David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TIMON OF ATHENS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, scene 3

— 4.3 —

Timon was living in a cave in the woods, near the seashore.

He came out of the cave and said to himself, “Oh, blessed infection-breeding Sun, draw up from the earth noxious vapors that cause things to rot. Below your sister’s orbit, infect the air!”

In mythology, the sister of the Sun was the Moon. According to this society’s beliefs, the Earth was the center of the universe, and whatever was under the Moon was corruptible, while whatever was above the Moon was incorruptible. Timon wanted the Sun to corrupt the air in between the Earth and the Moon. Infected air would cause plague in the land under the air.

Timon continued, “Let’s consider twinned brothers of one womb, whose procreation, residence in the womb, and birth scarcely makes them different. Suppose that they are put to the test by being given different fortunes; the brother with the greater fortune will scorn the brother with the lesser fortune. Let me go further and apply this to humans as a whole. Human nature, to which all afflictions lay siege, cannot bear great fortune except by being contemptuous of human nature.”

People who enjoy great good fortune will come to despise people who do not enjoy great good fortune. People who enjoy great good fortune will come to believe that they are better than other people. After all, they think, I am rich, so why isn’t everyone else rich? There must be something wrong with them. This applies to things other than riches — for example, fame, success, and so on.

Alexander the Great was wondrously successful, and he came to believe that he was a god.

We should keep in mind that all afflictions lay siege to human nature. Those afflictions include the seven deadly sins, of which the foremost is pride. If we could keep that in mind, we would not think that being fortunate makes us better than other people.

Timon continued, “Raise this beggar and make him successful, and make that lord lack success. If that happens, then the Senator shall be regarded with contempt as if his contemptuousness were his inheritance, and the beggar will be regarded with honor as if it were his birthright.”

Successful people are honored; unsuccessful people are not. Very fortunate people can regard the two groups of people as two different species.

Timon continued, “It is the pasture that lards the brother’s sides, and the lack of land that makes the other brother lean. The brother with pastureland can raise cattle that he can eat and that will make him fat.”

Much success is the result of birth. In the age of primogeniture, the older brother gets the bulk of the inheritance. A twin, but younger, brother inherits little.

A person born into a middle-class, or higher, family often has a better chance of success than one born into a destitute family.

Timon continued, “Who dares, who dares, in purity of manhood — a man who is pure and morally upright — to stand upright, and say, ‘This man’s a flatterer’? If one man is a flatterer, then so are they all because the people on every step of fortune are flattered by the people on the step below. The learned head bows to the golden fool; an educated man bows to a fool when the fool has money. All is oblique and slanting. There’s nothing level and direct in our cursed natures, except straightforward villainy. Therefore, let all feasts, societies, and throngs of men be abhorred! I, Timon, disdain all human beings, including myself. May destruction use its fangs to grab Mankind!”

He began digging with a spade and said, “Earth, give me edible roots! Whoever seeks for something better from you, season his palate with your most powerful poison!

“What is here? Gold? Yellow, glittering, precious gold? No, gods, I am no idle vow-maker. I asked for edible roots, you innocent, pure Heavens!

“This amount of gold will make black white, foul fair, wrong right, base noble, old young, and coward valiant. Ha, you gods! Why this? What is the reason for this, you gods? Why have you allowed me to find gold? Why, this amount of gold will haul your priests and servants away from your sides, and it will pluck healthy men’s pillows from below their heads.”

When people were dying, their pillows were taken away from under their heads to make it easier to die. The sixteenth-century Shiltei Hagiborimby R. Joshua Boaz argued against what he regarded as a form of what we would probably call euthanasia:

There would appear to be grounds for forbidding the custom, practiced by some, in the case of someone who is dying and his soul cannot depart, of removing the pillow from underneath the goses[someone who is expected to die within 72 hours] so that he will die quickly. For they say that the bird feathers in the bedding prevent the soul from leaving the body.

In some societies, people believe that a lone pigeon is an omen of death, and people believe that pigeon feathers in a pillow prolong the agony of dying, and so they remove pillows containing pigeon feathers from sickrooms.

When Timon said that gold would pluck healthy men’s pillows from below their heads, he meant that gold would cause greedy people to cause healthy men to die.

Timon continued, “This yellow slave will knit and break religions, bless the accursed, make those with hoary, white leprosy adored, place thieves into positions of high status and make them equivalent to Senators on the bench in terms of rank and title, deference and the right to be knelt to, and approval and approbation.

“This gold is what makes the wappened widow wed again. She, whom those with ulcerous sores in the hospital-house would vomit at the sight of, is embalmed and preserved with golden spices until she takes on the appearance of an April day again.”

Possibly, Timon was referring to two women, depending in part on the meaning of the unusual word “wappened.” If the word meant “worn out,” then he was perhaps referring to one woman, a worn-out widow who was afflicted with ulcerous sores.

However, if “wappened” meant either “saddened” or “frightened,” then Timon could be referring to two women. The widow would be saddened by the death of a good husband or frightened by a possible marriage to a bad husband, but a man who owns gold will overcome either her sadness or her fear. In that case, the woman with ulcerous sores could be a different woman.

