Timon of Athens

The Play’s the Thing: The play opens with a poet, a painter, a merchant, and a jeweler all trading notes about the awesomeness of Timon who is always willing to purchase any of their wares. They watch some Senators go in to Timon and then talk about how generally well thought of Timon is by everyone in Athens. However, there is a bit of blatant foreshadowing from the poet who reminds us that when Fortune turns against those she’s favoured, all the friends of the one who was favoured will watch him decline without lending him aid. Timon himself then shows up and shows off his magnanimity by lending five talents to a friend in prison for a debt and then setting up a marriage between one of his servants and a woman in town, by giving the money the woman’s father thinks is necessary. Timon looks at the wares that the poet, painter, merchant, and jeweler have all brought to him and agrees to take them all. Then Apemantus arrives. His character description in my edition is “a churlish philosopher” and he lives up to that title by being super cynical over all the people fawning over Timon and Timon’s ongoing shows of wealth. Timon receives word that the general, Alcibiades, and twenty of his men are about to arrive. Timon says to add them to the dinner party and welcomes Alcibiades himself. At the dinner party all of the guests flatter Timon and thank for the extravagant gifts he’s given them, except for Apemantus, who continues to be cynical about Timon’s flatterers. Then a guy dressed as cupid and a bunch of ladies arrive. Everyone dances and Timon sends the ladies on to dinner. Timon then sends his servant Flavius to go fetch one of his jewels. In an aside, Flavius hints that Timon really shouldn’t be doing all the gift giving that he has been because Timon is flat broke, but Flavius realizes that this is not the right time to bring it up. Timon gives some gifts to everyone but Apemantus and then everyone heads home.

Over at one of the Senator’s houses, he’s tabulating up all of the debts that he knows Timon owes (about 25 000 talents) and can’t figure out why Timon continues to give such extravagant gifts. He then sends his servant to go claim some of the money Timon owes him. At Timon’s house, Flavius is lamenting the extravagant spending Timon continues to do, mostly for the benefit of others. He then runs into servants from three different men of Athens all claiming money from Timon. Timon arrives and tries to put everyone off for a day but they refuse. He turns to Flavius in confusion who takes him aside. There’s a brief interlude with Apemantus, the servants, and a fool that’s mostly just an excuse to throw insults around and then we go back to Timon and Flavius who is shocked at how in debt he is. Flavius is all, “I tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen.” Timon is convinced he can fix the situation by selling land and then learns that most of it has been mortgaged already. Then he decides to send servants to a few of his friends to ask them to lend him money. He’s sure that they’ll be more than willing after all of the gifts they’ve lavished on him. Oh Timon…

We then get several successive scenes of Timon’s servants going to his friends and asking for a loan only to be rejected for a range of ridiculous reasons. Back at Timon’s house, more servants from other men are trying to claim money from Timon. They meet one of Timon’s servants who tells them that Timon is unwell and won’t be coming out today. However, Timon shows up shortly afterwards to yell at the servants and tell them that he has absolutely no money give. Then he has a brainwave and tells Flavius to invite all of his friends over for a dinner party. Meanwhile, the Senate is sitting in judgement on a man accused of murder and have decided he will get the death penalty. Alcibiades is there pleading on behalf of the accused man, arguing that what he did was in the heat of the moment and that his punishment should be lessened. The Senate refuse and when Alcibiades persists, they banish him from Athens. He gets super angry about this as he’s done nothing but fight wars for these people and now they’re turning on him. He vows to come back with an army. Back at Timon’s house, all of his friends are there speculating about why he came to them asking for money and now he’s throwing a fancy dinner party. Timon arrives, gives a blessing on the dinner which basically insults everyone there, and then have the dishes on the table uncovered to reveal just bowls of warm water which he then proceeds to throw at them as he chases them out of his house.

