Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. — Winston Churchill

Story of the Greeks - Helene Guerber




The Sword of Damocles

Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, was not happy, in spite of all his wealth and power. He was especially haunted by the constant fear that some one would murder him, for he had been so cruel that he had made many bitter enemies.

We are told that he was so afraid, that he never went out unless surrounded by guards, sword in hand, and never walked into any room until his servants had examined every nook and corner, and made sure that no murderer was hiding there.

The tyrant even carried his caution so far, that no one was allowed to come into his presence until thoroughly searched, so as to make sure that the visitor had no weapon hidden about his person. When his barber once jokingly said that the tyrant's life was daily at his mercy, Dionysius would no longer allow the man to shave him.

Instead of the barber, Dionysius made his wife and daughter do this service for him, until, growing afraid of them also, he either did it himself or let his beard grow.

Suspicious people are never happy; and, as Dionysius thought that everybody had as evil thoughts as himself, he was always expecting others to rob or murder or injure him in some way.

His sleep, even, was haunted by fear; and, lest some one should take him unawares, he slept in a bed surrounded by a deep trench. There was a drawbridge leading to the bed, which he always drew up himself on his own side, so that no one could get at him to murder him in his sleep.

Among the courtiers who daily visited Dionysius there was one called Damocles. He was a great flatterer, and was never weary of telling the tyrant how lucky and powerful and rich he was, and how enviable was his lot.

Dionysius finally grew tired of hearing his flattery; and when he once added, "If I were only obeyed as well as you, I should be the happiest of men," the tyrant offered to take him at his word.

By his order, Damocles was dressed in the richest garments, laid on the softest couch before the richest meal, and the servants were told to obey his every wish. This pleased Damocles greatly. He laughed and sang, ate and drank, and was enjoying himself most thoroughly.

By chance he idly gazed up at the ceiling, and saw a naked sword hanging by a single hair directly over his head. He grew pale with terror, the laughter died on his lips, and, as soon as he could move, he sprang from the couch, where he had been in such danger of being killed at any minute by the falling sword.

Dionysius with pretended surprise urged him to go back to his seat; but Damocles refused to do so, and pointed to the sword with a trembling hand. Then the tyrant told him that a person always haunted by the fear can never be truly happy,—an explanation which Damocles readily understood.

Since then, whenever a seemingly happy and prosperous person is threatened by a hidden danger, it has been usual to compare him to Damocles, and to say that a sword is hanging over his head.



Contents

Front Matter
Review

Early Inhabitants of Greece
The Deluge of Ogyges
Founding of Important Cities
Story of Deucalion
Daedalus and Icarus
The Adventures of Jason
Theseus Visits the Labyrinth
The Terrible Prophecy
The Sphinx's Riddle
Death of Oedipus
The Brothers' Quarrel
The Taking of Thebes
The Childhood of Paris
Muster of the Troops
Sacrifice of Iphigenia
The Wrath of Achilles
Death of Hector and Achilles
The Burning of Troy
Heroic Death of Codrus
The Blind Poet
The Rise of Sparta
The Spartan Training
The Brave Spartan Boy
Public Tables in Sparta
Laws of Lycurgus
The Messenian War
The Music of Tyrtaeus
Aristomenes' Escape
The Olympic Games
Milo of Croton
The Jealous Athlete
The Girls' Games
The Bloody Laws of Draco
The Laws of Solon
The First Plays
The Tyrant Pisistratus
The Tyrant's Insult
Death of the Conspirators
Hippias Driven out of Athens
The Great King
Hippias Visits Darius
Destruction of the Persian Host
Advance of the Second Host
The Battle of Marathon
Miltiades' Disgrace
Aristides the Just
Two Noble Spartan Youths
The Great Army
Preparations for Defense
Leonidas at Thermopylae
Death of Leonidas
The Burning of Athens
Battles of Salamis and Plataea
The Rebuilding of Athens
Death of Pausanias
Cimon Improves Athens
The Earthquake
The Age of Pericles
Teachings of Anaxagoras
Peloponnesian War Begins
Death of Pericles
The Philosopher Socrates
Socrates' Favorite Pupil
Youth of Alcibiades
Greek Colonies in Italy
Alcibiades in Disgrace
Death of Alcibiades
Overthrow of Thirty Tyrants
Accusation of Socrates
Death of Socrates
The Defeat of Cyrus
Retreat of the Ten Thousand
Agesilaus in Asia
A Strange Interview
The Peace of Antalcidas
The Theban Friends
Thebes Free Once More
The Battle of Leuctra
Death of Pelopidas
The Battle of Mantinea
The Tyrant of Syracuse
Damon and Pythias
The Sword of Damocles
Dion and Dionysius
Civil War in Syracuse
Death of Dion
Philip of Macedon
Philip Begins His Conquests
The Orator Demosthenes
Philip Masters Greece
Birth of Alexander
The Steed Bucephalus
Alexander as King
Alexander and Diogenes
Alexander's Beginning
The Gordian Knot
Alexander's Royal Captives
Alexander at Jerusalem
The African Desert
Death of Darius
Defeat of Porus
Return to Babylon
Death of Alexander
Division of the Realm
Death of Demosthenes
Last of the Athenians
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Battle of Ipsus
Demetrius and the Athenians
The Achaean League
Division in Sparta
Death of Agis
War of the Two Leagues
The Last of the Greeks
Greece a Roman Province