David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TIMON OF ATHENS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 1-4 (Conclusion)

— 5.1 —

The poet and the painter arrived. Unseen by them, Timon watched them from inside his cave.

“As far as I remember, we cannot be far from where Timon lives,” the painter said.

“What are we to think about him?” the poet asked. “Should we believe that the rumor is true and that he is wealthy with gold?”

“The rumor is certainly true. Alcibiades reports that Timon has gold; Phrynia and Timandra received gold from him. He likewise enriched some poor straggling soldiers with a great quantity of gold. It is said that he gave to his steward a mighty sum in gold.”

The poor straggling soldiers were the bandits.

The poet said, “Then this ‘bankruptcy’ of his has been only a test of his friends.”

“Nothing else,” the painter said. “You shall see Timon a palm in Athens again, and he will flourish with the highest.”

According to Psalm 92:12, “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, and shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”

The painter continued, “Therefore it is not amiss that we offer our friendship to him, in this supposed distress of his. It will make us appear to be honest and honorable, and it is very likely to load our purposes with what they work and travel for, if it is a just and true report that states that he is rich. We want gold, and we are likely to get some gold from Timon.”

“What have you now to present to him?” the poet asked.

“Nothing at this time except for my visit,” the painter said, “only I will promise him an excellent piece to be given to him later.”

“I must serve him so, too,” the poet said. “I will tell him of a planned work of literature that will be delivered to him in the future.”

“Promising is as good as the best,” the painter said. “Promising is the very fashion of the time: It opens the eyes of expectation. Performance is always the duller for its act; the finished work of art never lives up to the promise. And, except for the plainer and simpler kind of people, the keeping of a promise is quite out of the usual practice — it’s just not done anymore. To promise is very courtly and fashionable. To actually do what one promised to do is a kind of will or testament that argues a great sickness in his judgment of the person who makes the will or keeps the promise. When people are very ill and therefore, in my opinion, lacking in judgment, they make wills.”

Timon said to himself, “Excellent workman as you are, you cannot paint a man who is as bad as yourself!”

“I am thinking about what I shall tell Timon I have provided for him,” the poet said. “It must be an impersonation of himself and his situation: a satire against the softness of prosperity, with an exposé of the infinite flatteries that follow youth and opulence.”

Timon said to himself, “Must you impersonate a villain in your own work? Will you whip your own faults in other men? If you do so, I have ‘gold’ for you.”

The poet was going to say that he would write a satire against flattery, and yet the poet was himself a flatterer. The poet had the fault that he would censure other people for having, and so it was like he was whipping people who shared his fault.

“Let’s seek him, “the poet said. “Let’s get to Timon before he gives all his gold away to people other than us. We would sin against our own state, when we may meet with profit, and come too late to benefit.”

“That is true,” the painter said. “While the day serves our goals and the Sun shines, before black-cornered night arrives, we should find what we want by freely offered light. Come.”

“I’ll meet you at the turn,” Timon said. “I’ll play your game and beat you at it. I’ll pretend that you two are honest, but then I’ll make clear that I know what you two really are!

“What a god is gold! He is worshipped in a baser temple than where swine feed! Gold, it is you that rigs the ship and plows the foam of the sea. You make a slave give his rich master admired reverence. Gold, may you be worshipped! And may your saints who obey only you forever be crowned with plagues!

“It is the right time for me to meet the poet and painter.”

Timon came out of his cave and approached the poet and painter.

“Hail, worthy Timon!” the poet said.

“Our late noble master!” the painter said.

“Have I lived to see two honest men?” Timon said.

The poet replied, “Sir, having tasted often of your open generosity, and hearing that you had retired from society, with your friends fallen off, whose thankless natures … oh, abhorred spirits! … not all the whips of Heaven are large enough … what! … to you, whose star-like nobleness gave life and influence to their whole being!”

The poet was pretending to be so overcome with indignation that Timon’s friends had abandoned him that the poet was unable to speak in complete sentences.

He continued, “I am carried away with emotion and cannot cover the monstrous bulk of this ingratitude with any size — number — of words. The words available to me are inadequate to express my feelings.”

“Don’t cover the monstrous bulk of this ingratitude,” Timon said. “Let it go naked, so men may better see it. You who are honest, by being what you are, make them — ungrateful men — best seen and known.”

“He and I have traveled in the great shower of your gifts, and sweetly felt it,” the painter said.