Timon continued, “Come, damned earth, you common whore of Mankind, which everyone treads on and plows, and which makes the rout — the disorderly mobs — of nations at odds with each other, I will make you do what is your right nature — I will make you give me edible roots.”

Timon heard the sounds of marching soldiers.

“Ha! A military drum?” Timon said. “You, gold, are quick, but I’ll still bury you.”

The word “quick” meant “alive.” Gold is alive is the sense that it can reproduce. Usurers make gold reproduce by lending it out at interest. Gold is also quick in that it is quickly spent or lost.

Timon continued, “You shall go, gold, you strong thief, when gouty keepers of you cannot stand.”

Gold shall continue to move and circulate even when its gouty owners are unable to stand and when they have died.

Timon then said, “I’ll keep some of you as ‘earnest money’ — money to use as a down payment for things that I want to happen.”

He kept some of the gold and buried the rest.

To the sound of military drum and fife, Alcibiades arrived, accompanied by two whores, one on each arm. The whores were named Phrynia and Timandra.

“Who are you there?” Alcibiades asked. “Speak.”

He did not recognize Timon, who was not wearing fine clothing anymore. Timon looked wild.

“I am a beast, as are you,” Timon replied. “May the cankerworm gnaw your heart because you showed me again the eyes of man! I don’t want to ever again see a human being!”

“What is your name? Is man so hateful to you, who are yourself a man?”

“I am Misanthropos, and I hate Mankind,” Timon replied.

Misanthroposis Greek for Man-Hater.

He continued, “As for your part, I wish you were a dog, so that I might love you somewhat.”

Recognizing Timon, Alcibiades said, “I know you well, but I am ignorant about what has happened to you.”

“I know you, too,” Timon said, “and more than that I know you, I do not desire to know. Follow your military drum away from here, and with man’s blood paint the ground, red, red. Religious canons and civil laws are cruel, so then what should war be? This deadly whore of yours has in her more destruction than your sword, for all her angelic look.”

Earlier, a page had given Timon a letter from the Fool’s boss, the proprietor of a whorehouse, so he recognized that at least one of the women with Alcibiades was a whore.

Insulted, Phrynia said, “May your lips rot off!”

The rotting off of lips was a sign of venereal disease.

“I will not kiss you,” Timon said. “That way, the rot returns to your own lips again.”

In this society, people believed that one way to cure themselves of venereal disease was to pass it on to another person. By refusing to kiss Phrynia, Timon was refusing to catch her venereal disease and so she would keep it and her lips would rot.

“How came the noble Timon to this change of fortune?” Alcibiades asked.

“As the Moon does, by lacking light to give,” Timon replied. “But then renew it I could not, like the Moon is able to. There were no Suns to borrow of.”

The Moon lacks light of its own; it reflects the light of the Sun. Each month the Moon renews itself with a new Moon. Timon had run out of money to give away, and he had been unable to borrow more, and so now he was living in a cave.

“Noble Timon, what friendly act may I do for you?” Alcibiades asked.

“None, but to help me maintain my opinion,” Timon replied.

“What friendly act would that be, Timon?”

“Promise me friendship, but perform no friendly acts for me,” Timon replied. “If you will not promise to be my friend, then may the gods plague you because you are a man! If you do perform a friendly act for me, then confound you because you are a man!”

“I have heard a little about your miseries,” Alcibiades said.

“You saw my miseries, when I had prosperity.”

“I see your miseries now; when you had prosperity, that was a blessed time.”

“Then I was as blessed as you are now — you are tied to a brace of harlots.”

A brace is a pair; sometimes the word “brace” is used to refer to a pair of dogs. Timon was saying that Alcibiades was not blessed now; being with a pair of whores — aka bitches —was no blessing.

Timandra, one of the brace of harlots, asked, “Is this the Athenian minion whom the world praised so much?”

A “minion” is a darling, but the word is often used sarcastically.

“Are you Timandra?” Timon asked.


“Be a whore always,” Timon said. “Those who use you sexually do not love you. Give them diseases in return for them giving you their lust. Make use of your lecherous hours. Season the slaves for tubs and baths. Bring down rose-cheeked youth to the tub-fast and the diet.”

In this society, a treatment for venereal disease was to soak and sweat in hot tubs and baths. During the treatment for venereal disease, people would refrain from sex (a kind of fast) and they would adhere to a special diet, including refraining from eating rich food.

“Hang you, monster!” Timandra said.

“Pardon him, sweet Timandra,” Alcibiades said, “for his wits are drowned and lost in his calamities. I have but little gold of late, splendid Timon, the lack whereof daily makes revolt in my poverty-stricken band of soldiers. I have heard, and grieved over, how cursed Athens, mindless of your worth, forgetting your great deeds, when neighbor nations, except for your sword and your fortune, would have defeated and trod upon them —”

“Please, strike up your drum, and get you gone,” Timon said.

“I am your friend, and I pity you, dear Timon.”

“How do you pity a man whom you cause trouble? I prefer to be alone.”

“Why, fare you well,” Alcibiades said. “Here is some gold for you.”

“Keep it,” Timon said. “I cannot eat it.”

“When I have laid proud Athens in ruins on a heap —”

Timon interrupted, “Are you warring against Athens?”

“Yes, Timon, and I have cause to war against Athens.”

