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Timon of Athens occupies twenty-one pages in the folio of 1623, viz., from p. 80 to p. 98 inclusive, in the division of Tragedies; but the numberings 81 and 82 are, by an error, repeated. Page 98 is followed by a leaf, on the recto of which appears "The Actors' Names," and the list of characters fills the whole page: the back of it is blank. There is no division of the play into Acts and Scenes.
TIMON OF ATHENS.
FEW thinking men have reached the age of thirty-five with the germs of a Timonic misanthropy undeveloped in their souls; and as it is not improbable, so will few find it difficult of belief, that the hero of the following play once lived, and loved, and hated. We first hear particularly of Timon in the dialogues of the Greek satirist whose flashing wit and fiery scorn consumed the stubble of a decayed philosophy and an effete religion. But that his name and nature were previously known to Greek literature, we learn from a passage in Plutarch, thus translated by North in 1579 : —
"Antonius, he forsooke the citie and companie of his frendes, and built him a house in the sea, by the He of Pharos, vpon certaine forced mountes which he caused to be cast into the sea and dwelt there, as a man that banished him selfe from all mens companie: saying that he would lead Timons life, bicause he had like wrong offered him, that was affore offered vnto Timon: and that for the vnthankefulnes of those he had done good vnto, and whom he tooke to be his frendes, he was angry with all men, and would trust no man. This Timon was a citizen of Athens, that lived about the warre of Pseloponnesus, as appeareth by Plato, and Aristophanes commedies: in the which they mocked him, calling him a vyper, and malicious man unto mankind, to shunne all other mens companies, but the companie of young Alcibiades, a bolde and insolent youth, whome he woulde greatly feast and make much of, and kissed him very gladly. Apemantus wondering at it, asked him the cause what he ment to make so muche of that young man alone, and to hate all others: Timon answered him, I do it, sayd he, bicause I know that one day he shall do great mischiefe unto the Athenians. This Timon sometimes would have Apemantus in his companie, bicause he was much like to his nature and condicions, and also followed him in raaner of life. On a time when they solemnly celebrated
the feasts called Choae at Athens (to wit, the feasts of the dead, where they make sprincklings and sacrifices for the dead), and that they two then feasted together by them selves, Apemantus said vnto the other: 0, here is a trimme banket Timon. Tim on answered againe, yea said he, so thou wert not here. It is reported of him also, that this Timon on a time (the people being assembled in the market place about dispatch of some affaires) got vp into the pulpit for Orations, where Orators commonly vse to speake unto the people; and silence being made, euerie man listening to heare what he would say, bicause it was a wonder to see him in that place: at length he began to speake in this maner. My Lordes of Athens, I have a little yard in my house where there groweth a figge tree, on the which many citizens have hanged themselves: and bicause I mean to make some building vpon the place, I thought good to let you all understand it, that before the figge tree be cut downe, if any of you be desperate, you may there in time go and hang your selues. He dyed in the citie of Hales, and was buried vpon the sea side. Nowe it chaunced so that the sea getting in, it compassed his tombe rounde about, that no man coulde come to it: and vpon the same was written this epitaphe.
Heere lyes a wretched corse, of wretched soule bereft,
Seeke not my name: a plague consume you wicked wretches left.
"It is reported, that Timon himselfe when he lived made this epitaphe: for that which is commonly rehearsed was not this, but made by the poet Callimachus.
