Shakespeare's Timon of Athens - Money and
Timon of Athens
Timon, an Athenian lord.
Flavius, Timon’s head servant.
Alcibiades, Athenian general
• Written in 1607-8 immediately after Othello,
King Lear and Macbeth.
• Set in ancient Greece
Timon’s immense wealth and generosity are famous
- gives his servant, Lucilius, money (so that he can marry his wealthy
Apemantus, a philosopher, warns him that money isn’t everything and can
easily be lost.
In fact, unbeknown to himself and everyone else (except his head servant, Flavius), he is
heavily in debt.
His creditors demand repayment, and Flavius tells him he hasn’t enough money. Unworried Timon thinks his friends
will help him out, but they don’t.
He then visits his creditors for dinner, only giving them warm water that he throws at them in
Meanwhile Alcibiades, an Athenian general, has been exiled from
Athens for defending one of his troops who has been sentenced to death for manslaughter. He swears
vengeance on the city.
Timon is being driven to insanity by hatred and anger, cursing the people
of Athens, even when he finds gold in the woods, where he now lives in a cave.
Timon (Jonathan Pryce, pictured right, in a 1981 BBC production) gives it away to:
- Alcibiades (for his war against Athens).
- two prostitutes (encouraging them to spread disease throughout the city).
- Flavius (touched by his kind offer to give him all his money).
Timon ignores Apemantus who tells him:
- his hatred is a form of pride (or self-conceit).
- humility would remove his bitterness.
After refusing to pay a poet and a painter, Timon rejects the plea of Flavius and two top politicians to fight
Alcibiades who then triumphs.
But Alcibiades agrees to spare the innocent and only punish his and Timon’s enemies.
As he enters the city, news arrives that Timon has died, leaving an epitaph that curses his
enemies and tells people to ignore his gravestone.
Lessons on money and ethics
1. Love, learn and repent
Timon’s extravagant generosity turns into hatred for everything
He refuses to:
- learn from his mistakes.
He dies a bitter man with his self-written epitaph that begins
“Here lies a wretched corpse, wretched soul bereft”.
He would have made himself happier and wiser with:
- humility (swallowing his pride).
2. Art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake
Poets, writers and artists are desperate for Timon’s money to survive despite their dedication to their
A jeweller observes that something’s price is dependent on how much someone is prepared to pay
for it, not on its artistic value.
3. Look after your money
Don’t do what Timon did:
- have to rely on other people.
Flavius says about him:
“He is so kind, he now pays interest for it”.
4. Know your true friends
Timon has lots of fair-weather friends who:
- desert him when he’s broke.
They give him gifts not out of “free love” (as Lucius calls it) but the hope they will receive something
more valuable in return.
His only true friend is Flavius, who offers him all his money, even though he is a socially
5. The love of money is the root of all evil
Timon eventually realizes that the love of money has destroyed him, calling the gold he finds in the woods as
the “yellow slave”.
But, as the philosopher, Apemantus, tells him, you can’t blame money for everything.
Timon’s main problem is that he doesn’t know himself and his weaknesses, particularly his:
- extravagance (see point 6).
- inability to identify his true friends (see point 4).
6. Self-discipline pays
Timon is a man of extremes from gregarious extravagance to reclusive poverty in a cave.
Apemantus says of him:
“The middle of humanity thou never knowest, but the extremity of both ends”.
He would have been happier with:
Key quotes on business ethics
Policy sits above conscience, First Stranger (suggesting that policy comes before
Key quotes on money
This yellow slave [meaning gold] will knit and break religions, bless the accursed, Timon.
Who would not wish to be from wealth exempt, since riches point to misery and contempt?,
Key quotes on age
We have seen better days, Flavius.
Men shut their doors against a setting sun, Apemantus (talking about people’s inability to face
up to their decline)
Key quotes on ethics
What an alteration of honour has desperate want made!, Flavius.
Nothing emboldens sin as much as mercy, First Senator.