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The Sword of Damocles
The Sword of Damocles (1539) by Francesco Xanto Avelli

The Sword of Damocles "Het zwaard van Damocles", 1539 by Francesco Xanto Avelli, Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Sour Grapes | Lion's Share | Gordian Knot | Weight of the World | Achilles' Heel | Dionysus' Ear

The Sword of Damocles & Cicero on Damocles | Illustrated Proverb - The Sword of Damocles

Dionysius II was a 4th century B.C. tyrant of Syracuse, a city in Magna Graecia, the Greek area of southern Italy. Not all Greek tyrants were what we think of when we hear the word, but he and his father, Dionysius I, were about as tyrannical as they get. This is a legend about the powerful tyrant. [Here's another: Damon and Pythias.] The Story of the Sword of Damocles is unlikely to be true, but it is used to show why that person you wish you could be may actually be more miserable than your are, but you'll never know until you walk a mile in his shoes.

To all appearances, Dionysius II was very rich and comfortable, with all the luxuries money could buy, tasteful clothing and jewelry, and delectable food. He even had court flatterers to inflate his ego. One of these was the official court sycophant, Damocles. Damocles used to make comments to the king about his wealth and luxurious life. One day, when Damocles complimented the tyrant on his abundance and power, Dionysius turned to Damocles and said, "If you think I'm so lucky, how would you like to try out my life?"

The painted platter shows what happens after Damocles eagerly took up the ruler's offer. He was stuck on the throne underneath a sword that was suspended by so fine a thread, it was in imminent danger of breaking and, in this painting, stabbing him in the heart. Other illustrations have it aimed at his head.

Legend or not, Damocles must have survived, quaking in his own rundown shoes.

Image: CC Flickr User www.flickr.com/photos/artshooter/3664817892/ Artshooter

  1. Sword of Damocles
  2. Sour Grapes
  3. The Lion's Share
  4. Cut the Gordian Knot
  5. Weight of the World
  6. Achilles' Heel
  7. Ear of Dionysus

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