David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TIMON OF ATHENS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 2

— 1.2 —

In a banqueting room in Timon’s house, musicians were playing music and servants were carrying in great amounts of food. Present were Timon, Alcibiades, lords, Senators, and Ventidius, whose debt of five talents Timon had paid so that he could be released from prison. Apemantus walked into the room, looking unhappy as usual. Everyone except Apemantus was wearing fine clothing.

Ventidius said, “Most honored Timon, it has pleased the gods to remember my father’s age, and call him to the long peace that is death. He is gone, he died well, and he has left me rich. So then, as in grateful virtue I am bound to your generous heart, I return to you those talents, doubled with thanks and respect, from whose help I derived liberty.”

“Oh, by no means, honest Ventidius, will I accept your money,” Timon said. “You misunderstand my friendship for you. I gave the money to you freely and forever, and no one can truly say that he gives, if he receives. Even if our betters play at that game — receiving back what they have given — we must not dare to imitate them; the faults of the rich are fair.”

The “betters” were rich money-lending usurers, who received interest on their loans. The Senators of Athens did this.

A proverb stated, “The rich have no faults.” In other words, behavior that would be considered a fault if done by a poor person is not considered a fault when done by a rich person.

“What a noble spirit you have!” Ventidius said.

The lords present stood to show respect to Timon.

Timon said, “No, my lords, ceremoniousness was devised at first to set a glossy but deceptive appearance on faint deeds, hollow welcomes, and goodness, generosity, and kindness that are quickly taken back — false goodness that is regretted even before it is shown. But where there is true friendship, ceremoniousness is not needed.

“Please, sit. More welcome are you to my fortunes than my fortunes are to me. I value you more than I value my vast wealth.”

They sat.

The first lord said, “My lord, we always have confessed it.”

He may have meant that the lords always have confessed to being friends with Timon, but a cynical person — such as Apemantus — could think that he meant that the lords always have confessed to being very welcome to Timon’s vast wealth.

Apemantus said loudly, “Ho, ho, confessed it! Hanged it, have you not?”

He was alluding to this proverb: Confess (your crimes) and be hanged. However, meat was hung and dry aged to make it more flavorful, and the lords confessed their friendship to Timon and were rewarded with flavorful meat that had been hung.

“Oh, Apemantus, you are welcome,” Timon said.

“No, you shall not make me welcome,” Apemantus said. “I have come to have you throw me out of doors.”

“Bah, you are a churl,” Timon said. “You’ve got a disposition there that does not become a man. Your moodiness is much to blame for causing you to engage in inappropriate behavior.”

Timon then said, “They say, my lords, ‘Ira furor brevis est’ — Latin for ‘Anger is a brief madness’ — but yonder man is always angry. Go, let him have a table by himself, for he neither desires company, nor is he fit for it, indeed.”

Servants brought out a table for Apemantus to sit at by himself.

“Let me stay at your peril, Timon,” Apemantus said. “I come to observe; I give you warning on it.”

By “observe,” he meant both to see and to comment on what he saw.

“I take no heed of you,” Timon said. “I won’t pay attention to you. You are an Athenian, and therefore you are welcome. I myself have no power to make you be quiet, and so I hope that my food will make you silent.”

“I scorn your food,” Apemantus said. “It would choke me because it is for flatterers and I will never flatter you.

“Oh, you gods, what a number of men eat Timon, and he does not see them! It grieves me to see so many dip their food in one man’s blood; and all the madness is that he encourages them to eat him up, too.

“I wonder that men dare trust themselves with men. I think that they should invite them without knives; that would be good for their food, and safer for their lives.”

In this society, forks were mostly unknown and people brought their own knives to feasts. If his guests did not have knives, it would be good for Timon’s food because the guests could not eat as much, and it would be safer for Timon because his guests could not murder him by slitting his throat with their knives.

Apemantus continued, “There’s much example for it; the fellow who sits next to him now, divides and shares bread with him, and pledges his life to him while drinking a toast in a cup passed from person to person is the readiest man to kill him: It has been proven.”

Judas Iscariot is one example whom Apemantus may have had in mind. Judas shared a meal with Jesus at the Last Supper before betraying him. At the Last Supper, Jesus invited his disciples to eat his body: “And as they did eat, Jesus took the bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat: this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).

Apemantus continued, “If I were a huge — big in social status — man, I would be afraid to drink during meals at which guests were present lest they should spy where my windpipe makes its dangerous notes. Great men should drink while wearing armor to protect their throats.”