“May the gods destroy all the Athenians when you conquer them, and may they destroy you afterward, when you have conquered them!”

“Why me, Timon?”

“Because you were born to conquer my country by killing villains,” Timon replied.

Timon wanted everyone to be destroyed, including those who destroyed his enemies.

Taking out some of his gold, he said to Alcibiades, “Put away your gold. Go on, put it away. Here’s gold — go on, take it. Be like a planetary plague, when Jove decides to hang his poison in the sick air over some high-viced city.”

In this society, people believed that Jupiter, aka Jove, King of the gods, caused plague by poisoning the air.

Timon continued, “When you conquer Athens, don’t let your sword skip even one person.

“Don’t pity an honored, aged man because he has a white beard — he is a usurer.

“Strike down for me the counterfeit matron. It is her clothing only that is honest and chaste — she herself is a bawd.

“Don’t let the virgin’s cheek make soft your trenchant sword; for those milk-paps, those nipples, that through the lattice-work of the bodice bore at men’s eyes, are not written down in the list that is on the leaf of pity, but write them down in the list of horrible traitors.”

During the conquest of a city, rapes occur. In saying not to let a virgin’s cheek make soft a sword because the man with a hard “sword” feels pity for the virgin, Timon was advocating the rape of virgins. But by referring to milk-paps — milk-producing nipples — he was also saying that the “virgins” and virgins were likely to be now or to be soon mothers rather than virgins.

Timon continued, “Don’t spare the babe, whose dimpled smiles arouse the mercy of fools. Think that the babe is a bastard whom the oracle has ambiguously pronounced the throat shall cut, and cut the babe into tiny bits without remorse.”

An oracle is a priest or a priestess through whom a god can make prophecies. Oracles of ancient times were often ambiguous. In a famous case, Croesus, King of Lydia, wondered whether to attack the mighty Kingdom of Persia, so he went to the oracle of Delphi and sought advice. The oracle replied, “If you attack Persia, a mighty Kingdom will fall.” Croesus attacked Persia, and a mighty Kingdom did fall — the mighty Kingdom of Lydia.

“The throat shall cut” is ambiguous. Whose throat? Shall the babe grow up and cut Alcibiades’ throat? Or shall Alcibiades cut the babe’s throat? Timon was advising Alcibiades not to wait, but to cut the babe’s throat now and be safe. Pretend that an oracle has spoken, and then act to keep yourself safe.

Timon continued, “Swear against objections. Put metaphorical armor on your ears and on your eyes; put tested and proven armor on so that the yells of mothers, nor maidens, nor babes, nor the sight of bleeding priests wearing holy vestments, shall pierce the armor even a tiny bit.”

He gave Alcibiades some gold and said, “There’s gold to pay your soldiers. Cause much destruction, and once your fury against Athens is spent, may you yourself be destroyed! Speak no more to me! Leave!”

“Do you still have gold?” Alcibiades asked, surprised. “I’ll take the gold you give me, but I won’t take all of your advice to me.”

“Whether you do, or you don’t, may Heaven’s curse be upon you!” Timon said.

Phrynia and Timandra, the two whores, said, “Give us some gold, good Timon. Do you have more?”

“I have enough to make a whore forswear her trade and to become a bawd and make other women whores,” Timon said.

With the gold that Timon had, a whore could set herself up as the proprietor of a whorehouse and let other women do the whoring. No doubt Timon believed that if the new whores were recently sweet, young virgins, so much the better.

He continued, “Hold up, you sluts, your aprons mountant.”

He wanted the two whores to hold their aprons up so that they could catch the gold he threw to them. The aprons were mountant — always being lifted — because the whores would lift their dresses so the whores could be mounted and make money.

Timon continued, “You are not oathable, although, I know, you’ll swear, terribly swear into strong shudders and to Heavenly agues the immortal gods who hear you.”

The two whores were not oathable because although they were very willing to swear oaths to the gods, they could not be trusted to keep them. “Strong shudders” and “Heavenly agues” are characteristics of orgasms and of venereal diseases. An ague is a fever, sickness, or shaking caused by a fever.

Timon continued, “Spare your oaths, I’ll trust to your personal characters: Once a whore, always a whore. Be whores always. When you meet a man whose pious breath seeks to convert you, be strong in whoredom.”

In Ephesians 6:10 Saint Paul advises, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”

Timon continued, “Allure him, burn him up with lust and venereal disease. Let your enclosed fire dominate his smoke, and you two don’t be turncoats.”

An enclosed fire is a vagina. Smoke is the vapor of words not believed by the person who speaks them. Some people blow smoke up a place near an enclosed fire.

He continued, “Yet may your pain-sick mounts be quite contrary to your best interests, and thatch your poor thin roofs with burdens you get from the dead — including some who were hanged.”

Venereal disease was thought to cause baldness. The burdens of the dead referred to hair harvested from corpses and made into wigs.

Timon continued, “It doesn’t matter — wear the wigs, betray your customers with them by looking attractive so men will have sex with you. Always be a whore. Apply cosmetics to your face so thickly that a horse could sink in the mire on your face. May you have a plague of wrinkles you have to cover up with cosmetics!”

