Tag Archive | uneasy lies the head that wears the crown

A pauper who traded places with a king

By Frederick Mordi


A long time ago, there lived a wealthy king named Dionysius. Despite his great riches and fame, the king was far from being happy. He lived in perpetual fear that the people, who called him a tyrant behind his back, could one day, plot to dethrone him. For this reason, he was often gloomy.

His friend, Damocles, who thought that rich people are the happiest in the world, jokingly said the king must surely be swimming in the ocean of happiness, given his stupendous affluence. Heartily sick and tired of his friend’s constant compliments on his wealth, Dionysius, who knew where the shoe was really pinching him, one day, suggested to Damocles:

“How about swapping places with me?”

But Damocles quickly replied that he wanted no such honour for himself. He said he only felt that with enough money, one would live a very happy life.

“If I could only have your riches and your pleasures for just one day, your majesty,” added Damocles, “I should not want any greater happiness!”

At this, the king replied: “Very well then, you shall have all my wealth for one day!”

Damocles was ecstatic when he assumed the role of ‘king’ the following day. True to his word, Dionysius commanded all his servants and guards to treat Damocles as their ‘king.’ And so Damocles received the royalty treatment as the king had decreed. He had everything he wanted at the snap of his fingers.


While feasting on a lavish meal on a carefully laid table, filled with an assortment of rich wine, with cool music serenading his senses, Damocles by chance happened to look up and he froze at once. Dangling dangerously directly above him, with its point almost touching his head, was a sharp sword that was hung by only a hair of a horse’s tail. The sword seemed as it if could fall on him at the slightest movement.

The smile quickly faded from his lips as he turned white with fear. Suddenly, the food, the wine, and the music lost their appeal. He wanted nothing more in the world than to dash out of the palace.

Noticing his friend’s discomfiture, Dionysius asked: “What is the matter?”

“The…the sword!” Damocles cried. He was careful not to move.

“Of course,” replied the king, in a tone laced with sarcasm, “I know there is a sword above your head, and that it may fall at any moment. But I have a sword over my head all the time! You have been there for just a few hours and you are quivering like a leaf! Power comes with risks.”

“Please, let me go,” pleaded Damocles. “I have made a terrible mistake! I want to go back to my poor little cottage.”

Damocles never again envied the rich as long as he lived. That was the origin of the expression, the ‘sword of Damocles.’ If the sword of Damocles hangs over somebody, it means they are in a position where something bad may happen to them soon. The dilemma of Damocles appears to be succinctly illustrated in Proverbs 15:17 (KJV), which states: “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”

'Here's your workplace. You will find out company is not big on CCTV cameras or punch clocks.'

The saying applies in the workplace, where a CEO, for instance, may have the sword of Damocles hanging over his head for making a wrong decision that adversely affected the company’s fortunes. Not many of his lieutenants would be willing to trade places with him when he appears before the board of directors to explain the company’s poor performance.

Indeed, one may not know the burden some people in certain positions of authority are carrying on their shoulders, until one gets close enough to them. Little wonder, Shakespeare’s Henry IV once said in Part II, Act III, Scene I: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”