“Yes, you are honest men,” Timon said.

“We have come here to offer you our service,” the painter said.

“Most honest men!” Timon said. “Why, how shall I repay you? Can you eat roots, and drink cold water?”

The poet and painter looked unhappy; they wanted gold.

Timon answered the question for them: “No.”

The poet and painter said, “What we can do, we’ll do, to do you service.”

“You are honest men,” Timon said. “You’ve heard that I have gold. I am sure you have. Speak the truth. You’re honest men.”

“It is rumored that you have gold, my noble lord,” the painter said, “but that is not why my friend and I came here.”

“Good honest men!” Timon said. “Painter, you draw a counterfeit the best of all the painters in Athens. You are, indeed, the best. You counterfeit most lively.”

Timon’s words were ambiguous. A counterfeit is a painting, or a lie. To counterfeit means to paint, or to tell a lie.

“I am only so-so, my lord,” the painter said.

“What I say is true,” Timon replied.

He turned to the poet and said, “And, as for your fiction, why, your verse swells with stuff so fine and smooth that you are even natural in your art.”

“You are even natural in your art” is ambiguous. It can mean, “Your art is like nature because you hide the artifice in your art.” But a “natural” is a “born fool.” In addition, Timon was saying that the poet was gifted at creating fiction — at telling lies.And of course, “stuff” — as in stuff and nonsense — may not refer to something good. It may refer to worthless ideas.

Timon said to the poet and painter, “But, for all this, my honest-natured friends, I must say that you have a little fault. Indeed, it is not monstrous in you, nor do I wish you to take many pains to mend it.”

The poet and painter said, “Please, your honor, tell us what our fault is.”

“You’ll take it badly,” Timon replied.

“We will thank you very much for telling us, my lord.”

“Will you, indeed?”

“Don’t doubt that we will, worthy lord.”

“Each of you trusts a scoundrel who mightily deceives you,” Timon said.

“Do we, my lord?”

“Yes, and you hear him cheat, see him deceive, know his gross knavery, love him, feed him, keep him in your bosom. Yet I assure you that he is a complete villain.”

“I know of no one like that, my lord,” the painter said.

“Nor do I,” the poet said.

“Look, both of you, I love you well,” Timon said. “I’ll give you gold. Rid these villains from your companies for me. Hang them or stab them, drown them in a sewer. Destroy them by some course of action, and then come to me. I’ll give you gold enough.”

“Name them, my lord,” the poet and painter said. “Let’s know who they are.”

Timon said to the poet and the painter, who were standing a few feet apart, “You are standing here, and you are standing over here, and there are two of you. Each man of you is apart, all single and alone, yet an arch-villain keeps each of you company.”

Timon said to the painter, “If where you are, two villains shall not be, do not come near the poet.”

Timon said to the poet, “If you don’t want to reside except where just one villain is, then abandon the painter.”

He said to both the poet and the painter, “Leave, go packing!”

He started throwing stones at them, saying, “There’s ‘gold’ — you came for gold, you slaves.”

He said to the poet, “You have worked for me; there’s payment for you. Flee!”

He said to the painter, “You are an alchemist; make gold out of that stone.”

By mixing paints, the painter could make different colors — a kind of alchemy. Alchemists attempted to find the philosopher’s stone, which could turn base metal into gold.

Timon shouted, “Get out, rascal dogs!”

He beat them until they ran away, and then he went into his cave.

Flavius arrived, accompanied by two Senators from Athens, which was at war with Alcibiades. Athens wanted the help of Timon — he and Alcibiades were friends and so Timon might be able to convince Alcibiades not to attack Athens.

“It is in vain that you want to speak with Timon,” Flavius said, “for he is so wrapped up in himself that nothing except himself that looks like a man is friendly with him.”

“Bring us to his cave,” the first Senator said. “It is our duty to speak to Timon, and we have promised the Athenians that we will speak with him.”

“Men are not always the same at all times alike,” the second Senator said. “It was time and griefs that made him like this. Time, with a fairer hand, offering him the fortunes of his former days, may make him the man he used to be. Bring us to him, and whatever will happen, will happen.”

“Here is his cave,” Flavius said.

He called, “May peace and contentment be here! Lord Timon! Timon! Look out of your cave, and speak to friends. The Athenians, in the person of two of their most reverend Senators, greet you. Speak to them, noble Timon.”

