Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Timon (TI-muhn), a noble Athenian who impoverishes himself through his unceasing generosity to his friends. He lavishes gifts on them, offers help when they find themselves in trouble, and entertains them at extravagant feasts, paying no attention to the warnings of his steward that his fortune is dwindling. Refused at every door when he himself needs assistance, he is so completely disillusioned with human ingratitude that he becomes a misanthrope and flees to the woods to escape humanity. Before his departure, he invites his acquaintances to a final banquet, where he sets before them bowls of water. Bent on avenging his injuries and knowing that wealth breeds discontent and misfortune, he dispenses gold from a newly discovered treasure trove, and he encourages Alcibiades’ attack on his native city. He composes his own epitaph as a final defiance of ungrateful humankind: “Pass by, and curse thy fill, but pass and stay not here thy gait.”
Alcibiades (al-sih-BI-uh-deez), the great Athenian captain, Timon’s friend, and several times the savior of his state. Banished by the senate when he defends one of his soldiers against a death sentence, he later returns with an army to take vengeance on the city and purge it of evil.
Flavius (FLAY-vee-uhs), Timon’s loyal steward,...
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An Athenian general and statesman, he lived in the fifth century B.C. During the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) between Athens and Sparta, Alcibiades served as a commander of the Athenian army; later he switched his allegiance and led Spartan forces against Athens.
In Timon of Athens, Alcibiades is portrayed as a man of action. He is a rationalist, fully convinced of the coexistence of good and evil in the world. He is also pragmatic; his tactics are both efficient and effective. Furthermore, he is depicted as an honorable man who remains loyal to his friends. Finally, Alcibiades is a survivor, and he is responsible for restoring order to Athens at the close of the play.
Alcibiades is present at Timon's first banquet. When Timon suggests that Alcibiades would rather "be at a breakfast of enemies than a dinner of friends" (I.ii.76-77), Alcibiades says this would be true only if all the enemies were freshly slaughtered and their corpses still bleeding. Alcibiades's fiery nature is most evident in III.v, when he pleads with some senators to spare the life of a dear friend of his. He acknowledges that the man is technically guilty of murder; but he argues that the deed was committed at the height of passion and that the man was provoked to it by an insult to his honor. Passion and anger are qualities highly regarded in a soldier, Alcibiades continues, and, at some time in their lives, all men experience these emotions. He urges the...
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A deeply cynical man, he observes his fellow citizens with acute insight and never hesitates to speak the truth. On the other hand, he expounds his views rudely, with no attempt at grace or civility. His judgments of people—for example, the poet, the painter, and the Athenian lords—are all proven to be accurate. He tries to teach Timon that the Athenian lords are shallow, but his advice falls on deaf ears. Apemantus is depicted as vulgar, surly, and boorish; indeed, he is listed in the cast of characters as a churlish philosopher. Yet he holds a mirror up to others that faithfully reflects their natures.
In his first appearance, Apemantus declares that all men in Athens are scoundrels. This is the viewpoint Timon will adopt for himself after his friends have betrayed him. During the play's opening scene, Apemantus insults, in turn, the poet, the painter, and two Athenian lords. He takes particular aim at their deceitful flattery of Timon. Apemantus grudgingly joins the other guests at the banquet, complaining to Timon that they are all parasites. Before the meal begins, he offers a prayer to the gods, thanking them for making him a man who trusts no one. Throughout the dinner, he makes coarse and unflattering remarks, and he uses the masque as an opportunity to attack the thin veneer of manners that covers up rampant corruption. At the close of the banquet, when all the other guests have left, Apemantus warns Timon he is spending money on his...
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Several unnamed Athenian senators appear throughout the play. They are portrayed as self-centered men, untrustworthy and hypocritical. Some of them lend money at exorbitant rates of interest, such as the senator Who, in II.i, sends his servant Caphis to demand that Timon repay a loan. This senator knows the extent of Timon's debts, and he hopes to get his money back before other usurers strip Timon of his remaining assets.
In III.v, Alcibiades appeals to three senators, asking for mercy in the case of a friend of his who has been charged with murder and is being tried by the Athenian Senate. His appeals are declined. The senators insist on upholding the letter of the law rather than its spirit. When Alcibiades reminds them of his many years of loyal service leading Athens' armies against her enemies, the senators banish him from Athens forever.
