The Sword of Damocles
by James Baldwin
There was once a king whose name was Di-o-nys´i-us. He was so unjust
and cruel that he won for himself the name of tyrant. He knew that
almost everybody hated him, and so he was always in dread lest some
one should take his life.
But he was very rich, and he lived in a fine palace where there were
many beautiful and costly things, and he was waited upon by a host of
servants who were always ready to do his bidding. One day a friend of
his, whose name was Dam´o-cles, said to him,—
"How happy you must be! You have here everything that any man could
"Perhaps you would like to change places with me," said the tyrant.
"No, not that, O king!" said Dam-o-cles; "but I think, that, if I
could only have your riches and your pleas-ures for one day, I should
not want any greater hap-pi-ness."
"Very well," said the tyrant. "You shall have them."
And so, the next day, Damocles was led into the palace, and all the
servants were bidden to treat him as their master. He sat down at a
table in the banquet hall, and rich foods were placed before him.
Nothing was wanting that could give him pleasure. There were costly
wines, and beautiful flowers, and rare perfumes, and de-light-ful
music. He rested himself among soft cushions, and felt that he was the
happiest man in all the world.
The Sword of Damocles.
Then he chanced to raise his eyes toward the ceiling. What was it that
was dangling above him, with its point almost touching his head? It
was a sharp sword, and it was hung by only a single horse-hair. What
if the hair should break? There was danger every moment that it would
The smile faded from the lips of Damocles. His face became ashy pale.
His hands trembled. He wanted no more food; he could drink no more
wine; he took no more delight in the music. He longed to be out of the
palace, and away, he cared not where.
"What is the matter?" said the tyrant.
"That sword! that sword!" cried Damocles. He was so badly frightened
that he dared not move.
"Yes," said Di-o-nys-i-us, "I know there is a sword above your head,
and that it may fall at any moment. But why should that trouble you? I
have a sword over my head all the time. I am every moment in dread
lest something may cause me to lose my life."
"Let me go," said Damocles. "I now see that I was mis-tak-en, and that
the rich and pow-er-ful are not so happy as they seem. Let me go back
to my old home in the poor little cot-tage among the mountains."
And so long as he lived, he never again wanted to be rich, or to
change places, even for a moment, with the king.