Video: What does the famous expression "Sword of Damocles" mean and what is the true story of the tyrant Dionysius
2023 Author: Richard Flannagan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 05:58
The phrase "Sword of Damocles" has long and firmly entered our everyday life. Like many other catchphrases, she came to us from ancient Greek mythology. One of these legends tells of an ancient kingdom ruled by the incredibly cruel tyrant Dionysius. This ruler exercised his power with an iron hand, his subjects obeyed him implicitly. The state flourished, the king literally slept on gold, drank and ate. A rainbow picture, isn't it? What is the true story of Dionysius and what does the sword have to do with it?
The expression "Sword of Damocles" really goes back to an ancient parable. It was popularized by the Roman philosopher Cicero in his 45 BC book. "Tuskul Spores". Cicero's version centers on Dionysius II, the famous tyrant who once ruled the Sicilian city of Syracuse during the fourth and fifth centuries BC. Although Dionysius was rich and powerful, he was an extremely unhappy man. During his reign, he made himself a huge number of enemies. The king was tormented by the fear of murder. He was so obsessed with this that he slept in a room surrounded by a moat. The tyrant trusted only his daughters. Only they could shave his beard with a razor.
According to Cicero, the king's constant discontent reached its climax a day after the court flatterer named Damocles showered him with compliments. He noticed how incredibly happy the life of Dionysius must be. The king decided to prove to his entourage that his life only seems cloudless - it is just an illusion of happiness.
"Since this life so attracts and pleases you," answered the irritated Dionysius, "do you want to try it yourself and experience everything that I experience?" When the amazed Damocles agreed, Dionysius sat him down on a golden couch and ordered his host of servants to serve him. He was treated to the best juicy cuts of meat and generously watered with aromatic perfumes and anointed with precious ointments. Damocles could not believe his happiness, he was just in seventh heaven. But as soon as he began to enjoy the royal life, he noticed that Dionysius had hung a razor-sharp sword from the ceiling. The sword was located directly above Damocles' head, held only by one strand of horsehair. As a result, the courtier's fear for his life deprived him of the opportunity to enjoy the luxury of a feast or the servility of his subjects. Casting a few nervous glances at the blade dangling above him, he apologized, saying that he no longer wished for such happiness.
For Cicero, the story of Dionysius and Damocles embodied the idea that those in power always live in fear of death. There can be no happiness for someone who is in constant fear for his life. Later, this story became a common theme in medieval literature.
The expression "Sword of Damocles" is now commonly used as a general term to describe impending danger. Likewise, the expression "hanging by a thread" has become a shorthand for a stressful or dangerous situation. One of its most famous uses occurred in 1961 during the Cold War, when President John F. Kennedy gave a speech to the United Nations in which he said: "Every man, woman and child lives under a sword of Damocles, suspended from the finest of threads that can be cut at any time by accident, due to miscalculation or insanity."
This parable is quite real, and it so happens that people remain in history because of what they have never done or said. Read our article 7 famous historical figures who became famous for what they never did.
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