And don’t forget his sword.

The Greeks and their wonderful myths. A little like the Peanuts cartoon with the character always being followed around with a rain cloud above his head, we have Damocles with a sword above his head, held suspended by a single thin thread.

We don’t know much about Damocles. It appears that he was a courtier during the reign of King Dionysius of Sicily, approx. 400 bc. At one of the many banquets, Damocles was going on and on, about the virtues, power, and magnificence of the King. At some point even suggesting that he wished he could change places with him for just an hour. The King finally had enough of the talk, and had Damocles approach him.

He gave him the robes, the crown, and the scepter, and sat him on the throne. “Here you go, Damocles”, we exchange places!” But the last thing the King did was to pull a single hair from a horse’s tail, and tie it to the pommel of a great sword, and suspend the sword directly above the head of Damocles while he sat on the throne.

Cicero used a version of this story to teach that to have virtue is more enough for a complete life. I think that storyline has gotten a little lost. Today, we just think of the impending doom of having the thread break, and a great sword crashing through our skull. The problem with painting a great scene is that it is hard not to focus on it.

We all walk around with the certain knowledge of our impending doom. It’s all in the timing, and the strength of the thread.

Damocles didn’t last very long in the story, he asked the King to reconsider, he didn’t realize that there might be consequences to power.

King Dionysus removed the physical sword, but Damocles still was under a sword that could take his life at any moment, it can be called the “circle of life.” We are here for a time, then we are not.

As I get older, and I go down this road a little further, I plan to write of the journey. Let us both hope the thread continues.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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1 Response to Damocles

  1. L. Dolab says:

    We are so blessed by GOD’S gift of you in our lives, so we pray for healing and more time for you as we would benefit profoundly by having your journey recorded, as we also learn so much from your sharing the wisdom you have amassed over the years!!!

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