Timon of Athens: Metaphors
The predominant imagery in the play is of animal and beasts. There are twenty references to dogs, none of them meant to be flattering. Apemantus is often called a dog, and he uses the term to refer to Timon’s friends. In Act 1, scene 1, as the guests arrive for the banquet, Apemantus speaks in derogatory terms about them: “The strain of man’s bred out into baboon and monkey” (line 250). (He means that man has degenerated.) At the second banquet, where Timon serves his guest only warm water, he calls them “affable wolves, meek bears” (Act 3, scene 6, line 82). Timon even describes himself as a “beast” when Alcibiades approaches him in the woods and asks him who he is (Act 4, scene 3, line 50). Timon also expresses the notion that the worst kind of beast is better than the beasts that mankind show themselves to be. There is also a strong suggestion in the imagery that mankind has become like beasts that prey upon each other. For example, Apemantus says at the first banquet, “What a number of men eats Timon, and he sees ’em not” (Act 1, scene 2, lines 39-40). There is also a considerable amount of imagery of disease in the play. Most of this is uttered by Timon, when he curses Athens. For example, “Plagues, incident to men, / Your potent and infectious fevers heap / On Athens, ripe for stroke!” (Act 4, scene 1, lines 21-23). The word “plague” or “plagues” appears thirteen times in the text.
The literary technique called apostrophe occurs when a speaker addresses inanimate objects directly. Timon does this on several occasions when he is alone in the woods. At the beginning of Act 4, for example, he apostrophizes the city of Athens as well as the wall that surrounds it: “Let me look back upon thee. O thou wall / That girdles in those wolves, dive in the earth and fence not Athens.” (4, 1, 1-3). At the beginning of Act 4, scene 3, Timon apostrophizes the sun: “O blessed bleeding sun, draw from the earth / Rotten humidity; below thy sister’s orb/Infect the air!” Later in that scene (beginning at line 179), Timon apostrophizes the earth as “Common mother.”
The literary technique called the pathetic fallacy consists of attributing human emotions, feelings, or moral qualities to inanimate objects. Timon says, “The sun’s a thief, and with his great attraction / Robs the vast sea. The moon’s an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun” (Act 4, scene 3, lines 429-31). Timon projects onto nature morally transgressive actions that are normally applicable only to the human world.