Timon of Athens: Act III - Scene 4,5,6
Act 3, scene 4
Varro’s two servants and other servants of Timon’s creditors enter, waiting for Timon to come out of his house. Titus, Lucius, and Hortensius, and after a moment, Philotus, enter. They are all servants of Timon’s creditors. It is nearly nine o’clock in the morning, and Timon is late to appear. Flaminius enters and says that Timon is not yet ready to come out, even though he knows his creditors are waiting. Flavius enters. He makes disparaging remarks about the bad behavior of the masters of the gathered servants and asks them to let him pass, since he has nothing to offer them. Servilius enters and tells the servants that they should come back another time, since his master is in ill health and is staying in his house. But the servants refuse to take this as an answer.
Timon enters in a towering rage. The servants present him with their bills. Timon responds only with angry words. After Timon exits, Hortensius says that Timon has gone mad. Timon reenters, with Flavius. Timon orders Flavius to invite his friends, including Lucius, Lucullus, and Sempronius, whom he now refers to as “rascals,” to another feast. Flavius tries to dissuade him, pointing out that his resources will not stretch even to a modest meal. Timon does not listen to him, ordering him to go ahead and invite people. Timon says he will provide.
For the first time, the audience sees the change in Timon’s nature. No longer the gracious, kind host, he is furious with his friends and feels their betrayal keenly. His language suggests that they are physically pulling him apart: “Cut my heart in sums,” he says, and “Tell out my blood” (“tell out” means count). He now seems to see himself as a sacrificial victim, destroyed by the insincerity and the mercilessness of his friends. The situation reaches a level of absurdity because in at least one case, that of Hortensius’s master, the man is demanding money for a gift that Timon gave him, which was purchased by Timon with a loan from him!
Act 3, scene 5
Three Senators enter, and Alcibiades meets them. A meeting of the Athenian senate is underway. Alcibiades has come to plead the case of a soldier of his, who faces the death sentence for killing a man in a quarrel.
The First Senator says the man must die. Mercy would only encourage more sin. The Second Senator agrees. Alcibiades pleads for mercy, saying that the man has fought bravely as a soldier. The First Senator replies that committing manslaughter as a result of a quarrel is not the same as showing valor in battle. Alcibiades argues that hot-headedness and anger should not be condemned so harshly, since anger afflicts everyone at some point. He claims the man was acting in self-defense. The Second Senator rejects Alcibiades’ argument, but Alcibiades again points out the sterling service the man has done in two battles. He killed many of Athens’s enemies. The Second Senator replies that the man is known for violent and riotous behavior; this is not his first offense. The First Senator agrees that the death sentence is called for.
Alcibiades again asks that the man be spared and allowed to be a soldier again. But his pleas fall on deaf ears, and the senators take such exception to his continued protests that they banish him forever. He is given two days to leave Athens or face execution.
After the senators exit, Alcibiades makes a defiant speech. He is bitter because as a soldier he has beaten back the enemies of Athens while the senators who have exiled him have been getting rich by lending money at high rates of interest. All he has to show for his efforts are the wounds he sustained in battle. He resolves to lead an attack on Athens.
This scene at first seems to have no connection to the rest of the play. It is quite unlike the other scenes and suddenly brings Alcibiades into prominence in this dramatic confrontation with the Athenian senate. However, it can be seen as having a connection to the theme of the Timon plot because it shows another character who falls out with the way things are done in Athens. Alcibiades is as angry at being banished as Timon is at being shunned by his friends as well as by the senators. Unlike Timon though, as a warrior Alcibiades is in a position to bring real death and destruction to Athens. Timon can only rage impotently against humanity as a whole.
Alcibiades was a real historical character, a military commander and politician in ancient Athens who was known for being a close friend of Timon. There is no historical basis, however, for this scene in the play, and as a whole, his character is not much developed during the course of the play. This is the only scene in which he reveals much of himself. Some commentators use this lack of development of the character of Alcibiades as an argument for the unfinished nature of the play.
Act 3, scene 6
Some lords and senators, friends of Timon, enter. They have come to attend the feast Timon invited them to. Two lords discuss how they were approached for money by Timon but they were, of course, unable to respond, because they had no money themselves (so they say). They think that Timon may now have come into some money again, since he is inviting them to a feast. Timon enters and greets them graciously. He appears to harbor no hard feelings toward the two lords, and they tender their apologies for failing to help him.
The banquet is brought in. All the dishes are covered. The lords talk of Alcibiades’ banishment and then Timon asks them to sit at the table. He offers a prayer of gratitude to the gods, but it is a prayer with some hard sentiments. Timon speaks in a manner quite unlike the way he was at the previous banquet in Act 1, scene 2. He ends his thanks to the gods by making his thoughts quite clear: “For these my present friends, as they are to me nothing, so in nothing bless them, and to nothing are they welcome.”
The dishes are uncovered. They contain nothing but warm water and stones. The guests are baffled. Timon rages at them, calling them “mouth-friends” and denouncing their “villainy.” Then he throws water in their faces. Then he insults them with a string of images comparing them to parasites and wolves, among other things. He threatens them physically, and they get up to leave. After they have left Timon calls for Athens to “sink” and declares his newfound hatred for all humanity. He exits.
Four lords and senators enter. They agree that Timon has gone mad.
This scene is the counterpart to Act 1, scene 2, when Timon offers a feast and gives gifts with abandon. On that occasion, there appeared to be no clouds on his horizon, but the situation has quickly changed. Now Timon announces himself as no longer a benefactor of man. He renounces all his former high ideals of friendship and love and benevolence. Instead, he proclaims his hatred of all humanity. He has gone from embracing everyone to rejecting everyone. The change in his attitude is extreme, but he would seem to have good cause, at least in the rejection of his so-called friends. This is the turning point of the play, because from now on Timon will no longer be seen at his home in Athens. He has become a different person entirely from what he formerly was. Now he understands how Athenian society works. Everything revolves around money, and his ideals of brotherhood and friendship are useless to him in such a materialistic society. For Timon, wealth was only a means to spread love, and he thought that his generosity would naturally bind others in the ties of mutual love, but he has found out that the world is a far harsher place than he ever could have imagined it to be. His response is to reject it utterly and completely.