“Pain-sick mounts” referred to sexual mountings that caused the pain of venereal disease. However, Timon sometimes muttered, and he may have said, “pain-sick months,” which might be a reference to the months a whore could spend in prison, during which time she might acquire hair from corpses to use to make herself a wig and/or to sell in order to get money to buy cosmetics. However, the usual punishment for prostitution was a whipping.

What is clear is that Timon wanted the two whores to cause men to suffer from venereal disease, and he wanted the whores to also suffer from venereal disease.

Phrynia and Timandra said, “Well, give us more gold. What do you want us to do then? Believe that we’ll do anything for gold.”

Timon replied, “I want you to sow wasting venereal diseases in the bones of men and make them hollow. I want you to strike their sharp shins, and mar men’s spurring.”

The spurring referred to riding, both of horses and of whores.

He continued, “Crack the lawyer’s voice, so that he may never more plead a false legal case, nor sound his quibbles shrilly.

“Hoar — make white with disease — the priest, who scolds against the nature of flesh, and does not believe what he himself says.

“Down with the nose. Down with it flat. Take the bridge entirely away from the nose of the man who, hunting to provide for his particular, individual good, loses the scent of the general good.”

Venereal disease destroyed the bridge of the nose, thereby making the nose flat.

Timon continued, “Make curly-headed ruffians bald, and let the unscarred braggarts of the war derive some pain from you.”

Unscarred braggarts were cowards; in contrast to cowards, brave men who fought in battles tended to have scars.

He continued, “Plague all so that your activity may defeat and destroy the source of all erection.”

He threw more gold onto their laps and said, “There’s more gold. May you damn others, and let this damn you, and may all of you find your graves in ditches!”

Phrynia and Timandra said, “Give us more advice and more money, generous Timon.”

“More whore and more mischief first,” Timon said. “I have given you a down payment for what I want from you.”

“Strike up the drum and let us march towards Athens!” Alcibiades said. “Farewell, Timon. If I thrive well, I’ll visit you again.”

“If I hope well, I’ll never see you any more,” Timon said.

“I never did you harm.”

“Yes, you did. You spoke well of me.”

“Do you call that harm?”

“Men daily find that it is,” Timon replied.

Luke 6:26 states, “Woebeto you when all men speak well of you: for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”

He continued, “Go away from here, and take your beagles with you.”

“Beagles” was a slang word for whores.

Alcibiades said, “We are only offending him. Strike the drum and let’s leave!”

The drum sounded, and everyone except Timon exited.

Alone, Timon said to himself, “It’s odd that my human nature, which is sick of man’s unkindness, should still continue to get hungry!”

He started digging into the ground, hoping to find edible roots.

He continued, “Earth, you common mother, your immeasurable womb prolifically gives birth to all, and your infinite breast feeds all. Earth, the same essence that creates your child, arrogant man, who is puffed up with pride, also engenders and gives birth to the black toad and blue adder, the gilded newt and eyeless poisonous worm, along with all the abhorred births below the pure Heaven where the Sun’s life-giving fire shines. Earth, give to me, whom all your human sons hate, from forth your plenteous bosom, one poor edible root!

“Dry up your fertile and fruitful womb, and let it no more give birth to ungrateful man! May your belly grow large with tigers, dragons, wolves, and bears! May it teem with new monsters, whom your upward face has to the marbled mansion — the cloud-laced Heaven — above never presented!”

His spade upturned an edible root, and Timon said, “Oh, a root! I give you my dear thanks!”

He paused, and then he continued with his prayer, “Dry up your marrows, vines, and plow-torn fields, from which ungrateful man, with liquorish drinks and fatty morsels of food, greases and corrupts his pure mind, so that from it all consideration for others and ability to think slips!”

Marrows are the edible insides of plants and fruits.

Apemantus the philosopher appeared, and Timon said, “Another man is visiting me? It’s a plague, a plague!”

“I was told to come here,” Apemantus said. “Men report that you are imitating my manners, and acting the way I act.”

“The reason for it, then, is that you do not keep a dog, whom I would imitate,” Timon said. “May you contract a wasting disease!”

“This is in you a nature that is only an infection; it is not intrinsic in you because you were not born with it,” Apemantus said. “This is a poor unmanly melancholic depression sprung from a change in fortune. Why do you have this spade? Why are you in this place? Why are you wearing this slave-like clothing? And why do you have these looks of sorrow?

“Your flatterers still wear silk, drink wine, lie on soft beds, hug their diseased, perfumed mistresses, and have forgotten that Timon ever existed. Don’t shame these woods by putting on the cunning of a carping critic.

“Instead, become a flatterer now, and seek to thrive by doing that which others did that has undone you. Bend your knee and bow so deeply that the breath of the man whom you flatter will blow off your cap; praise his most vicious strain of character, and call it excellent.

“You were flattered like that. You gave your ears like bartenders who bid welcome to knaves and everyone else who approached them. Bartenders welcome all men. It is very just that you turn rascal — you are like a young, weak deer. If you had wealth again, human rascals would get it. Do not assume my likeness.”

“If I were like you, I would throw myself away,” Timon said.

“You cast away yourself by being like yourself,” Apemantus replied. “You were a madman for so long, and now you are a fool. Do you think that the bleak air, your boisterous personal servant, will warm your shirt by the fire before you put it on? Will these mossy trees, which have outlived the long-lived eagle, act like pages and follow you at your heels, and skip to perform any errand you point out for them to do? Will the cold brook, crystalized with ice, make you a caudle — a warm medicinal drink — to take away the bad taste you have in your mouth when you wake up with a hangover?

