Damocles (pronounced /ˈdæməkliːz/, Greek: Δαμοκλῆς, Damoklēs; literally: "Fame of the People") is a figure featured in a single moral anecdote concerning the Sword of Damocles, which was a late addition to classical Greek culture. The figure belongs properly to legend rather than Greek myth. The anecdote apparently figured in the lost history of Sicily by Timaeus of Tauromenium (c. 356 – 260 BC). The Roman orator Cicero may have read it in Diodorus Siculus. He made use of it in his Tusculan Disputations, V. 61–62, by which means it passed into the European cultural mainstream.
The Damocles of the anecdote was an obsequious courtier in the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse, a fourth century BC tyrant of Syracuse, Italy. Pandering to his king, Damocles exclaimed that, as a great man of power and authority surrounded by magnificence, Dionysius was truly fortunate. Realizing the folly of this courtier, Dionysius offered to switch places with him, so he could taste first hand that fortune. Damocles could think of no other place he would rather be and quickly accepted the King's proposal. Damocles, sat down in the king's throne surrounded by every luxury, but Dionysius arranged that a huge sword should hang above the throne, and his head, held at the tip only by a single hair of a horse's tail. Damocles finally begged the tyrant that he be allowed to depart, because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate.
From this story are two morals: First, "Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown." Second, and perhaps more prophetically, "The value of the sword is not that it falls, but rather, that it hangs." The first moral supports the age-old understanding that, while it may appear to be enviable to wear a crown of power, there are threats--at all times--to the one who wears the crown. The second moral is more relevant particularly to the 20th century and beyond; namely, it blends the theory of MAD (mutually assured destruction) as it relates to those with a nuclear potential, and that of terrorism; namely, that the threat of terrorism is greater than the act thereof.
Dionysius had successfully conveyed a sense of the constant fear in which the great man lives. Cicero uses this story as the last in a series of contrasting examples for reaching the conclusion he had been moving towards in this fifth Disputation, in which the theme is that virtue is sufficient for living a happy life. Cicero asks
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