Timon of Athens | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Timon of Athens | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



In one of Athens's public plazas, the lord Lucius is conversing with three "strangers" (foreigners) about the generous and "honorable" Timon. The strangers tell him Timon's "happy hours are done / and past" because he now lacks money, but Lucius refuses to believe it. When the stranger tells Lucius of Lucullus's refusing Timon a loan, Lucius is quick to censure Lucullus, claiming he of course would have acted differently had Timon approached him instead.

Just then Servilius, another of Timon's servants, arrives and asks Lucius "to supply [Timon's] instant use"—his urgent need—with "fifty talents." Lucius assumes this is a joke, but Servilius insists he is dead serious. Caught off guard, Lucius professes to be all out of funds himself. Thus—very regretfully, he emphasizes—he cannot help Timon.

When Servilius exits, Lucius quickly takes his leave of the strangers, who lament Lucius's ungrateful behavior but recognize this is the way of the world. Flatterers, the first stranger says, cannot be trusted to remain true to their friends because prudent self-interest now "sits above conscience."


Like Timon, the "strangers" seem to have trouble accommodating themselves to the mercenary, money-driven world of Athens. The first stranger is apparently startled to find "policy sits above conscience," but this has been the reality for most Athenians since at least the beginning of the play. Timon's supposed friends have not been giving him their material gifts out of "conscience"—for instance, out of esteem for his friendship or admiration of his generosity. Rather, their giving has been motivated by "policy," or a desire to obtain even bigger gifts in return.

Timon, in contrast, is the rare Athenian motivated mainly by conscience and not at all by policy. This is true in the banquet scene of Act 1, and it remains true in Act 4 when Timon goes into voluntary exile. His rantings and ravings at that point and his handing out gold to soldiers and criminals are expressions of a wounded sense of justice. He is not trying to better his own position materially or regain the power he lost when his money ran out. Rather he is attempting to make himself feel better about being betrayed.

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