flattering courtier of Dionysius I, tyrant of Syracuse; his name in Greek means literally "fame of the people," from dēmos, damos "people" (see demotic) + -kles "fame," a common ending in Greek proper names, related to kleos "rumor, report, news; good report, fame, glory," from PIE *klew-yo-, suffixed form of root *kleu- "to hear." To teach Damocles the peril that accompanies a tyrant's pleasures, Dionysius seated him at a banquet with a sword suspended above his head by a single hair. Hence the figurative use of sword of Damocles, by 1747. Related: Damoclean.
updated on October 31, 2018