1. 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.
  1. sword of Damocles, any situation threatening imminent harm or disaster.
Related formsDam·o·cle·an [dam-uh-klee-uh n] /ˌdæm əˈkli ən/, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for damocles

Contemporary Examples of damocles

Historical Examples of damocles

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

  • The sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, to make them remember.

    Space Prison

    Tom Godwin

  • And Damocles knew the sword was there, or there'd have been no point in it.

    Tristram of Blent

    Anthony Hope

  • Here, indeed, was the dread descent of the sword on Damocles.

    My New Curate

    P.A. Sheehan

  • Above the head of every editor the law of libel hangs like the sword of Damocles.

    The History of "Punch"

    M. H. Spielmann

British Dictionary definitions for damocles


  1. 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 wasSee also Sword of Damocles
Derived FormsDamoclean, 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

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