David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TIMON OF ATHENS: A Retelling in Prose — Chapter 3, Scenes 1-3

— 3.1 —

Alone, Flaminius waited in a room in Lucullus’ house.

A servant arrived and said to him, “I have told my lord about you; he is coming down to you.”

“I thank you, sir.”

Lucullus entered the room, and the servant said, “Here’s my lord.”

Seeing Flaminius, Lucullus said to himself, “One of Lord Timon’s servants? He has a gift from Timon for me, I bet. Why, I should have expected this; I dreamt of a silver basin and pitcher last night.”

He then said out loud, “Flaminius, honest Flaminius; you are very respectfully welcome, sir.”

He ordered his servant, “Fill a glass for me with some wine.”

The servant exited.

Lucullus asked, “And how is that honorable, complete, free-hearted gentleman of Athens, your very bountiful good lord and master, doing?”

“His health is good, sir,” Flaminius said.

“I am very glad that his health is good, sir, and what do you there have under your cloak, excellent Flaminius?”

“Truly, I have nothing but an empty box, sir,” Flaminius replied.“In my lord’s behalf, I have come to entreat your honor to fill it with money. My master, Timon, having great and immediate need to borrow fifty talents, has sent to your lordship to furnish him with that money. Timon does not at all doubt that you will immediately provide him with your assistance.”

“Hmm! Hmm! Hmm! Hmm!” Lucullus said. “‘Not at all doubt,’ he said? Alas, good lord! He would be a noble gentleman, if he would not keep so generous a house. Many a time and often I have dined with him, and told him not to be so generous, and then I have come again to eat supper with him, with the purpose of persuading him to spend less, and yet he would embrace no advice and take no warning from my coming. Every man has his fault, and generosity is his. I have told him about it, but I could never get him to stop being generous.”

Lucullus’ servant returned, carrying wine.

“If it pleases your lordship, here is the wine,” the servant said.

“Flaminius, I have always known you to be wise. Here’s to you.”

Lucullus drank.

“Your lordship speaks what it pleases you to say,” Flaminius replied.

Lucullus said to Flaminius, “I have observed that you always have a helpful and ready-and-willing spirit — to give you your due — and that you are a man who knows what belongs to reason. You can use the time well, if the time uses — treats — you well. You can take advantage of a good opportunity, and you have good qualities in you.”

He then said to his servant, “You can leave now.”

His servant exited.

“Come closer to me, honest Flaminius,” Lucullus said. “Your lord’s a bountiful gentleman, but you are wise and you know well enough, although you have come to me, that this is no time to lend money, especially upon bare friendship, without some security such as land that can be forfeited if the loan is not repaid in time. Here are three coins for you. Good boy, wink at me — close your eyes — and say that you did not see me. Fare you well.”

“Is it possible that the world should change so much, and that we who are now alive have lived through such major change?” Flaminius said. “Fly, damned baseness, back to him who worships you!”

He threw the three coins back to Lucullus.

“Bah!” Lucullus said. “Now I see that you are a fool and fit for your master.”

Lucullus exited.

“May those three coins add to the number that may scald you!” Flaminius said. “Let molten coins be your damnation. You are a disease of a friend, and not a true friend!”

Contrapassois an Italian term for an appropriate punishment. Many people think that the punishments in Hell for sins are contrapassos, and so the punishment for greed could be being dipped in molten gold.

Flaminius continued, “Has friendship such a faint and milky heart that it turns sour and curdles in less than two nights? Oh, you gods, I feel my master’s passion — his agony! This slave, up to this hour, has my lord’s food inside him. Why should my master’s food thrive and turn to nutriment, when my master’s ‘friend’ is turned to poison? Oh, may only diseases be caused by my master’s food that this ‘friend’ has eaten! And, when Lucullus is sick to death, let not that part of him that my lord paid for, have any power to expel sickness — instead, let it prolong his agony and lengthen the time it takes him to die!”

— 3.2 —

Lucius spoke with three strangers in a public place in Athens.

“Who, the Lord Timon?” Lucius said. “He is my very good friend, and he is an honorable gentleman.”

“We know him to be no less,” the first stranger said, “although we are but strangers to him. But I can tell you one thing, my lord, which I hear from common rumors. Lord Timon’s happy hours are now done and past, and his estate shrinks from him. He is losing his wealth.”

“Bah, no, do not believe it,” Lucius said. “Timon cannot need money. He is extremely wealthy.”

“Believe this, my lord,” the second stranger said. “Not long ago, one of Timon’s men was with Lord Lucullus to borrow so many talents — indeed, Timon’s servant urgently requested the loan and showed how necessary the loan was, and yet was denied the loan.”

