More than 2,000 years ago Dionysius the Elder was the ruler of the old Greek city of Syracuse. Damocles was a member of his court.
   Damocles talked a great deal about how lucky Dionysius was to be a ruler. At last Dionysius grew tired of hearing about his good fortune. He decided he would teach Damocles a lesson.
   Dionysius planned a royal banquet and gave Damocles the seat of honor. Damocles felt very well pleased with himself. But in the middle of the meal he happened to look up. Just above his head a very sharp sword hung by a single hair. If the hair should break, Damocles would be killed. He did not enjoy the rest of the dinner.
   Dionysius, of course, had ordered the sword hung above Damocles' head. He wanted Damocles to know that a ruler's life is not easy—that often his life is in danger. Today someone may say that the sword of Damocles is hanging over his head. He means that, because of his position, he fears misfortune ahead.