“Call the creatures whose naked natures are continually exposed to the spite of vengeful Heaven; call the creatures whose bare unprotected trunks, exposed to the conflicting elements, encounter raw nature. Tell them — animals and trees — to flatter you. Oh, you shall find —”

Timon interrupted, “— that you are a fool. Depart and leave me alone.”

“I love you better now than I ever did.”

“I hate you worse.”


“You flatter misery.”

“I don’t flatter you; instead, I say that you are a caitiff,” Apemantus said. “You are a miserable wretch.”

“Why do you seek me out?”

“To vex you.”

“That is always the work of a villain or a fool,” Timon said. “Does vexing me please you?”


“Then you must be a knave, too.”

“If you had adopted this sour and cold manner of living in order to castigate your pride, it would be well done,” Apemantus said, “but you act like this because you are forced to. You would be a courtier again if you were not a beggar.

“Willing misery outlives uncertain pomp and greatness.”

According to Apemantus, a person who willingly embraces poverty outlives a person who has good fortune but who can at any time lose it.

He continued, “Willing misery is crowned before and achieves glory sooner than the person who has good fortune but who can at any time lose it.

“The one person keeps trying to get his fill of material things, but is never completely full. The other person, who wishes for little, can fulfill his wishes.

“The person who has great fortune, but is unhappy, has a distracted and most wretched existence that is worse than the existence of a person who has little fortune, but is happy.

“You should wish to die, since you are miserable.”

Timon replied, “I won’t accept the advice of a man who is more miserable than I am. You are a slave, whom Lady Fortune’s tender arm never hugged with favor; you were bred a dog.

“Had you, like us — other wealthy men and I — from our first swaddling clothes, advanced through the sweet degrees that this brief world affords to such as may freely command its passive drudges — whores who lie passively under us — you would have plunged yourself in wholesale dissipation. You would have melted down your youth in different beds of lust. You would have never learned the icy rules that a respectable person must follow — they are icy because they cool the hot blood of unethical lust. Instead, you would have followed the sugared game — sweet sexual prey — in front of you.

“But I had the world as my confectionary, my source of sweet things. I had the mouths, the tongues, the eyes, and the hearts of men on duty, waiting to serve me. I had more men waiting to serve me than I could find employment for. These men, whom I was unable to count because there were so many and who upon me stuck as leaves stick upon an oak tree, have with one winter wind’s brush fallen from their boughs and left me exposed to the natural elements, bare to every storm that blows.

“For me, who never knew anything except good fortune, to bear this is a real burden.

“In contrast, your mortal life began with suffering, and time has made you hardened to it. Why should you hate men? They never flattered you. What have you given away as gifts? If you will curse people, then you must curse your father, that poor rag, who in spite stuffed a female beggar and put stuff in her that made her pregnant with you and made you a poor rogue. Being a poor rogue is your inheritance. Therefore, leave and be gone!

“If you had not been born the worst and least fortunate of men, you would have been a knave and flatterer.”

“Are you still proud?” Apemantus asked.

“Yes, I am proud that I am not you.”

“I am proud that I was no prodigal. I did not waste money the way you did.”

“I am proud that I am a prodigal now,” Timon replied. “If all the wealth I have were shut up in you, I would give you leave to hang it. That way, I would get rid of you and all my wealth. Get you gone.”

Holding up an edible root, he said, “I wish that the whole population of Athens were in this! Thus would I eat it.”

He took a big bite of the root.

“Here,” Apemantus said. “I will improve your feast.”

He offered Timon a medlar, a kind of apple-sized fruit that was eaten when it had partially rotted.

Ignoring the medlar, Timon said, “First mend my company by taking away yourself.”

“By doing that, I shall mend my own company, by the lack of your company.”

“It is not well mended that way, for it is only botched,” Timon said. “Your company will be worse because you will have only your own company. If what I say is not true, then I wish that it were true.”

“What would you have sent to Athens?” Apemantus asked, meaning what message would Timon like Apemantus to take back to the Athenians.

“I would have you sent there in a whirlwind so it can cause destruction to Athens. But if you will, tell the people in Athens that I have gold.”

Timon knew that this news would make the Athenians envious of him, thereby making them unhappy.

He showed Apemantus the gold and said, “Look, what I say is true.”

“Here is no use for gold.”

“Here is the best and truest use for gold,” Timon said. “For here it sleeps and does no hired harm. Here it is not used to bribe and corrupt.”

“Where do you lie at night, Timon?”

“Under that which is above me — the sky. Where do you eat during the day, Apemantus?”

“Where my stomach finds food — or, rather, where I eat it.”

“I wish that poison were obedient and knew my mind!”

“What would you do with poison?” Apemantus asked.

“Use it to season and spice your food.”

“The middle of humanity you never knew; you knew only the extremity of both ends,” Apemantus said. “You knew what it is like to be very rich, and then you knew what it is like to be very poor. When you wore gilt clothing and perfume, people mocked you for your excessive fastidiousness. Now, in your rags you know no fastidiousness, but you are despised because you lack gilt and perfume.”