The second stranger did not know the exact number of talents that Timon was attempting to borrow other than Timon wanted to borrow many talents, and so he used the phrase “so many talents.”

“What!” Lucius said.

“I tell you that Timon was denied the loan, my lord,” the second stranger said.

“What a strange case was that!” Lucius said. “Now, before the gods, I swear that I am ashamed to hear it. That honorable man was denied a loan! There was very little honor showed in the denial. As for my own part, I must confess that I have received some small kindnesses from Timon, such as money, gold and silver household utensils, jewels, and such-like trifles, although nothing compared to what Lucullus received from Timon, yet had Timon sent a servant by mistake to ask me for a loan, I would never have denied his occasion so many talents.”

His words were ambiguous.

“Occasion” can mean 1) “need,” and it can mean 2) “favorable set of circumstances”:

1) “I would never have denied his need so many talents” meant that he would lend Timon the money Timon needed.

2) “I would never have denied his favorable set of circumstances so many talents” meant that he would lend Timon the money as long as Timon did not actually need the money (and so would be sure to repay it, most likely with a large amount of self-imposed interest).

“Deny” can mean 1) “refuse to give someone something,” and it can mean 2) “refuse to admit the truth of something”:

1) “I would never have denied [for] his need so many talents” meant that he would lend Timon the money Timon needed; he would not refuse to give Timon the money.

2) “I would never have denied his need [for] so many talents” or “I would never have denied so many talents [to be] his need” meant that he would acknowledge Timon’s need for the money (but may or may not lend him the money); he would not refuse to admit the truth that Timon needed money.

Serviliusarrived on the scene and said to himself, “I see, by good luck, yonder is the lord, Lucius, whom I have worked hard and sweated to find.”

He said to Lucius, “My honored lord —”

Lucius wished to avoid Servilius, whom he recognized as having been sent to him by Timon, who was currently asking friends for loans of money, so he said, “Servilius! You are kindly met, sir. Fare you well. Commend me to your honorable and virtuous lord, my very exquisite friend.”

He started to leave.

“May it please your honor, my lord has sent —” Servilius began.

“Ha!” Lucius said, thinking that the stranger was wrong and that Timon was still rich and still giving gifts. “What has he sent? I am so much endeared to that lord; he’s always sending something to me. How shall I thank him, do you think? And what has he sent me now?”

“He has sent only his present need now, my lord,” Servilius said, handing Lucius a note from Timon. “He is requesting your lordship to supply so many talents for his immediate use.”

“I know his lordship is just joking with me,” Lucius said. “He cannot need fifty — or even five hundred — talents.”

Lucius was trying to make the point that Timon, who was asking to borrow fifty talents, was so rich that fifty — or even five hundred — talents would not be much to him.

“But in the meantime he wants less than five hundred talents, my lord,” Servilius said. “If his need were not virtuous, I would not urge you to lend him the money half so faithfully as I am doing now.”

Timon needed the money because of his excessive giving of gifts, not because of gambling or whoremongering.

“Are you speaking seriously, Servilius?” Lucius asked.

“On my soul, I swear that it is true, sir.”

“What a wicked beast was I to not be prepared for such a good opportunity when I might have shown myself to be an honorable friend!” Lucius said. “How unluckily it has happened that I should use up my money just the day before for something little, and by doing so deprive myself of a great deal of honor! Servilius, now, before the gods, I am not able to do … I am all the more beast, I say … I myself was sending to Lord Timon to borrow money, as these gentlemen can witness! But I would not, for the wealth of Athens, have done it knowing what I know now.

“Commend me bountifully to his good lordship, and I hope his honor will conceive the fairest opinion of me, although I have no power to be kind, and tell him from me that I count it one of my greatest afflictions, tell him, that I cannot gratify such an honorable gentleman.

“Good Servilius, will you befriend me so far as to use my own words when you speak to Timon?”

“Yes, sir, I shall.”

“I’ll keep an eye open for when I can do you a good turn, Servilius.”

Servilius exited.

Lucius said to the first stranger, “What you said is true:  Timon has been brought low indeed. A man who has been once denied will hardly speed. A man who has been once rebuffed will hardly prosper.”

Lucius exited.

The first stranger said, “Do you see this, Hostilius?”

Hostilius, the second stranger, replied, “Yes, all too well.”

“Why, this is the world’s soul, and just of the same piece is every flatterer’s spirit,” the first stranger said.

The world’s soul is the world’s animating principle. Most thinkers of the time thought that it is a principle of harmony, but after observing Lucius, the first stranger thought that it is the principle of self-interest.

