|Sword of Damocles|
Richard Westall (1765-1836)
Noun. Mid-18th century.
[Latin from Greek Damokles, of a flatterer whom Dionysius of Syracuse (4th century BC) feasted while a sword hung by a hair above him.]
Sword of Damocles, Damocles sword, Damocles's sword:
an imminent danger, a constant threat, especially in the midst of prosperity.
Damoclesian adj. L19
Damocles was a sycophant, a fawning admirer of the tyrant Dionysius II of Syracuse. One day, after he happened to mention (again) how he admired the opulent lifestyle of Dionysius and how fortunate he was to have it, the ruler asked him if he'd like to give it a go, to experience the lavish and privileged life of a powerful man like him. Of course, Damocles was all too eager to take the chance, and was soon sitting in the throne of Dionysius, enjoying all the trappings of a man with such power. However, Dionysius had sneakily arranged for a sword to be hung above his throne by a single thread of horse hair. When Damocles noticed, he was perturbed to say the least, and was soon begging Dionysius to restore him to his humble (but safe and swordless) station. Thus, Dionysius had taught Damocles the precarious nature of the life of the man in power, and the Sword of Damocles has become a famous metaphor for living under such constant threat and imminent danger.
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