13 Dec TIMON THE MISANTHROPE (LUCIAN) | Part A’
My good sir, when is this careless indifference to cease? how long before you will punish such wickedness? Phaethon-falls and Deucalion-deluges — a good many of them will be required to suppress this swelling human insolence.
To leave generalities and illustrate from my own case — I have raised any number of Athenians to high position, I have turned poor men into rich, I have assisted every one that was in want, nay, flung my wealth broadcast in the service of my friends, and now that profusion has brought me to beggary, they do not so much as know me; I cannot get a glance from the men who once cringed and worshipped and hung upon my nod. If I meet one of them in the street, he passes me by as he might pass the tombstone of one long dead; it has fallen face upwards, loosened by time, but he wastes no moment deciphering it.
Another will take the next turning when he sees me in the distance; I am a sight of ill omen, to be shunned by the man whose saviour and benefactor I had been not so long ago.
Thus in disgrace with fortune, I have betaken me to this corner of the earth, where I wear the smock-frock and dig for sixpence a day, with solitude and my spade to assist meditation. So much gain I reckon upon here — to be exempt from contemplating unmerited prosperity; no sight that so offends the eye as that.
And now, Son of Cronus and Rhea, may I ask you to shake off that deep sound sleep of yours — why, Epimenides’s was a mere nap to it —, put the bellows to your thunderbolt or warm it up in Etna, get it into a good blaze, and give a display of spirit, like a manly vigorous Zeus? or are we to believe the Cretans, who show your grave among their sights?
Hermes, who is that calling out from Attica? there, on the lower slopes of Hymettus — a grimy squalid fellow in a smock-frock; he is bending over a spade or something; but he has a tongue in his head, and is not afraid to use it.
He must be a philosopher, to judge from his fluent blasphemy.
What, father! have you forgotten Timon — son of Echecratides, of Collytus?
Many is the time he has feasted us on unexceptionable victims; the rich parvenu of the whole hecatombs, you know, who used to do us so well at the Diasia.
Dear, dear, quantum mutatus! Ιs this the admired, the rich, the popular?
What has brought him to this pass? There he is in filth and misery, digging for hire, labouring at that ponderous spade.
Why, if you like to put it so, it was kindness and generosity and universal compassion that ruined him; but it would be nearer the truth to call him a fool and a simpleton and a blunderer; he did not realize that his proteges were carrion crows and wolves.
That is how the spade and smock-frock are accounted for; he is ashamed to show his face in town; so he hires himself out to dig, and broods over his wrongs — the rich men he has made passing him contemptuously by, apparently quite unaware that his name is Timon.
This is a case we must take up and see to. No wonder he is down on his luck. We should be putting ourselves on the level of his despicable sycophants, if we forgot all the fat ox and goat thighs he has burnt on our altars; the savour of them is yet in my nostrils.
But I have been so busy, there is such a din of perjury, assault, and burglary; I am so frightened of the temple-robbers — they swarm now, you cannot keep them out, nor take a nap with any safety; and, with one thing and another, it is an age since I had a look at Attica. I have hardly been there since philosophy and argument came into fashion; indeed, with their shouting-matches going on, prayers are quite inaudible. One must sit with one’s ears plugged, if one does not want the drums of them cracked; such long vociferous rigmaroles about Incorporeal Things, or something they call Virtue!
That is how we came to neglect this man — who really deserved better.
However, go to him now without wasting any more time, Hermes, and take Plutus with you. Thesaurus is to accompany Plutus, and they are both to stay with Timon, and not leave him so lightly this time, even though the generous fellow does his best to find other hosts for them.
As to those parasites, and the ingratitude they showed him, I will attend to them before long; they shall have their deserts as soon as I have got the thunderbolt in order again.
But meanwhile it will be quite sufficient punishment for them to see Timon rolling in money.
Nothing like lifting up your voice, making yourself a nuisance, and showing a bold front; it is equally effective whether you are pleading with juries or deities. Here is Timon developing from pauper to millionaire, just because his prayer was loud and free enough to startle Zeus; if he had dug quietly with his face to his work, he might have dug to all eternity, for any notice he would have got.
Well, Zeus, I am not going to him.
Your reason, good Plutus; have I not told you to go?
Good God! why, he insulted me, threw me about, dismembered me — me, his old family friend — and practically pitchforked me out of the house; he could not have been in a greater hurry to be rid of me if I had been a live coal in his hand. What, go there again, to be transferred to toadies and flatterers and harlots?
Ah, Timon will not treat you that way again. If his loins are not of cast iron, his spade-work will have taught him a thing or two about your superiority to poverty.
You are so particular, you know; now, you are finding fault with Timon for opening the door to you and letting you wander at your own sweet will, instead of keeping you in jealous seclusion. Yesterday it was another story: you were imprisoned by rich men under bolts and locks and seals, and never allowed a glimpse of sunlight.
That was the burden of your complaint — you were stifled in deep darkness. We saw you pale and careworn, your fingers hooked with coin-counting, and heard how you would like to run away, if only you could get the chance. It was monstrous, then, that you should be kept in a bronze or iron chamber, like a Danae condemned to virginity, and brought up by those stern unscrupulous tutors, Interest, Debit and Credit.
They were perfectly ridiculous, you know, loving you to distraction, but not daring to enjoy you when they might; you were in their power, yet they could not give the reins to their passion; they kept awake watching you with their eyes glued to bolt and seal; the enjoyment that satisfied them was not to enjoy you themselves, but to prevent others’ enjoying you.
How, pray, do you reconcile your old strictures of this sort with your contrary denunciation of Timon?
The Works of Lucian of Samosata
Translated by Fowler, H W and F G.