He again offered Timon food and said, “There’s a medlar for you, eat it.”

“On what I hate I feed not.”

“Do you hate a medlar?”

“Yes, although it looks like you,” Timon said.

This, of course, was an insult. Timon was saying that Apemantus’ face looked like a half-rotten apple-sized fruit.

“If you had hated meddlers sooner, you would have loved yourself better now. Have you ever known a spendthrift man who was loved after his money ran out?”

“Have you ever known a man without money who was loved?” Timon asked.

“Myself,” Apemantus replied.

“I understand you; you had some money that allowed you to keep a dog.”

“To what things in the world can you most closely compare your flatterers?”

“Women are the closest, but men — men are the things themselves. Women are like flatterers, but men are flatterers,” Timon replied, and then he asked, “What would you do with the world, Apemantus, if it lay in your power?”

“Give it to the beasts, so I would be rid of the men. The world would no longer contain men, and the beasts would be rewarded with the world for their having gotten rid of the men.”

“Would you have yourself fall in the confusion of men, and remain a beast with the beasts?” Timon asked.

One kind of “fall” is to “descend.” Apemantus could descend from being a man to being a beast. One kind of “fall in” is to “line up with.” Apemantus could line up with the beasts and help them to destroy men.

“Yes, Timon,” Apemantus replied.

Timon said, “That is a beastly ambition, which I hope that the gods grant to you. If you were the lion, the fox would beguile you.”

He was referring to one of Aesop’s fables, in which an elderly lion wanted a fox to help him get something to eat by luring a stag into his cave. The fox went to the stag and said, “The lion, King of the wilderness, is dying, and he wants you to be King after him. I am going to see the lion, and you ought to come, too, in order to be with him in his last moments of life.” The stag went with the fox to the lion’s cave, and the lion tried to kill the stag but managed only to make bloody one of the stag’s ears before the stag succeeded in fleeing. The fox went after the stag, who reprimanded him for trying to get him killed, but the fox said, “You are mistaken. The lion wasn’t trying to kill you; he was trying to whisper some important information in your ears. You panicked and jumped around, and you are the reason your ear is bloody. After much persuading, the stag returned to the lion’s cave with the fox, and this time the lion succeeded in killing the stag. The lion feasted on the stag and then slept, and while the lion slept the fox ate the stag’s brains. When the lion woke up and wanted to eat the stag’s brains, the fox said, “You won’t find any brains. Any stag dumb enough to walk twice into a lion’s cave doesn’t have any brains.”

Timon continued, “If you were the lamb, the fox would eat you.

“If you were the fox, the lion would suspect you, when perchance you were accused by the ass.”

Apparently, this was a reference to another folk tale or fable, perhaps this one: An ass and a fox were walking together when they met a lion, and they were afraid that the lion would kill and eat them. The fox said to the ass, “Wait here, and I will go to the lion and convince him not to kill and eat us.” The ass agreed, and the fox approached the lion and made a deal with it out of the hearing of the ass. The deal was that the fox would find a way to trap the ass so that the lion could kill and eat it, and the lion would leave the fox alone. The lion agreed, and the fox managed to trick the ass so that it fell into a pit that was so deep that the ass could not climb out but not so deep that the lion could not jump in and out. But the ass said to the lion, “The fox tricked me, and if you allow it to live, the fox will trick you, too.” So the lion killed and ate the fox, and later the lion killed and ate the ass.

Timon continued, “If you were the ass, your dullness would torment you, and all the time you lived you would fear becoming a breakfast to the wolf.

“If you were the wolf, your greediness would afflict you, and often you would hazard your life for your dinner.

“If you were the unicorn, pride and wrath would confound you and make your own self the conquest of your fury.”

He was referring to the tradition that unicorns so hated lions that the unicorn would rush at a lion in an attempt to use its horn to spear the lion as it attempted to escape by climbing a tree. Often the lion successfully climbed the tree and the unicorn’s horn would be deeply embedded in the trunk of the tree, and then the lion would jump out of the tree and kill the unicorn.

Timon continued, “If you were a bear, you would be killed by the horse.

“If you were a horse, you would be seized by the leopard.

“If you were a leopard, you would be closely related to the lion and the spots — the moral blemishes — of the lion would sit in judgment like jurors on your life. They would bear false witness against you. All your safety would lie in flight to a faraway place, and your best defense would be absence.”

“What beast could you be that is not subject to a beast?

“And what a beast are you already, who does not see your loss if you were transformed into a beast?”

Apemantus replied, “If you could please me with speaking to me, you might have hit upon it here and now when you call me a beast and not a man.”

He paused and then added, “The commonwealth of Athens has become a forest of beasts.”

“How has the ass broken the wall, that you are out of the city?” Timon asked.

“From yonder are coming a poet and a painter,” Apemantus replied. He knew that as soon as they heard that Timon had gold they would plan to visit Timon.

He added, “May the plague of company light upon you! I fear to catch that plague and so I leave. When I don’t know what else to do, I’ll see you again.”

“When there is nothing living except you, you shall be welcome,” Timon replied. “I had rather be a beggar’s dog than Apemantus.”

“You are the cap of all the fools alive,” Apemantus said. “You are the best example of a fool.”