Heere lye I Timon who aliue all liuing men did hate,
The works of Plato and Aristophanes in which Timon is mentioned are lost; but Lucian devotes an entire Dialogue to the story of the misanthrope, calling it by his name. We may be sure that Shakespeare's Greek was not sufficient to enable him to read Lucian in the original, and we know of no translation of the Dialogues into English earlier than 1638. But there were French and Latin versions; and either from one of these, or from some friend, or some antecedent dramatist, who could read Greek, it seems clear that Shakespeare derived an acquaintance with Lucian's wrork sufficient to enable him to fill up with many characteristic traits the meagre sketch he found in Plutarch. For between the Dialogue and the tragedy, there are these points of marked resemblance.* When in the Dialogue Jupiter, hearing the cries of Timon for vengeance upon the ingratitude and wickedness of men, asks Mercury who it is that calls upon him, Mercury replies that it is Timon, the wealthy Athenian, who used to offer whole hecatombs to the gods, and that "his probity, humanity, and charity to the poor, have been the ruin of him; or rather, in fact, his own folly, easiness of disposition, and want of judgment in his choice of friends; he never discovered that he was giving away his all to wolves and ravens. Whilst these vultures were preying upon his liver, he thought them his best friends, and that they fed upon him out of pure love and affection. After they had gnawed him all round, ate his bones bare, and if there was any marrow in them, sucked it carefully out, they left him, cut down to the roots and withered; and so far from relieving or assisting him in their turns, would not so much as know or look upon him. This has made him turn digger; and here, in his skin garment, he tills the earth for hire; ashamed to show himself in the city, and venting his rage against the ingratitude of those, who, enriched as they had been by him, now proudly pass along, and know not whether his name is Timon." *
* They have already, for the most part, been pointed out in Skottowe's Life of Shakespeare, &c, Vol. II. pp. 280-288.
The identity of this Timon and that of the tragedy in motive is too plain to need special indication; and their correspondence becomes more manifest wrhen we remark that Lucian's Timon says, "The fairest name I would wish to be distinguished by is that of misanthrope," and Shakespeare's, (Act IV. Sc. 3,) " lam misanthropos and hate mankind;" and, again, that the misanthrope of the Dialogue, like him of the play, finds gold as he digs, and exclaims, "It is, it must be gold, fine, yellow, noble gold; heavy sweet to behold. . . . Burning like fire thou shinest day and night: come to me thou dear delightful treasure: now do I believe that Jove himself was once turned into gold: what virgin would not spread forth her bosom to receive so beautiful a lover!" The likeness between this apostrophe and that of the play, both of which contain, it is to be observed, an allusion to the myth of Jupiter and Danae, could not have been fortuitous : —
"What is here? Gold! yellow, glittering, precious gold!" Act IV. Sc. 3. "O, thou sweet king-killer, and dear divorce 'Twixt natural son and sire! thou bright defiler
* See Franklin's translation of Lucian.
Of Hymen's purest bed! thou valiant Mars!
Lucian's Tim on says that he gave one of his false friends a piece of ground and " two talents for his daughter's portion ;" Shakespeare's (Act I. Sc. 1) gives three talents to balance the marriage portion of a woman loved by one of his retinue. To both misanthropes the acquisition of new riches brings back the parasites of their prosperity — a poet and a senator in each case — and by both these creatures are driven off with blows and obloquy.
Manifestly, then, Shakespeare, in writing certain passages of Timon of Athens, took hints as well from Lucian's as from Plutarch's portraiture of the Greek misanthrope. But although he might have become acquainted with the former in a French or Latin version, it is far more probable that such knowledge as he had of it reached him through some narrative or dramatic work, all trace of which has perished; unless, indeed, we find vestiges of an antecedent play in the very tragedy before us. The story of Timon, however, was generally known in Shakespeare's day, in the literature of which it was often referred to. He might have first read it as a youth in Paynter's Palace of Pleasure, a book with which we know that he was well acquainted, and the first volume of which, published in 1567, contains a novel «' Of the straunge and beastlie nature of Timon of Athens, enemie to mankinde, with his death, buriall, and epitaphe." There is also another play upon the subject, written during Shakespeare's life, "for the amusement of an academic audience," a contemporary manuscript of which still exists in the possession of the Rev. Alexander Dyce, by whom it was edited for the Shakespeare Society. Few of its readers will be inclined to dissent from its learned editor's opinion, that Shakespeare was unacquainted with it; but there is a trifling coincidence between the dead academic and the living popular tragedy. In the former, as in the latter, Timon invites his false fairweather friends to a mock banquet; in the former he sets before them stones painted like artichokes, with which he pelts them from his presence; in the latter, the dishes are filled with warm water, with which the host deluges his flying guests; and yet