The first stranger continued, “Who can call him his friend that dips in the same dish?”

He was referring to sharing a meal together and dipping pieces of bread into such things as olive oil and sauces. He also was referring to Matthew 26:23: “And he [Jesus] answered and said, He that dippeth [his] hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.” Jesus was referring to Judas, who betrayed him after the Last Supper, during which they had eaten together.

The first stranger continued, “I know that Timon has been like this lord’s father, and kept Lucius’ credit good with Timon’s money, which has supported Lucius’ estate; indeed, Timon’s money has paid Lucius’ servants their wages. Lucius never drinks without one of Timon’s silver goblets treading upon his lip. And yet — oh, see the monstrousness of man when he appears in an ungrateful shape! — Lucius refuses to give to Timon, in proportion to Lucius’ wealth, what charitable men give to beggars.”

The third stranger said, “Religion groans at it.”

The first stranger said, “As for my own part, I never fed on Timon in my life, and never have any of his bounties come to me to mark me as his friend, yet I protest that, because of his very noble mind, illustrious virtue, and honorable and moral conduct, had Timon’s troubles made it necessary for him to ask for help from me, I would have used my wealth to make a donation to him — and I should have sent to him in reply to his request for a loan the best half of my wealth. That’s how much I love Timon’s heart. But I perceive that men must learn now to dispense with pity, for policy sits above conscience. Men must be without pity because self-interest rules conscience.”

— 3.3 —

Sempronius and one of Timon’s servants were speaking together in a room in Sempronius’ house.

“Must Timon trouble me with his problems — hmm! — before all others?” Sempronius complained. “He might have tried Lord Lucius or Lucullus, and now Ventidius, whom he redeemed from prison, is wealthy, too. All these men owe their estates to Timon.”

Sempronius was saying that he was upset because Timon had approached him first for help.

“My lord, they have all been touched and have been found base metal, for they have all denied him a loan,” Timon’s servant said.

Timon’s servant was using a metaphor. Those three men had been tested with a touchstone, which showed that they were made of base metal rather than precious metal. To find out whether a metal was precious — gold or silver — or was base and of low value, it was rubbed on a touchstone. The color left on the touchstone showed whether the metal was precious or base.

“What!” Sempronius said. “Have they denied him a loan? Have Ventidius and Lucullus denied him a loan? And does he now send you to me to ask for a loan? Three? Hmm! It shows that he has very little friendship for me and he has very little good judgment in him. Must I be his last refuge! His friends, like physicians, thrive and then give him over. Must I take the cure upon me?”

He was comparing Ventidius, Lucullus, and Lucius to physicians who thrive by taking their patients’ money and then give the patients up for dead.

Sempronius continued, “He has much disgraced me by doing it, by asking me last for money. I’m angry at him because he ought to have known my place: I should have been at the top of the list of people whom he could ask for a loan.”

Before, he had said that he was angry when he thought that Timon had come to him first to borrow money; now, he was saying that he was angry that Timon had come to him last to borrow money.

Sempronius continued, “I see no sense in why he did not in his need come first to me for help, for in my understanding I was the first man who ever received a gift from him. And does he think so backwardly of me now, that I’ll repay that gift last?

“No, I will not repay his gift last. If I did, it may prove to be a subject that causes laughter to the rest of the lords, and the lords would think that I am a fool. I would prefer that he had asked to borrow from me three times the amount he wants to borrow, as long as he had asked me first. I would prefer that for the sake of my mind because I would have such a desire to do him good.

“But now return to him, and with the faint reply of those three other lords join this answer: Who abates and lessens my honor shall not know my coin.”

Sempronius exited.

Timon’s servant said to himself, “Excellent! Your lordship’s a splendid villain. The Devil did not know what he did when he made men politic — cunning when it comes to self-interest. The Devil crossed himself by doing it; he thwarted himself by making men his rivals in evil. And I cannot think but, in the end, the villainies of men will make the Devil appear innocent by comparison.

“How fairly this lord strives to appear foul! He takes on the appearance of virtue in order to be wicked, like those who under hot ardent zeal would set whole realms on fire. He is like a religious zealot who is willing to start a war — of such a nature is his politic, cunning self-love.

“Sempronius was my lord’s best hope; now all his other hopes have fled, except only the gods. Now that his friends are dead to him, doors that were never acquainted with their locks during the many bounteous years that Timon was generous must be employed now to guard securely their master. And this is all a liberal — freely generous — course allows: Who cannot keep his wealth must keep his house. A man who cannot keep his wealth must keep inside his house so that he will not be arrested for debt.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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