Timon came out of his cave and said, “You Sun, that comforts, burn!”

He said to his visitors, “Speak, and be hanged. For each true word, may you get a blister! And may each false word be as searing with pain to the root of your tongue, consuming it with speaking!”

The first Senator said, “Worthy Timon —”

Timon interrupted, “I am worthy of none but such as you, and you are worthy of Timon.”

“The Senators of Athens greet you, Timon,” the first Senator said.

“I thank them,” Timon said, “and I would send back to them the plague, if only I could catch it for them.”

The first Senator said, “Oh, forget the offenses that we ourselves are sorry for having committed against you. The Senators with one voice of love entreat you to come back to Athens. The Senators have thought about special high offices that lie vacant, but which you will best fill and possess.”

The second Senator said, “The Senators confess that they have neglected you in a way that is grossly evident to all, and now the public body, which seldom admits that it made a mistake, feeling in itself a lack of and need for Timon’s aid, acknowledges its own failing and mistake when it withheld aid to Timon. Therefore, the Athens Senate sent us to make to you their sorrowful admission of fault and its apology, together with recompense greater than its offence, even counting every last bit of its offense against you. Yes, the Senate offers to you even such heaps and sums of love and wealth as shall blot out for you what wrongs were theirs and write in you as if you were an account book the figures of their love, which you can read forever.”

“You bewitch me with this offer,” Timon said. “You surprise and overwhelm me emotionally so much that I am on the very brink of crying. Lend me a fool’s heart and a woman’s eyes, and I’ll weep over these comforts, worthy Senators.”

He was sarcastic.

The first Senator said, “Therefore, if it pleases you to return with us and to take the Captainship of our Athens — yours and ours — and defend us against Alcibiades and his army, you shall be met with thanks, you shall be legally assigned absolute power, and your good name will continue to be associated with authority; then very soon we shall drive back the wild attacks of Alcibiades, who, like a very savage boar, roots up his country’s peace.”

“He shakes his threatening sword against the walls of Athens,” the second Senator said.

“Therefore, Timon —” the first Senator said.

Timon interrupted, “Well, sir, I will; therefore, I will, sir.

One meaning of the word “will” is “wish.”

“This is what I will: If Alcibiades should kill my countrymen, let Alcibiades know this about Timon, that Timon cares not. But if he should sack fair Athens, and take our good, aged men by the beards, giving our holy virgins to the stain and defilement and rape of insolent, beastly, mad-brained war, then let him know, and tell him Timon speaks it, out of pity for our aged and our youth, I cannot choose but tell him, that I care not, and let him take it at the worst, for their knives care not, while you have throats to cut. As for myself, there’s not a knife in the unruly camp but that I prize it and love it more than I love the most reverend throat in Athens.

“So I leave you to the protection of the propitious gods, as I would leave thieves to the protection of jailors.”

Since jailors were also often executioners, such “protection” was not reassuring. And all too often, the gods seem not to be bothered by the suffering of humans.

Flavius advised the two Senators, “Don’t stay and talk to Timon, for all’s in vain.”

Timon said, “Why, I was just now writing my epitaph; it will be seen tomorrow. My long sickness of health and living now begins to mend, and oblivion will bring me everything I want.

“Go, continue to live. May Alcibiades be your plague, may you be his plague, and may this be the case for a long time!”

“We speak in vain,” the first Senator said.

“But yet I love my country,” Timon said, “and I am not one who rejoices in the destruction of the community, as common rumor in the community says I do.”

“That’s well spoken,” the first Senator said.

“Commend me to my loving countrymen —” Timon said.

“These words become your lips as they pass through them,” the first Senator said.

“And they enter our ears like great conquerors enter the city through gates where people applaud,” the second Senator said.

“Commend me to them,” Timon repeated, “and tell them that, to ease them of their griefs, their fears of hostile strokes of war, their aches, losses, their pangs of love, with other incident throes that nature’s fragile vessel — the body — sustains during life’s uncertain voyage, I will do them some kindness: I’ll teach them to escape wild Alcibiades’ wrath.”

“I like this well,” the first Senator said. “Timon will return again to Athens.”

“I have a tree, which grows here beside my cave,” Timon said, “that my own need requires me to cut down, and soon I will fell it. Tell my friends, tell the people of Athens, in the sequence of degree from the high class to the low class, that whoever wants to stop affliction, let him make haste and come here, before my tree has felt the axe, and hang himself. Please, give my greeting to the Athenians.”

