The Sword of Damocles

Dr. Mussaad M. Al-Razouki
2 min readSep 18, 2017


Richard Westall’s Sword of Damocles, 1812

One of my favorite myths from antiquity is that of the Sword of Damocles, a young (and foolish) courtier believed to have mopped around the court of renowned Sicilian tyrant, King Dionysius II of Syracuse.

As related by Timaeus of Tauromenium via Marcus Tullius Cicero (yes the Cicero, the Father of the Latin Language and nemesis to one Julius Caesar), Damocles started to mock his King by saying (I’m obviously paraphrasing here):

“I could be King…it looks like…sooooooo easy”

(I like to imagine Damocles speaking in a Valley Girl Accent).

Damocles was basically bodaciously boasting that it is indeed easy being an all-powerful monarch, since all he saw Dionysius doing every day was just sit on a majestic throne, surrounded by a nimbus of seemingly limitless power and authority, and simply issue command after command. He could just not wait to be king.

As a wise King, Dionysius shrewdly offered to switch places with Damocles so that Damocles could taste that grandeur of becoming King-for-a-Day. Not surprisingly, Damocles quickly and eagerly accepted the Dionysius’ offer and both agreed that the morrow would be Damocles day on the throne.

At day break, Damocles skipped over to the court and immediately lurched himself into the king’s throne and was surely surrounded by every luxury and magnificence the monarch of Syracuse could expect.

However, when Damocles looked up he noticed a huge sword dangling above his head, held only at the pommel by a single hair of a horse’s tail.


As Shakespeare’s Henry IV would go on to say:

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”

Nowadays, many popular press pundits, activist investors and whiny employees play the modern day Damocles by quickly dismissing the efforts of seasoned founders or executives who probably know and care more about their company the same way Dionysius knew and cared about his kingdom. Outsiders certainly might be ignorant of all the hidden “swords” hanging about the heads of a company’s leadership.

The CEO’s Sword

It is therefore of the utmost importance for all employees, partners, investors and board members to be aware of Damocles and his mythical sword just as it is also equally important for management to be as aware that even invisible swords are most likely double-edged.