Damocles’ Sword

Also: sword of Damocles

Meaning of Idiom Damocles’ Sword

Damocles’ sword refers to an impending disaster; a danger or disaster that could occur at any moment. 1Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,2Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.,3Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.


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Examples Of Use

“Many of us have lived in the shadow of Damocles’ sword for decades, knowing that nuclear weapons could be used at any moment.”

“Dennis had a cancer scare when he was young. The cancer may have been a misdiagnosis but for him, it became a sword of Damocles.”

Damocles' sword painting

Origin

Damocles’ sword refers to the Greek legend about King Dionysius I of Syracuse and his courtier, Damocles, who was a person we would refer to today as a brown-noser.

The King had grown weary of Damocles’ constant flattery. When Damocles referred to the king as “the happiest of men” the Dionysius decided to teach him a lesson. He invited Damocles to a banquet and ordered him to sit in the same place for the entire event. Over the chair was hung a sword held by a single hair. In this way, the king demonstrated to Damocles just how precarious was the position of a king, who, although he had access to many luxuries and pleasant distractions, always lived in the shadow of fear. 4Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,5Westley, Peter Miles. The Bibliophile’s Dictionary: 2,000 Masterful Words and Phrases. Writer’s Digest, 2005

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
3. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.
4. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
5. Westley, Peter Miles. The Bibliophile’s Dictionary: 2,000 Masterful Words and Phrases. Writer’s Digest, 2005