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[dam-uh-kleez] /ˈdæm əˌkliz/
a flatterer who, having extolled the happiness of Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, was seated at a banquet with a sword suspended over his head by a single hair to show him the perilous nature of that happiness.
sword of Damocles, any situation threatening imminent harm or disaster.
Related forms
[dam-uh-klee-uh n] /ˌdæm əˈkli ən/ (Show IPA),
adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for Damocles
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He had Damocles served with a sumptuous feast and ordered his servants to show the guest the same honors as to himself.

  • But he knew all too bitterly under what a sword of Damocles he was standing.

  • For the first time, since the sword of Damocles had fallen, she was alone with her thoughts.

    I Will Repay Baroness Emmuska Orczy
  • Here, indeed, was the dread descent of the sword on Damocles.

    My New Curate P.A. Sheehan
  • Ruth, there is a Damocles sword hanging over that nest of birds, and it is liable to fall at any moment.

British Dictionary definitions for Damocles


(classical myth) a sycophant forced by Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, to sit under a sword suspended by a hair to demonstrate that being a king was not the happy state Damocles had said it was See also Sword of Damocles
Derived Forms
Damoclean, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for Damocles

courtier of Dionysius I, tyrant of Syracuse; his name in Greek means literally "fame of the people," from demos, damos "people" (see demotic) + -kles "fame," a common ending in Greek proper names (e.g. Sophocles, Pericles), from PIE *klew-es, from root *kleu- "to hear" (see listen). To teach Damocles how a tyrant lives, Dionysius seated him at a banquet with a sword suspended above his head by a single hair.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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