A prayer to dogs

OK, so a couple of days back, I talked a little about Apemantus’ grace, delivered before the Act One, Scene Two, feast in Timon of Athens. Mixing prose, blank verse, and a section of rhyming doggerel, it had a little something for everyone. At least, everyone who loves a heapin’ pile o’ cynicism.

Let’s jump to Act Three, Scene Six, and Timon’s gods-thanking speech, a quasi-grace before the last (and Worst.) feast (Ever.)…

If Wednesday’s speech had a mix of prose, poetry and doggerel, this one…doesn’t. Prose intro, prose prayer, prose outro:

Each man to his stool, with that spur as he would to the lip of his mistress. Your diet shall be in all places alike; make not a city feast of it, to let the meat cool ere we can agree upon the first place; sit, sit. The gods require our thanks:

You great benefactors, sprinkle our society with thankfulness. For your own gifts make yourselves praised; but reserve still to give, lest your deities be despised. Lend to each man enough, that one need not lend to another; for, were your godheads to borrow of men, men would forsake the gods. Make the meat be beloved more than the man that gives it. Let no assembly of twenty be without a score of villains. If there sit twelve women at the table, let a dozen of them be — as they are. The rest of your fees, O gods — the Senators of Athens, together with the common lag of people — what is amiss in them, you gods, make suitable for destruction. For these my present friends, as they are to me nothing, so in nothing bless them, and to nothing are they welcome.

Uncover, dogs, and lap.

  • III.vi.66-86

It begins simply enough. Timon call for his guests seat themselves quickly (“with that spur as he would to lip of his mistress”). He tells them to take any chair, that this meal is not a “city feast” where places are reserved, status demonstrated. Such a seating chart, Timon claims, allows the meat to cool before the seating arrangements can be announced.

And he then says that the “gods require our thanks.” And the expectation is that he will deliver some kind poetic speech. Or at least that might be the expectation of his guests. But he defies expectation.

First, he calls upon these “gods” as “benefactors,” ones who renders aid or service. The service he requests? To sprinkle society with thankfulness. He said that for these gifts, the gods can make themselves “praised;” he warns them, however, to keep some in reserve, just in case their “deities be despised.” Huh? The gods should keep some some of their gifts to themselves in case their gods become despised? I’m not quite sure I get it.

That’s because I don’t think that’s what he’s saying.

Instead, I think this speech–at least the beginning of it–is to the guests. He praises them as benefactors (gods among men, perhaps?). He tells them that they can praise themselves for their kindness, but keep some kindness and gifts for themselves (as they have with him), in case their rank (“diety”) of benefactor be degraded, be brought down, or they become despised. They should lend to every man enough money so that the men don’t need to lend to one another… because if these benefactors, these godheads, were to borrow from men, those men would forsake the gods (as men are, well, you know, not cool). He tells them to make the gifts be more beloved than the giver (of course, this is one of those ‘eye of the beholder’ conundrums). And at this point, the sarcasm and cynicism is clear. He says that all men are villains (an assembly of twenty equals a score [20] of villains). And for women, well, they’ll be “as they are.” But what? Women? Villains? Whores? It’s unclear. Only then does he turn the prayer to the gods, to tell them to take their cattle (“fees”), like the senators and the basic population of Athens, and anything that’s wrong with them, get it ready for destruction. Now, I’m not sure if that means to take both the high and low of Athens, and the individuals within that sub-group, or if it means that some characteristic or trait within that population, but regardless, Timon now wants something human in Athens killed. He finishes the prayer with a statement about his guests, these “friends”: that they are nothing to Timon, he wants them blessed by the gods in no way, and they are welcome to nothing.

He then gives them the meal for which he has just given grace: “Uncover, dogs, and lap.”

They get rocks and water.

And he calls them dogs.

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