Timon of Athens: Top Ten Quotes
- “O you gods, think I, what need we have any friends, if we should ne'er have need of ’em? They were the most needless creatures living, should we ne'er have use for ’em, and would most resemble sweet instruments hung up in cases that keep their sounds to themselves. Why, I have often wished myself poorer, that I might come nearer to you. We are born to do benefits: and what better or properer can we call our own than the riches of our friends? O, what a precious comfort ’tis, to have so many, like brothers, commanding one another's fortunes!” Act 1, scene 2, lines 86-94 Timon speaks to his friends at the banquet he has put on for them. He gives expression to the philosophy he lives by: infinite generosity to his friends, in the expectation that they share the same philosophy. He thinks that life can be made up of this constant flow of the exchange of wealth, with everyone in the same social circle taking part.
- “Men shut their doors against a setting sun.”
Act 1, scene 2, line 132
Apemantus speaks at the banquet, more to himself than to anyone else. He has just said that friendship is mostly false because people always speak disparagingly of or desert their friends at some point. He has no doubt that those assembled at the banquet will act in a hostile way to him before he is dead. He seems to have old age particularly in mind as a time when people are likely to turn their backs on their friends, hence the reference to the setting sun.
- “Ah, when the means are gone that buy this praise, The breath is gone wherof this praise is made. Feast-won, fast-lost; one cloud of winter showers, These flies are couched.
Act 2, scene 2, lines 163-66
Flavius, Timon’s steward, speaks. He has just broken the news to Timon about his dire financial situation and now offers his opinion about the falseness of Timon’s friends. They were friends only when Timon had wealth and could feast them lavishly. Once he ran out of means they scattered quickly. Now they are hidden (the meaning of “couched”). Timon is impatient with what he refers to as this sermon by Flavius.
- “Every man has his fault, and honesty is his.”
Act 3, scene 1, lines 21-22.
Lucullus, one of Timon’s false friends, speaks after Timon has asked for money. He means that for a person to be honest when everyone around them is not is not a virtue but leaves them open to exploitation. Honesty here also means generosity.
- “Has friendship such a faint and milky heart, It turns in less than two nights?”
Act 3, scene 1, lines 43-44
Timon speaks. He can barely believe that his friends are ignoring him and refusing to give him the money he needs.
- “What is here? Gold?Yellow, glittering precious gold? . . . This yellow slave Will knit and break religions; bless th’accursed, Make the hoar leprosy adored, place thieves, And give them title, knee, and approbation With senators on the bench.”
Act 4, scene 3, lines 25-26, 34-38
Digging for roots in the woods, Timon has found gold. Since he has encountered misfortune, he has become keenly aware of the harmful and corrupting effect of money on Athenian society. In this passage he gives forceful expression to his new belief. He who has gold is honored; gold can even make thieves as honored as senators.
- “I am Misanthropos and hate mankind. For thy part, I do wish thou wert a dog, That I might love thee something.”
Act 4, scene 3, lines 54-56
Timon speaks to Alcibiades, who has just encountered him in the woods and asked him his name. Timon says that he hates mankind and in effect says that were Alcibiades a dog he would be able to show him more affection than he can now offer him, given that Alcibiades is a man.
- “I do proclaim one honest man. Mistake me not, but one; No more, I pray, and he’s a steward. How fain would I have hated all mankind, And thou redeem’st thyself. But all save thee I fell with curses.”
Act 4, scene 3, 489-494.
Timon speaks to Flavius, his steward. He has earlier declared that there is not an honest man alive, but meeting his loyal steward forces him to admit that there is one who is honest.
- “The middle of humanity though never knewest, but the extremity of both ends.”
Act 4, scene 3, lines306-07
Apemantus speaks to Timon. His description of Timon seems an accurate one. Timon goes from being wealthy, very generous with gifts, and loving mankind to one who despises humanity and has no wish to own any wealth. He is never able to steer a moderate course.
- “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. The sea’s a thief, whose liquid surge resolves The moon into salt tears. The earth’s a thief, That feeds and breeds by a composture stol’n From gen’ral excrement; each thing’s a thief.”
Act 4, scene 3, lines 429-35
Timon speaks. Disillusioned with humanity, because he thinks no one is honest, he now projects a similar dishonesty onto the natural world.