ruler of Miletus took the messenger into a wheat field and, as they walked, he kept cutting off the tallest ears and throwing them away while continually asking the messenger why he had come. Then, without giving any words of counsel, he sent the messenger away. When the bewildered herald returned to Corinth and recounted this encounter the king understood the secret message: to secure his power by eliminating Corinth’s most talented and influential figures.
The Fog of War
King Croesus of Lydia, contemplating new conquests, sought out the oracle of Delphi. She declared that if he attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. Emboldened, he embarked on a war campaign against the Persian Empire–leading to the ruin of his own empire.
None Are Wiser Than He
A man one asked the oracle of Delphi if anyone was wiser than a particular friend of his in Athens. The oracle responded that no-one was wiser. He reported this to his friend and he received it skeptically, for he considered himself to have no wisdom at all. That man proceeded to approach Athenians who were reputed to be wise and found through his questioning that while each man thought himself to know a great deal and be wise, they in fact knew very little and were not wise at all. Thus, by being aware of his own ignorance, the philosopher Socrates was indeed wiser than them all.
The Greeks’ Gift Horse
After a fruitless, ten-year siege of the city of Troy, the Greek army pretended to sail away and left behind a huge wooden horse as a gift to their enemies. The jubilant Trojans took it within their walls. That night, the special forces hidden inside the horse crept out and opened the city gates to the returning Greek army. The Greeks captured the city and decisively ended the Trojan war by means of their “Trojan Horse.”
“I Found It! I Found It!”
The King of Syracuse once suspected a goldsmith, to whom he had supplied gold for fashioning a crown, of cheating him. The king asked his best scientist to determine (without damaging the crown) whether all of his gold had made it into the crown. The scientist was still pondering the problem when he dipped into his tub to take a bath. Seeing the water level rise, he realized that water displacement would indicate the volume of the crown, from which its density (and gold content) could be determined. He was so excited at his discovery that he ran naked through the streets of Syracuse, shouting “Eureka, eureka!” (or “I found it, I found it!”) The goldsmith’s fraud was exposed and the royal scientist, Archimedes, was clothed with glory.