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Damocles, Sword of

Damocles, Sword of

Damocles was a member of the court of Dionysius, ruler of the Sicilian city of Syracuse during the 300s b.c. According to a legend passed on by the Roman writer Cicero, Damocles told Dionysius how much he envied his kingly wealth, power, and happiness. In response, Dionysius invited Damocles to come to a magnificent banquet.

imminent about to take place; threatening

Damocles was seated before a marvelous feast, when he happened to glance up in horror. Above his head hung a sharp sword, suspended by nothing more than a single thread. In this way, Dionysius showed Damocles that a ruler's life may appear grand, but it is filled with uncertainty and danger. The "sword of Damocles" has thus come to symbolize imminent danger.

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sword of Damocles

sword of Dam·o·cles • n. see Damocles.

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