Timon proposed a toast: “My lord, with heart and good spirits; and let the health — the toast — go round.”

“Let it flow this way, my good lord,” the second lord, who was eager to drink a toast, said.

“Flow this way!” Apemantus said. “He is a splendid fellow! He keeps his tides — his occasions and opportunities — well. Those healths will make you and your estate look ill, Timon.”

He was referring to this proverb: “To drink healths is to drink sickness.” Drinking too many toasts of alcohol will give one a hangover or do worse damage to one’s health — and financial situation.

Apemantus lifted a cup of water and said, “Here’s that which is too weak to be a sinner, honest water, which never left man in the mire. This cup of water and my food — edible roots — are equals; there’s no difference between them. Both are healthy and inexpensive, and I thank the gods for both of them. People who attend feasts are too proud to give thanks to the gods.”

Apemantus prayed:

“Immortal gods, I crave no pelf, aka possessions;

“I pray for no man but myself:

“Grant I may never prove so fond, aka foolish,

“To trust man on his oath or bond,

“Or a harlot, for her weeping,

“Or a dog, that seems to be sleeping,

“Or a jailer with my freedom,

“Or my friends, if I should need them.


He pulled an edible root from a pocket and said to himself, “So I fall to it. Rich men sin, and I eat roots. Much good dich your good heart, Apemantus!”

“Dich” was a dialectical word meaning “do” and “scour or clean.” Apemantus was saying this: May my food keep me healthy and keep me consistent with my principles.

Timon said, “Captain Alcibiades, your heart’s in the battlefield now.”

“My heart is ever at your service, my lord,” Alcibiades replied.

“You had rather be at a breakfast of enemies than a dinner of friends.”

“As long as the enemies were newly bleeding, my lord, there’s no food like them. I could wish my best friend at such a feast.”

Apemantus said, “I wish that all those flatterers were your enemies, so that then you might kill them and bid me to eat them!”

The first lord saidto Timon, “Might we but have that happiness, my lord, that you would once make use of our hearts, whereby we might express some part of our zealous friendship for you, we would think ourselves forever perfectly happy.”

“Oh, no doubt, my good friends,” Timon said, “but the gods themselves have provided that I shall have much help from you: How would you have become my friends otherwise? Why would you have that charitable and warmhearted title of friend from among so many thousands of other people if you did not chiefly belong to my heart? I have told more about you to myself than you can with modesty speak in your own behalf; and thus far I can vouch for your worthiness. I have narrated to myself your many merits.

“Oh, you gods, I think to myself, what need do we have for any friends, if we should never have need of them? Friends would be the most unnecessary creatures living, if we should never have any need to use them, and they would most resemble sweet-sounding musical instruments hung up in cases that keep their sounds to themselves.

“Why, I have often wished myself poorer, so that I might come nearer to you. We are born to do good deeds, and what better or more properly can we call our own than the riches of our friends?

“Oh, what a precious comfort it is, to have so many friends, like brothers, commanding one another’s fortunes! Oh, joy, that seems to be finished because of the appearance of tears, which actually are happy, even before joy can be completely born!

“My eyes cannot keep from watering, I think. To forget the faults of my eyes, I drink to you.”

Apemantus said, “You weep to make them drink, Timon.”

Timon’s weeping provided an occasion for all to drink, but all his guests’ drinking and eating at his expense would soon cause Timon to weep.

The second lord said, “Joy had the like conception in our eyes, and at that instant like a babe it sprung up.”

Apemantus chuckled and said, “I laugh to think that babe a bastard.”

A bastard is falsely conceived, and the tears in the eyes of the lords were falsely conceived. They were the tears of hypocrisy and flattery, not the tears of shared friendship.

“I promise you, my lord, you moved me much,” the third lord said.

“Much!” Apemantus said. “Much I believe that!”

A trumpet sounded.

“What is the meaning of that trumpet?” Timon asked.

A servant entered, and Timon asked him, “What is it?”

“If it pleases you, my lord, certain ladies greatly want to be admitted here,” the servant replied.

“Ladies!” Timon said. “What do they want?”

“There comes with them a forerunner, my lord, who has the job of telling you what they want,” the servant said.

“All right, let them be admitted here.”

A boy dressed as Cupid, the young son of Venus, goddess of sexual passion, entered the dining hall.