“Trouble him no further,” Flavius said. “You always shall find him like this.”

“Come not to me again,” Timon said, “but say to the people of Athens that Timon has made his everlasting mansion upon the beach of the salty flood we call the sea, and once a day with its foaming froth the turbulent surge of waves shall cover him. There come, and let what will be written on my gravestone be your oracle:

Lips, let sour words go by and language end.

What is amiss may plague and infection mend!

May graves be men’s only works and death their gain!

Sun, hide your beams! Timon has done his reign.”

Timon went into his cave.

The first Senator said, “His discontent is coupled to his character, and the two cannot be separated.”

“Our hope in him is dead,” the second Senator said. “Let us return to Athens, and stretch to the utmost what other means and resources are left to us in our dire peril.”

“We must act quickly,” the first Senator said.

The two Senators headed to Athens.

Flavius may have stayed with Timon because he had learned that Timon was dying. Even if Timon wanted to die alone, someone needed to bury him after he died.

— 5.2 —

Two Senators different from the two who had visited Timon talked with a messenger at the main gate of Athens. The messenger had brought to them news concerning Alcibiades and his army.

The third Senator said, “You have taken pains to discover this information, which is painful for Athens. Are his soldiers really as numerous as you report them to be?”

“I have given to you the lowest estimate of the number of his soldiers,” the messenger replied. “Besides that information, I need to tell you that the speed of his army promises that it will arrive before Athens almost immediately.”

“We are in a very hazardous situation, if the other two Senators do not bring Timon back with them,” the fourth Senator said.

“I met a courier, an old friend of mine,” the messenger said. “Although he and I are on opposite sides in this war, yet our old friendship made itself felt, and we spoke in a friendly way together. This man was riding from Alcibiades to Timon’s cave with a letter of entreaty desiring him to enlist his fellowship in the war against your city, a war that was instigated in part for his sake.”

Seeing the two Senators returning from visiting Timon, the third Senator said, “Here come our brothers.”

The first Senator said, “Let’s have no talk about Timon; expect no help from him. The enemies’ drum is heard, and the fearful and hostile movement of enemy soldiers chokes the air with dust. Let’s go inside the city, and prepare. Our future is the fall, I fear; our foes are the snare.”

— 5.3 —

One of Alcibiades’ soldiers, seeking Timon, arrived at Timon’s cave. A crude tomb was near the cave.

The soldier said to himself, “By the description I have been given, this should be the place.”

He called, “Who’s here? Speak! Ho!”

He said to himself, “No answer! What is this?”

He picked up a wooden board on which some words were written and read this:

Timon is dead, who has outstretched his life span.

Some beast read this; there does not live a man.”

Timon was cynical to the end. Whoever would read this would have to be a beast, for all men are beasts.

The soldier said to himself, “Timon is dead, for sure; and this is his grave.”

Something was written on the tomb. Apparently, what was written on the wooden board was Timon’s epitaph, or a first draft of Timon’s epitaph.

The soldier said to himself, “What’s written on this tomb is in a language I cannot read; I’ll write on my wax table what is written. Our Captain has skill with all languages. As an interpreter, he is aged — experienced — although he is young in days.

“By this time he’s arrived at Athens, whose fall is the goal of his ambition.”

— 5.4 —

In front of the walls of Athens, Alcibiades stood with his soldiers and trumpeters.

He told his trumpeters, “Blow and announce to this cowardly and lascivious town our terrifying approach.”

The sound of the trumpets announced the request for a parley between the opposing sides.

Some Athenian Senators looked over the walls of Athens.

Alcibiades said to them, “Until now you have gone on and filled the time with all kinds of licentious acts, making your wills the scope of justice. To you, what is just is whatever will give you what you want. Until now I and people like me who have stepped within the shadow of your power have wandered with our arms crossed — not threatening you with weapons — and we have complained about our suffering in vain. Now the time is ripe, when the suppressed courage in us strongly cries, ‘No more.’ Now you breathless wrongdoers shall sit and pant in your great chairs of ease, and you short-winded insolent men shall break your wind with fear and horrid flight.”

A chair of ease can be a comfortable position of high office, or it can be a comfortable chair that a flatulent high-ranking man would sit in.

