What does the phrase "the Sword of Damocles" mean?
Damocles is a character who appears in an anecdote commonly referred to as "the Sword of Damocles", an allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power.
According to the story, Damocles was pandering to his king, Dionysius, exclaiming that Dionysius was truly fortunate as a great man of power and authority without peer, surrounded by magnificence. In response, Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles for one day so that Damocles could taste that very fortune firsthand. Damocles quickly and eagerly accepted the king's proposal. Damocles sat on the king's throne, surrounded by countless luxuries.
There were beautifully embroidered rugs, fragrant perfumes and the most select of foods, piles of silver and gold, and the service of attendants unparalleled in their beauty, surrounding Damocles with riches and excess. But Dionysius, who had made many enemies during his reign, arranged that a sword should hang above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse's tail to evoke the sense of what it is like to be king: though having much fortune, always having to watch in fear and anxiety against dangers that might try to overtake him.
Damocles finally begged the king that he be allowed to depart because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate, realizing that with great fortune and power comes also great danger.