- , DAMOCLEANThe story of the sword of Damocles, told by the Roman orator Cicero, points out that perils and responsibilities often accompany royalty. It also symbolizes the uncertainty of human greatness and life in general. When we say "hanging by a thread" we mean being in imminent danger, a danger that may be described as damoclean.Damocles was a courtier of Dionysius the Elder (430-367), who in the fifth century was the ruler—or tyrant—of the Sicilian city-state Syracuse. Dionysius distrusted him because he knew Damocles was a sycophant. The king grew tired of hearing Damocles extolling the tyrant's wealth, power, virtue, and felicity. Deciding to teach the sycophant the real perils of power, King Dionysius suggested that Damocles try the delights of absolute power for himself, an offer Damocles eagerly accepted. Dionysius ordered that a huge banquet be prepared, that Damocles be laid on a bed of solid gold, that he be perfumed and massaged, and that his every whim be met by a bevy of the tyrant's servants. Damocles was having a wonderful time, enjoying the feast and all the attention he was getting, until he happened to look up and see that above him was a sharp sword suspended by a single hair. The courtier was so distraught that he immediately lost his appetite and abandoned the feast. The sumptuous repast set before him no longer had appeal.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.