The first Senator said, “Noble and young Alcibiades, when your first grievances were only a mere notion and unimportant, before you had power or we had cause to fear, we sent to you, offering to give balm to your rages and offering to wipe out our ungrateful acts with acts of friendship above their quantity.”

The second Senator said, “So also did we woo transformed Timon to our city’s friendship by sending him a humble message and by promising him resources. We were not all unkind, nor do we all deserve the indiscriminate stroke of war.”

The first Senator said, “These walls of ours were not erected by the hands of those from whom you have received your griefs, nor are they such that these great towers, monuments, and public buildings should fall because some particular men who are at fault are in them.”

The second Senator said, “Nor are those men still living who were the instigators of your exile. They were ashamed because they lacked intelligence when they exiled you, and that excess of shame has broken their hearts and killed them. March, noble lord, into our city with your banners spread. By decimation, and a tithed death — one out of every ten men to die — if your desire for revenge hungers for that cannibalistic food that nature loathes — take you the destined tenth, and by the hazard of the spotted die let die those who are spotted with sin.”

The first Senator said, “Not everyone has offended you. It is not fair to take revenge on those who have not offended you for the sins of those who have offended you.

“Crimes, like lands, are not inherited.”

This is an interesting sentence. Most likely, the first Senator had misspoken and meant to say, “Crimes, unlike lands, are not inherited.” Certainly, lands are left to heirs in wills. Or perhaps the first Senator meant that land can never really be owned, for the land was here long before the “owner” was born and will be here long after the “owner” has died. And perhaps the first Senator was also saying that if lands cannot be inherited, then crimes certainly cannot. A crime is immaterial, while land is material. If a material thing cannot be inherited, then certainly an immaterial thing cannot be inherited.

The first Senator continued, “So then, dear countryman, bring into Athens your ranks of soldiers, but leave outside the city your rage. Spare your Athenian cradle and those kin of yours who in the bluster of your wrath must fall along with those who have offended. Like a shepherd, approach the fold and cull the infected forth, but kill not all together.”

The second Senator said, “Whatever it is you want, it is better for you to use your smile to get it rather than hew with your sword to get it.”

The first Senator said, “Simply set your foot against our gates that are fortified with ramps of earth, and the gates shall open as long as you will metaphorically send your gentle heart first to say you shall enter as a friend.”

The second Senator said, “Throw your glove, or any other pledge of your honor, to let us know that you will use the wars to redress the wrongs done to you and not to destroy us all. If you do this, all your soldiers shall make their harbor in our town, until we have carried out your full desire and redressed the wrongs done to you.”

Alcibiades threw down his glove and said, “Then there’s my glove. Descend, and open your gates, which I have not attacked. Those enemies of Timon’s and my own enemies whom you yourselves shall pick out for reproof shall fall and no more, and to appease your fears with my more noble purpose, not a soldier of mine shall go outside the boundary of his quarters, or offend the stream of regular justice in your city’s boundaries. If any soldier of mine does this, he shall be delivered to your public courts and pay the heaviest penalty.”

The two Senators said, “This is most nobly spoken.”

“Descend, and keep your words,” Alcibiades said.

The two Senators descended and opened the gates.

The soldier who had been sent to see Timon arrived and said to Alcibiades, “My noble general, Timon is dead. He has been entombed upon the very edge of the sea, and on his gravestone was written this inscription, which I copied onto a wax tablet and brought away. The soft impression of the letters on the wax will reveal to you what my poor ignorance was unable to interpret.”

Alcibiades translated and read the inscription out loud:

Here lies a wretched corpse, of wretched soul bereft.

Seek not my name. May a plague consume you wicked wretches who are still left!

Here lie I, Timon, who, when I was alive, all living men did hate.

Pass by and curse your fill, but pass and stay not here your gait.”

Alcibiades said, “These words, Timon, well express in your epitaph your latter spirits and mood. Though you hated in us our human griefs, scorned our brain’s flow — our droplets, our tears, that fall from parsimonious human nature — yet your rich imagination taught you to make the sea-god Neptune’s vast sea weep always during its high tide on your low grave, on faults forgiven. Death forgives faults.

“Noble Timon is dead. We will speak more about his memory soon.

“Bring me into your city, and I will use the olive branch as well as my sword. I will make war breed peace, and make peace stop war. I will make each prescribe to the other as if they were each other’s physician.”

He ordered, “Let our drums strike,” and he and the others marched into the city.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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