In an amusing Greek parable, Dionysius II teaches his courtier Damocles that luxury and wealth also come with responsibility and peril. This has given rise to the term 'Sword of Damocles'.

However, this is somewhat awkward, so sometimes the opposite term is encountered, in two varieties:

  1. 'Damoclean Sword'
  2. 'Damoclesean Sword'

I have found references to both. The first one seem to be more widely supported by dictionaries, but the second one makes more sense (to me).

Which is more correct?

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    By way of comparison, Sophocles leads to an estimated 2,110 results for Sophoclean in Google Books, compared to just two instances of Sophoclesean. I'd forget about notions of "correct" and just do what almost everyone else does. – FumbleFingers Aug 15 '15 at 19:39
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    The first is far more pleasing to the ear. The second is an obvious neologism, since the s would have been altered by rhotacism to an r, rendering us something like Damoclerean, if it had come about in classical times. The same process occurred with the word Venus, whose classical adjectives are Venereal and Venerean, alongside which exists the neologism Venusian. This is not to say that you should only use one or the other - I'm just sharing what I know. – Anonym Aug 15 '15 at 19:43
  • Damoclesean is clearer, especially when talking. If I say "Damoclean," it might not be readily apparent to listeners what I'm referring to, particularly to those people only mildly familiar with the Damocles myth. If I speak of a "Damoclesean" issue, however, it sounds like I'm just constructing a adjective out of a noun ("Damocles-ian"), and it's patently obvious I'm referring to something Damocles-like. – Exal Aug 15 '15 at 23:09

Which sounds better to you regarding an effort requiring the strength and will of Hercules:

  • For "The Great Gatsby", she generated hundreds of costumes in less than two weeks, a Herculean effort that might account for her irritation when the fashion press turned the spotlight on Ralph Lauren… - NYT
  • She faces a Herculesean task of bringing up seven children single-handedly. - No One Ever

It's customary with a Greek name to drop the last "s/es/us (etc)" before creating the adjective:

  • Aries becomes arian
  • Dionysus becomes dionysian
  • Epimetheus becomes epimethean
  • Prometheus becomes promethean
  • Aegeus becomes Aegean


Edited to add: in this case, I'm referring to names that specifically end in s, es, etc., not a, o, e, etc.

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    That is an often serviceable rule of thumb for recognizing adjectives derived from classical Greek names, but not quite adequate for forming them. It will not surely lead one even to recognize the adjectives formed from the names of Aphrodite and Zeus: aphrodisiac and divine. This can get quite technical, with stems that are often more apparent in the oblique cases than from the nominative underlying the combining forms, while the English rendering of the name itself draws from the nominative form only. – Brian Donovan Aug 15 '15 at 20:26
  • And Socrates becomes Socratic. – Hugh Aug 15 '15 at 20:42
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    @Hugh - I heartily disagree. I don't know what circles you travel in, but Herculean is extremely common. Not that everything is a Herculean effort, but it's an effortless phrase. – anongoodnurse Aug 16 '15 at 3:57
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    @imallett - Google them both. The English speaking world would seem to be on my side. – anongoodnurse Aug 16 '15 at 5:43
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    @medica -'Herculean' is valuable and widespread (and so is Herculaneum). All I meant to say was that the literature used by Ngram showed it was even more (x2) valued and widespread in 1850. Perhaps that just means writers have more fictitious superheroes to choose from. – Hugh Aug 16 '15 at 13:08

I seriously doubt that you can actually say that something or someone is more correct than something/someone else. Anyway, when I was a kid people around me always said "the Sword of Damocles". That is the original term (I guess). I looked it up in the encyclopedia just now for you (not Wikipedia) - same thing here - "the Sword of Damocles"

Wikipedia says "the Sword of Damocles" too. I'm not saying it tells the ultimate truth but still it's a good resource. Check it out:


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    "I seriously doubt that you can actually say that something or someone is more correct than something/someone else" This is just an opinion, and SE sites kindly request a bit more substantive answers. Please have a look at the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. – anongoodnurse Aug 15 '15 at 19:47
  • These Google Ngrams seem to show that 'Damoclean Sword' is the more favoured of OP's offerings. But throw in 'sword of Damocles', and there's no contest. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 15 '15 at 22:19
  • This is essentially the search I did before I asked this question. I looked it up in the dictionaries and found that one was more widely used. I even linked to the Sword of Damocles parable on Wikipedia. – imallett Aug 15 '15 at 23:23

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