a/the sword of Damocles

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sword of Damocles

Also, Damocles' sword. Impending disaster, as in The likelihood of lay-offs has been a sword of Damocles over the department for months. This expression alludes to the legend of Damocles, a servile courtier to King Dionysius I of Syracuse. The king, weary of Damocles' obsequious flattery, invited him to a banquet and seated him under a sword hung by a single hair, so as to point out to him the precariousness of his position. The idiom was first recorded in 1747. The same story gave rise to the expression hang by a thread.
See also: Damocles, of, sword

sword of Damocles

an imminent danger.
When the courtier Damocles described Dionysius I, ruler of Syracuse ( 405–367 bc ), as the happiest of men, Dionysius gave him a graphic demonstration of the fragility of his happiness: he invited Damocles to a banquet, in the middle of which he looked up to see a naked sword suspended over his head by a single hair.
See also: Damocles, of, sword

a/the sword of ˈDamocles

(literary) a bad or unpleasant thing that might happen to you at any time and that makes you feel worried or frightened: Now the news of my divorce is public, I’m relieved in a way. It had been hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles.This expression comes from the Greek legend in which Damocles had to sit at a meal with a sword hanging by a single hair above his head. He had praised King Dionysius’ happiness, and Dionysius wanted him to understand how quickly happiness can be lost.
See also: Damocles, of, sword

sword of Damocles

An imminent and/or constant threat. According to Greek legend, Damocles, a friend of King Dionysius of Syracuse, envied the ruler's great wealth and power. When Damocles told the king how fortunate he was, Dionysius offered to change places for a day. As Damocles dined at the head of the table, he happened to look up. There above his head, held by only a single horsehair, hung a sharp sword pointing downward toward his chair. Frozen with fear that the thread would break, he pointed out the predicament to the king. Dionysius nodded, acknowledging that the sword was a constant factor in his life, an actual and a metaphoric reminder that some person or circumstance might at any time cut the thread. Such risk, the king added, comes as an integral part of power. Any ever-present risk, especially one that's hanging by a thread, is how the phrase has been used.
See also: Damocles, of, sword