The Cupid said, “Hail to you, worthy Timon, and to all who taste his bounty and enjoy his acts of kindness! The five best senses acknowledge you as their patron, and they come freely to greet your generous warm-heartedness. There, taste, touch, and smell, all pleased from your table rise; the ladies who come now come only to feast your eyes.”

“They’re all welcome,” Timon said. “Let them kindly be admitted. Musicians, make them welcome!”

The Cupid exited to get the ladies.

“You see, my lord, how amply you’re beloved,” the first lord said.

Music began to play. Cupid returned with several ladies costumed as Amazons, a tribe of warrior women. They had lutes in their hands, and they danced as they played the lutes.

“Hey, what a sweep of vanity and foolishness comes this way!” Apemantus said. “They dance! They are madwomen. A similar madness — vanity — is the glory of this life. Just look at all this fancy food when all that anyone needs is a little oil and some edible roots. We make ourselves fools to entertain ourselves, and we expend our flatteries to drink down those men upon whose old age we vomit the drink up again with poisonous spite and envy. Society flatters men when they are in the prime earning years of their lives, and then society rejects them when they are old.

“Who lives who is not slandered or slanders? Who dies and goes to their grave who has not suffered from at least one kick that their friends gave them?

“I would fear that those who dance before me now will one day stomp on me. Before this it has been done; men shut their doors against a setting sun.”

Sun worshippers say prayers to the risingmorning Sun, which they worship and adore.

Timon sat down as the lords stood up to show their loves for and to dance with the Amazons, who had finished their ceremonious dancing.

Once the dance of the lords and the Amazons was over, Timon said, “You have brought to our entertainment much gracefulness, fair ladies. You have set a fair fashion on our entertainment, which before you arrived was not half as beautiful and gracious as you have made it. You have added worth and luster to our entertainment, and you have entertained me at my own feast. I thank you for it.”

“My lord, you take us even at the best. You rate our performance as highly as it can be rated.”

“It is good to sexually take them at their best,” Apemantus said, “for to sexually take them at their worst is filthy, and would not be worth the taking, I fear. When ladies are at their worst, their vaginas are diseased.”

“Ladies, a little banquet of fruits, desserts, and wine is waiting for you. Please go and enjoy yourselves.”

“We will, most thankfully, my lord,” the ladies said.

The Cupid and the ladies exited.

Timon called for his steward: “Flavius.”

A steward is in charge of the household; his job includes paying bills and managing household finances.

Flavius said, “My lord?”

“Bring to me here the little casket.”

Leaving to get the little casket, which contained jewels, some of which Timon intended to give away, Flavius said to himself, “Yet more jewels! There’s no speaking to him when he is in the giving mood, I can’t cross his wishes, or else I would tell him — well, truly I should tell him that when he has spent everything, he’ll want to be crossed then, if he could.”

Timon was so generous that he was going bankrupt and did not realize it. When he had spent everything, including all he could borrow, he would want his debts crossed off, as they would be if they had been paid. He would also want his palms crossed with silver — for example, with silver coins that had been stamped with the image of a cross.

Flavius continued, “It is a pity that bounty — generosity — had not eyes behind, in the back of the head, so that a man might never be made wretched because of his generous mind.”

Flavius exited.

The first lord asked, “Where are our servants?”

A servant replied, “Here we are, my lord, standing in readiness to serve you.”

The second lord said, “Bring our horses!”

Flavius returned with the little casket of jewels.

Timon said, “Oh, my friends, I have a few words to say to you.”

He said to the first lord, “Look, my good lord, I must ask you to much honor me by accepting this jewel and wearing it and making it more valuable by your wearing it, my kind lord.”

The first lord said, “I have already received so many of your gifts —”

The other lords said, “So have we all.”

A servant entered and said to Timon, “My lord, certain nobles of the Senate have just now alighted from their horses, and are coming to visit you.”

“They are very welcome,” Timon said.

Flavius said to Timon, “I beg your honor, let me say a few words to you that seriously concern you.”

“Seriously concern me! Why then, another time I’ll hear you. Right now, let’s have provided what is needed to entertain the new visitors.”

Flavius murmured to himself, “I scarcely know how to do that.”

A second servant entered the dining hall and said, “May it please your honor, Lord Lucius, out of his free and generous love, has presented to you four milk-white horses, with silver trappings.”

“I shall accept them fairly,” Timon said. “Let the presents be worthily dealt with.”

A third servant arrived, and Timon asked, “What is it? What’s the news you have for me?”

“If it pleases you, my lord, that honorable gentleman, Lord Lucullus, entreats your company tomorrow to hunt with him, and he has sent your honor two pairs of greyhounds.”

