Timon of Athens | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Timon of Athens | Character Analysis



Famed for his excessive generosity, the Athenian aristocrat Timon hosts extravagant banquets and gives expensive presents to "friends," borrowing huge sums of money from many sources to do so. When his spending finally catches up with him, he reassures himself his many friends and admirers will help him. However, no one answers his call for even a modest loan. Shocked at his so-called friends' disloyalty, Timon leaves Athens and becomes a forest-dwelling hermit. When he finds gold there, the cycle of flattery and ingratitude renews itself. Miserable and misanthropic and distrustful of all, Timon carves his own headstone before dying offstage.


Flavius is the head of Timon's household servants and the first to recognize his employer's money troubles. His warnings, however, are brushed off until it is too late for Timon to salvage his estate. When Timon goes bankrupt, Flavius is out of a job. Despite his own misfortunes, however, Flavius remains loyal to Timon even when others abandon him. Taking what little money he has saved for himself, Flavius leaves Athens and seeks out his former master, hoping to aid and comfort him in his distress.


An Athenian military leader and Timon's close friend, Alcibiades enters Athens as a hero in Act 1 but is banished from the city in Act 3 after a quarrel with the senate. His vengeful plan to invade the city throws Athens into a state of crisis in Acts 4 and 5. Alcibiades is the best-known real-life character to appear, fictionalized, in Timon of Athens. Historically he was a brilliant but unprincipled statesman who was ousted from Athens and later defected to its enemy Sparta. Shakespeare's version preserves the basic idea of strife between Alcibiades and Athens, but on a much faster, more condensed timeline.


Ill-mannered, surly Apemantus is somewhere between a classical Cynic philosopher and today's idea of a cynical person. Like other philosophers originally called Cynics, Apemantus despises flattery, dishonesty, and extravagance. Preferring to live a simple life, he shuns political ambition and material wealth. Like a "cynic" in the modern sense, he tends to reject goodness and assume the worst about humanity in all cases, and to share his opinions freely. Apemantus's brutal honesty makes him unpopular among his fellow Athenians. He has little influence on the play's plot as such but appears from time to time to offer barbed commentary on the other characters' actions.

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