“I wish that you were clean enough for me to spit upon!” Timon said.

“A plague on you!” Apemantus said. “You are too bad to curse.”

“All villains who stand beside you are pure and innocent in comparison.”

“There is no leprosy except what you speak —”

“— if I say your name,” Timon interrupted. “I would beat you, but I would infect my hands.”

“I wish my tongue could rot your hands off!”

“Go away, you offspring of a mangy dog!” Timon said. “My anger that you are alive is killing me. I swoon because I see that you are alive.”

“I wish that you would burst!” Apemantus said.

“Go away, you tedious rogue! I am sorry I shall lose a stone because of you.”

Timon threw a stone at Apemantus, who said, “Beast!”



“Rogue! Rogue! Rogue!” Timon said. “I am sick of this false world, and I will love nothing except only the mere necessities on it. So then, Timon, immediately prepare your grave, for death is a necessity. Lie where the light foam of the sea may beat your gravestone daily. Make your epitaph, so that even when you are dead you can laugh at others’ lives.”

He said to the gold, “Oh, you sweet King-killer, and dear divorce between blood-related son and sire! You bright defiler of Hymen, the god of marriage’s purest bed! You valiant war-god Mars, who committed adultery with Venus! You ever young, fresh, loved, and delicate wooer, whose blush — shine — thaws the consecrated snow that lies on the virgin goddess Diana’s lap! Gold, you can convince even Diana not to be a virgin! You visible god that sexually welds firmly together impossibilities, and makes them kiss! Gold, you speak with every language, to every purpose! Oh, you touchstone — you tester — of hearts! Believe that your slave — Mankind — rebels, and by your virtue set all men into ruinous conflict, so that beasts may have the world as their empire!”

“I wish that it would be so!” Apemantus said. “But not until I am dead. I’ll tell people in Athens that you have gold. People will throng to you shortly.”

“Throng to me!” Timon said.


“Show me your back, please,” Timon requested. “Leave.”

“Live, and love your misery,” Apemantus said.

“Long may you live, be miserable, and die miserably,” Timon replied.

Apemantus left.

Timon said to himself, “I am quit of him.”

He saw some men coming toward him, so he withdrew and said to himself, “More things like men! Eat, Timon, and hate them.”

The men, who were bandits, did not see Timon withdraw.

The first bandit said, “How can he have this gold? It is some poor fragment of his former fortune, some slender scrap of what he had left. His complete lack of gold, and his falling away from his friends, drove him into this melancholy.”

“It is rumored that he has a mass of treasure,” the second bandit said.

“Let us make a trial attempt to get his gold by simply asking for it,” the third bandit said. “If he does not care for it, he will supply us with it easily — he will give it to us. But if he covetously keeps it for himself, how shall we get it?”

“It’s true that it would be hard to get in that case,” the second bandit said. “He does not carry the gold on his person; the gold is hidden.”

Seeing Timon, the first bandit asked, “Isn’t that him?”

“Where?” the third bandit asked.

“He fits the description,” the second bandit said.

“It is him,” the third bandit said. “I recognize him.”

“May God save you, Timon,” the bandits said.

“How are you, thieves?” Timon asked.

“We are soldiers, not thieves,” the bandits replied.

They may have been some soldiers serving under Alcibiades, or they may have deserted Alcibiades’ army.

“You are both, and you are women’s sons,” Timon said.

“We are not thieves, but we are men who much do want,” the bandits replied.

The word “want” meant either “desire” or “lack,” or sometimes both.

“Your greatest want is that you want much food,” Timon said. “Why should you want? Look, the earth has edible roots. Within a mile are a hundred springs of water. The oaks bear acorns. The scarlet roses bear the fruit called hips. The generous housewife, Mother Nature, on each bush lays her complete menu before you. Want! Why should you want?”

“We cannot live on grass, on berries, and on water, as beasts and birds and fishes do,” the first bandit said.

“Nor can you live on the beasts themselves and on the birds and fishes,” Timon said. “You must eat men. Yet I must give you thanks because you are confessed thieves and because you do not work in holier shapes, for there is boundless theft in limited professions. Even legal professions have much theft in them.”

Timon gave them some gold and said, “Rascal thieves, here’s gold. Go, suck the subtle blood of the grape until you get drunk and the high fever makes your blood boil until it is froth, and so die from alcoholism-induced fever, thereby escaping death by hanging. Do not trust the physician; his antidotes are poison, and he slays more people than you rob. He takes his patients’ wealth as well as their lives. Do villainy, do, since you confess you do it, like workmen — as if you were skilled workers in the profession of committing villainy.

“I’ll give you some examples of thievery.

“The Sun’s a thief, and with his great attraction he robs the vast sea. The Sun evaporates seawater.

“The Moon’s an arrant thief, and she snatches her pale fire from the Sun — she reflects the light that she steals from the Sun.

“The sea’s a thief, whose liquid surge — the tide — resolves the Moon into salt tears. The sea steals from the Moon what is needed to cause the tide. Since high tide involves a great amount of salty seawater, the sea must dissolve the Moon in its phases so that it becomes salty seawater.

“The Earth’s a thief that feeds and breeds by a compost stolen from the excrement of animals, including men.

“Each thing’s a thief.

