a/the sword of Damocles

sword of Damocles

Any imminent, impending, or eventual trouble, danger, or disaster. In Greek mythology, the courtier Damocles was forced to sit beneath a sword suspended by a single hair to emphasize the instability of a king's fortunes. Usually used in the phrase "a/the sword of Damocles hangs over one/one's head." The threat of war has hung over the region like the sword of Damocles for nearly a decade. The new tax law is proving to be a sword of Damocles hanging over our very business model.
See also: Damocles, of, sword
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

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
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

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
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

sword of Damocles

Impending danger or doom. The term comes from the same Greek legend about Damocles that gave us hang by a thread. Although the story illustrates the insecurity of power and high position, in later applications the term was used to signify any kind of impending misfortune.
See also: Damocles, of, sword
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer

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
Endangered Phrases by Steven D. Price Copyright © 2011 by Steven D. Price
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