Outside of Athens, Timon curses everyone who lives there for their general lack of sympathy when he was in trouble and then he heads into the woods to live where he’ll never have to see another human again. At Timon’s house, his servants are sad that he’s fallen out of favour. Flavius shares the money he’s saved up with all of the other servants and then they all head out to find new employment. Flavius then gives a great speech about the unfairness of Timon’s fall from grace and heads out to continue to serve him wherever he’s ended up. In the woods, Timon is digging for roots (of the edible variety) outside his cave and railing against humanity when he comes across a bunch of gold. Then Alcibiades happens to come along with two ladies of the night and an army. Timon gives them all gold so that they’ll get as far away from him as possible and he tells Alcibiades that when he attacks Athens with his army not to show mercy to anyone. After the group leaves, Apemantus arrives to see if the rumours that Timon is now acting exactly like him are true. They are and the two men insult each other for a while and then Timon chases off Apemantus by throwing rocks (I kid not). Then some thieves show up hearing that Timon has gold. Timon chats with them and they change their minds about taking gold and head back to Athens. Finally, Flavius arrives (for a cave in the middle of nowhere, there is a LOT of traffic here). Timon is so impressed by his loyalty and Flavius’ willingness to work for him without any expectation of being paid, Timon gives him a bunch of gold and tells him to go live somewhere secluded as Timon doesn’t want any human companions at all.

Back at the cave, the poet and the painter from the beginning of the play are hanging out by Timon’s cave because they’ve heard about all the gold he’s giving out. Timon is unimpressed by their flattery and chases them away. Then Flavius brings a few Senators over to Timon. They’re there to ask him to come back to Athens, where they populace has realized they were too harsh and want to put him in a position of power. Especially if he can convince Alcibiades not to attack Athens. Timon fakes them out a bit and says a few things that sound like he’s going to accept the offer but then he turns them down flat. The Senators return to Athens and pass on the bad news that Timon isn’t going to be giving them any help. Back in the woods, a soldier passes Timon’s cave and sees a tomb. He takes an imprint of the headstone to bring to his leader since he can’t read. In Athens, the Senators convince Alcibiades to be more merciful and only punish those that did harm to him and Timon and to spare the rest of the town. Alcibiades then receives the imprint, which is the epitaph Timon wrote for himself and which reflects only his later hatred of men. Alcibiades then heads into the city to lay down the law.

Heroes and Villains: The definite winner here is Flavius, who is the very definition of a faithful servant. He never condemns Timon for his excessive spending and he continues to remain loyal to Timon, even after his fall from grace. Definitely the kind of friend you want to have.

Wordsmith:

  • height of our displeasure (III.v)

Speech to Know: Unsurprisingly, this one comes from Flavius, after Timon’s fall from grace.

“O, the fierce wretchedness that glory brings us!
Who would not wish to be from wealth exempt
Since riches point to misery and contempt?
Who would be so mock’d with glory? Or to live
But in a dream of friendship?
To have his pomp, and all what state compounds,
But only painted, like his varnish’d friends?
Poor honest lord, brought low by his own heart,
Undone by goodness! strange unusual blood,
When man’s worst sin is, he does too much good!
Who then dares to be half so kind again?
For bounty, that makes gods, does still mar men.
My dearest lord, – bless’d to be most accurs’d,
Rich only to be wretched, – thy great fortunes
Are made thy chief afflictions. Alas kind lord!
He’s flung in rage from this ingrateful seat
Of monstrous friends; nor has he with him to
Supply  his life, or that which can command it.
I’ll follow and enquire him out:
I’ll ever serve his mind with my best will;
Whilst I have gold, I’ll be his steward still.” (IV.ii)

View from the Pit: Timon of Athens is really just a good old-fashioned Greek tragedy, minus any appearances from the Greek gods themselves. Timon isn’t too bad as a main character. He’s extremely likable for his open-heartedness and open-handedness with his friends (and anyone who wanders in his front door, basically) but his character swing when he falls from grace keeps him from being too likable. General resentment of the people who accepted all of his help and gifts but then refused to help him when he needed it is understandable. Expanding his hatred to all humanity is a little extreme. However, the best character to come out of this is Flavius who is such an unendingly loyal employee and friend to Timon, even when his employer is broke and gone ‘round the bend. He’s definitely the best thing about this play, which is enjoyable if you’re into depressing Greek tragedies like I am.

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One thought on “Timon of Athens

  1. […] I’ve now gotten to the point where I’ll pick just one act to watch. In the case of Timon of Athens (follow the link to refresh your memory on the plot) I went for Act IV. However, as I’m […]

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