When Alcibiades gathers a force against them, some senators seek out Timon in the wilderness, beginning him to return to Athens and lead the defense of the city. They entreat Timon to forgive the mistreatment he suffered at their hands, and they offer him heaps and sums of love and wealth'' (V.i.152) to cover up, and make him forget, the wrongs inflicted on him. At first Timon pretends to be moved by their plight, then he says he doesn't care whether the city is sacked and destroyed. The senators' spirits rise, however, when Timon seems to change his mind. He promises to do some kindness for them, then...
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The steward is depicted as a model of honesty and loyalty. He manages Timon's household, supervises the other servants, and keeps track of Timon's finances: The steward provides a unique perspective on the play's central character through his expressed belief in Timon's capacity for goodness and nobility of spirit. Despite his best efforts, he is unable to prevent Timon's downfall.
In I.ii, the steward tries to stop Timon from showering gifts on his friends. When Timon is besieged by his creditors' servants in II.ii, he accuses the steward of not keeping him informed about the state of his finances. The steward tells him that he's tried to do son many occasions but Timon wouldn't listen to him. Timon is astounded to learn that he is virtually bankrupt, all his vast estate either sold or forfeited to pay off debts. This is the result of extravagant generosity, the steward reminds Timon— who begs him to cease his sermonizing. When Timon orders the steward to go and ask the senators to lend him more money, the steward replies that he's already appealed to them, but they were unwilling to help. Urging the steward not to be downhearted, Timon sends him to Ventidius instead.
When Timon's friends have all deserted him and he leaves Athens in a rage, the steward remains loyal and compassionate. In IV.ii, he generously distributes the last of his own money among Timon's servants and offers a sympathetic view of what has happened: "Poor honest lord,...
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Historically, Timon the Misanthrope lived in the fifth century B.C. According to Greek historians, he withdrew from the world and lived in solitude after he discovered his friends were deceitful. In classical literature, he is the standard symbol for misanthropy—hatred or distrust of all mankind.
In Timon of Athens, the principal character's background is a mystery. Of all Shakespeare's tragic heroes, Timon is the most alone. He has no wife or child, parents or siblings. In the first half of the play he appears to be a private citizen, yet there are suggestions later—in V.i, when the senators appeal to him lead the defense of Athens against Alcibiades—that Timon may be a military commander or political statesman. It's not clear if he is a young man or middle-aged. There is no explanation of the source of his wealth, whether it was earned or inherited.
Timon seems to be the most extravagant man in Athens. The poet, the painter, the jeweler, and the merchant all attest to his generous patronage; not only has he purchased their poems, paintings and gems, it would appear that he has bought them at prices far beyond their real value. When Timon learns that his friend Ventidius is in debtors' prison, he immediately offers to "pay the debt, and free him" (I.i.104). Timon endows his servant Lucullus with money to make him eligible for marriage and bestows lavish gifts on his friends, while entertaining them luxuriously. When Ventidius,...
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Having heard about Timon's discovery of a cache of gold, they connive to steal it. They present themselves to Timon as destitute soldiers, but he isn't fooled. Thrusting gold into their hands, Timon urges them to continue their life of crime—a suitable occupation in a world where "All that you meet are thieves" (IV.iii.446).
A servant who belongs to a money-lending senator, he is sent by his master to demand that Timon pay back the money he owes. Together with other usurers' servants, Caphis confronts Timon in Il.ii. With this encounter, Timon begins to understand how deeply in debt he is. Caphis and the other usurers' servants also trade jokes with Apemantus and the Fool; their crude humor focuses on vice and corruption in Athens.
Representing the god of love, he introduces the masque—an entertainment comprising instrumental music and dancing—during the banquet in I.ii.
One of Timon's servants, he is sent to appeal to Lucullus on behalf of his master. Lucullus declines to help Timon and offers Flaminius a bribe if he will tell Timon he never saw Lucullus. Flaminius flings the coins in the man's face and unleashes a blistering denunciation of this treacherous friend.
See Steward. (The steward is almost always referred to by his title. Timon calls him Flavius only once, at I.ii. 157.)
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