Timon of Athens | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Timon of Athens | Act 3, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

At a feasting hall in Timon's home, a group of four unnamed Athenians—Timon's so-called friends—arrive and exchange greetings. While waiting for their host, they converse about Timon's hardships, which they hope are not as bad as they seem. Timon enters with his attendants and greets them heartily, though he mocks them for their fickleness in an aside. People, he says to the audience, are "summer birds"—fair-weather friends who fly away during the "winter" of hardship. The banquet is brought in, and the Athenians take their seats, gossiping about Alcibiades's banishment (Act 3, Scene 5).

Timon begins the meal with a sarcastic grace in which he asks the gods to "make the meat be beloved more than the man that gives it." When the dishes are uncovered, only steaming water and stones are within. The four "friends" are startled, but Timon quickly explains: these are the only foods suitable for the "detested parasites" who abandon their lord. He curses them as villains, flinging the water into their faces and chasing them from the table. After a moment the "friends" return, horrified by Timon's behavior but still anxious to collect the costly belongings they dropped as they fled.

Analysis

In starting the meal with a "grace" that is actually a curse, Timon signals his transformation from a loving, trusting man to a misanthrope—a "people-hater." The gesture echoes Apemantus's similarly snarky "grace" at the banquet in Act 1, Scene 2 where the cynical philosopher prayed: "Grant I may never prove so fond / To trust man on his oath or bond, / ... Or a keeper with my freedom, / Or my friends if I should need 'em."

Timon's prayer in this scene is, like Apemantus's, a bitter prayer for self-reliance. "Lend to each man enough," he entreats the gods, "that one need not lend to another." This is nearly a 180-degree shift from Timon's own speech in Act 1, Scene 2 in which he became tearful at the warm thought of friends sharing everything they had, like a band of "brothers." For Timon that vision has been shattered by the realization that while he was freely sharing all he had, others were keeping score of his debts. Apemantus, it now seems, was right to reject trust and friendship as "fond," or foolish, sentiments. Accordingly from the "new" Timon's point of view, any appeal to friendship is to be viewed with extreme suspicion, as if it were mere selfishness in disguise.

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