“The laws, your curb and whip, in their rough power have unchecked theft. Who polices the police?

“Do not love yourselves. Go away. Rob one another. There’s more gold. Cut throats. All whom you meet are thieves. Go to Athens, go. Break open shops; there is nothing you can steal that does not belong to thieves.

“Steal no less although I give you this. Although I give you gold, steal more gold, and may gold destroy you whatever you do! Amen.”

The third bandit said, “He has almost charmed — persuaded — me not to engage in my profession, by attempting to persuade me to engage in my profession.”

“He advises us to be bandits because he hates Mankind,” the first bandit said, “not because he is interested in our being successful and thriving in our profession.”

“I’ll believe him as if he were an enemy, and I’ll give over my trade,” the second bandit said. “I will do the opposite of what he tells me to do, and so I will give up being a bandit.”

“Let us first see peace in Athens before we reform,” the first bandit said. “There is no time so miserable but a man may be true and honest and law-abiding. Since we can reform at anytime, let’s reform when it’s peacetime — a time when it is harder to be a successful bandit.”

The bandits exited.

Flavius, Timon’s old steward, arrived.

“Oh, you gods!” Flavius said. “Is yonder despised and ruinous man my lord? He is full of decay and failing! Oh, memorial and wonder of good deeds evilly bestowed! He did good deeds for evil men! What an alteration of honor has desperate need made in him! What viler thing is upon the Earth than friends who can bring the noblest minds to the basest ends! This time’s custom contrasts splendidly with another time — a time when man was urged to love his enemies! May God grant that I may always love, and rather woo those who openly say they want to do mischief to me than those who pretend to be my friend and yet do mischief to me!

“He has caught me in his eye. I will present my honest grief to him, and I will continue to serve him, my lord, with my life.”

He said loudly, “My dearest master!”

“Go away!” Timon replied. “Who are you?”

“Have you forgotten me, sir?” Flavius asked.

“Why do you ask me that? I have forgotten all men. Therefore, if you grant that you are a man, I have forgotten you.”

“I am an honest poor servant of yours.”

“Then I don’t know you,” Timon replied. “I have never had an honest man about me. All the servants I kept were knaves to serve food to villains.”

“The gods are witnesses that never has a poor steward experienced a truer grief for his ruined lord than my eyes do for you,” Flavius said.

“Are you weeping?” Timon asked. “Come closer. Then I love you, because you are a woman, and you disclaim and deny flinty, hard-hearted Mankind, whose eyes never yield tears except through lust and laughter. Pity is sleeping. These are strange times — men weep with laughing, but not with mourning!”

“I beg you to recognize and know me, my good lord,” Flavius said. “I beg you to accept my grief and while this poor wealth lasts to employ me as your steward still.”

The wealth referred to both the little amount of money that Flavius possessed and his still-living body.

“Did I have a steward so true and loyal, so just, and now so comforting?” Timon asked. “It almost turns my dangerous nature mild. Let me see your face. Surely, this man was born of woman.”

Timon was referencing Job 14:1: “Man that is born of woman is of short continuance and full of trouble.”

Job, like Timon, had been successful, but then had suffered. In Job 14:1, Job was saying that man, born of woman, endures a short and troubled life.

Timon continued, “Forgive my general and indiscriminate rashness, you perpetually sober gods! I do proclaim that one honest man exists — don’t mistake me — there is only one honest man — no more, I pray — and he’s a steward.

“How willingly would I have hated all Mankind! But you redeem yourself. Everyone except you, only you, I fell with curses.

“I think that you are more honest now than wise. For, by oppressing and betraying me, you might have more quickly gotten another job. For many acquire second masters that way: They stand upon their first lord’s neck.

“But tell me truly — because I must always doubt, even when I have never been surer — isn’t your kindness cunning, greedy, maybe even a kindness that is grounded in usury — a kindness like that of a rich man giving a gift and expecting in return twenty for one?”

“No, my most worthy master, in whose breast doubt and suspicion are unfortunately placed too late,” Flavius said. “You should have feared false times when you feasted your ‘friends.’ Suspicion always comes where an estate is least.

“That which I show you, Heaven knows, is merely love, duty, and zeal to your unequalled mind, concern for your food and living, and believe me, my most honored lord, I would exchange any benefit that may come to me, either in the future or now in the present, for this one wish — that you had the power and wealth to reward me because you yourself were rich.”

Showing Flavius the gold, Timon said, “Look, what you said is so! I am rich. You singly and uniquely honest man, here, take gold. Out of my misery, the gods have sent you treasure.

“Go, live rich and be happy, but with these conditions. You shall build a house distant from men. You shall hate all men, curse all men, and show charity to no men; instead, you shall let the famished flesh slide away from the bone before you relieve the hunger of the beggar. Give to dogs what you deny to men; let prisons swallow men, and let debts wither them to nothing. Let men be like blasted woods, and may diseases lick up and consume their false blood!

“And so farewell and may you thrive.”

“Oh, let me stay and comfort you, my master!” Flavius pleaded.

“If you hate to be cursed, don’t stay here,” Timon replied. “Flee, while you are blest and free from curses. Never see another man, and let me never see you.”

Taking the gold Timon had given to him, Flavius exited.

Timon went inside his cave.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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