“I’ll hunt with him,” Timon said, “and let the greyhounds be received, but not without a fair reward.”

Timon meant to pay for the greyhounds, although they were a gift.

“What will this come to?” Flavius said to himself. “Timon commands us to provide and to give away great gifts, and all out of an empty coffer. Nor will he let me tell him his net worth, which is negative, or allow me to show him what a beggar his heart is because it has no power to make his wishes good. His promises fly so beyond his estate and possessions that what he speaks is all in debt; he owes for every word. He is so kind that he now pays interest on the loans he has taken out so that he can be generous. His land’s mortgaged and on the books of those to whom he gives gifts.

“Well, I wish that I were gently put out of my job as his steward before I am forced out! Happier is he who has no friends to feed than friends who even enemies exceed. His friends cost him more than enemies would. I bleed inwardly for my lord.”

Flavius exited.

Timon said to the lords, his guests, “You do yourselves much wrong by lessening too much your own merits: You are too critical of yourselves.”

He gave a jewel to the second lord and said, “Here, my lord, is a small token of our friendship for each other.”

“With more than common thanks, I will accept it,” the second lord said.

The third lord said about Timon, “Oh, he’s the very soul of bounty!”

Hearing the third lord, Timon said, “And now I remember, my lord, you said good words of praise the other day about a bay stallion I rode on: It is yours, because you liked it.”

“Oh, I beg that you pardon me, my lord, in that,” the third lord said.

Perhaps the third lord meant that he wanted to be forgiven for having seemed to beg for the stallion by praising it. A cynical man such as Apemantus would think that the third lord was putting on an act now, and that the third lord really had praised the stallion in the hope that Timon would give it to him.

“You may believe my words, my lord,” Timon said, “when I say that I know no man can justly affect — praise — nothing but what he really does like. I weigh my friends’ affection with my own; I regard as equally important my friends’ wishes and my own, to tell you the truth.”

He then said to the lords, “I’ll call on you.”

Timon meant that he would visit them, but soon he would call on the lords for loans.

“No one is as welcome as you,” the lords said.

“I take all of your many visits to me so kindly to heart that it is not enough for me to give you what I give,” Timon said. “I think that I could give kingdoms to my friends, and never be weary of giving.”

He then said, “Alcibiades, you are a soldier, and therefore you are seldom rich; what I give to you comes in charity to you because all your living is among the dead, and all the lands you have lie in a pitched field.”

“Yes, the pitched field is defiled land, my lord,” Alcibiades replied.

He was punning. In the Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus 13:1 states, “He that touchest pitch shall be defiled with it.” Pitch is a tar-like substance, and a pitched field is a battlefield is which lines, aka files, of soldiers are ready to engage in battle.

The first lord began to speak, “We are so virtuously bound —”

Timon interrupted, “— and so am I to all of you.”

The second lord began to speak, “So infinitely bound in affection —”

Timon again interrupted, “— and so am I to all of you.”

He then ordered, “Lights, more lights!”

The first lord said, “May the best of happiness, honor, and fortunes always be with you, Lord Timon!”

Timon said, “— so that he can keep them ready for his friends.”

Everyone left the great dining hall except for Apemantus and Timon.

“What a noisy disturbance is here!” Apemantus said. “What a serving of bows and jutting-out of butts! I doubt whether their legs are worth the sums that are given for them. How much money they make for their bowing! Friendship is full of dregs and impurities; I think that false hearts should never have sound legs. False friends should not be healthy enough to bow. Thus honest fools lay out their wealth on courtesies. Timon gives away many valuables to those who bow to him.”

Timon said, “Now, Apemantus, if you were not sullen, I would be good to you. I would be generous to you.”

“No, I’ll accept nothing,” Apemantus replied, “for if I should be bribed, too, there would be no one left to rail upon and criticize you, and then you would sin all the faster. You have given away so much for so long, Timon, that I am afraid that you will have nothing to give away except IOUs shortly. What is the need for these feasts, pompous activities, and vainglorious events?”

“Whenever you begin to rail against society, I am sworn not to give any notice to you,” Timon said. “Farewell, and come back again with better music — with noncritical words.”

Timon exited.

Apemantus said to himself, “So be it. You will not hear me now; you shall not hear me later. I’ll lock your Heaven away from you by not giving you the advice that would keep you happy. Oh, that men’s ears should be deaf to good advice, but not to flattery!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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