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Timon renounces society (engraving for a 1803 edition of Shakespeare, Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene 1)


Timon +‎ -ism, from the 5th-century BC person Timon of Athens (as described by Plutarch, Lucian, Aristophanes), possibly by way of William Shakespeare's play Timon of Athens (c. 1607). Used in the Westminster Review (maybe after the earlier "Timonist") in an 1840 review. (Coining erroneously attributed to Herman Melville, who popularized it later in 1852.)



Timonism (countable and uncountable, plural Timonisms)

  1. A form of bitter misanthropy, a despair leading to hatred or contemptuous rejection of mankind, like Timon of Athens.
    This most cruel betrayal led him to Timonism.
  2. A bitter or cynical utterance or behavior, in the manner of Timon of Athens.
    Pay no attention to his Timonisms, it's a pose.


  • Form of bitter misanthropy
    • 1840, in The Westminster Review, September:[1]
      His "Timonism" scarcely shows itself, except against the priesthood, for which he has very little respect.
    • 1852, Herman Melville, Pierre:[2]
      Then how could it be otherwise, than that an incipient Timonism should slide into Pierre, when he considered all the disgraceful inferences to be derived from such a fact.
    • 1906, Prof. Walter Raleigh, letter pub. in 1926:[3]
      Men are stuffy little fellows. Their manliness bores me—it is almost universal, and humanity is very rare. [...] the poor things keep on struggling in a web of phantoms. They play with dolls all their lives. It's no good talking to them about wisdom and beauty. They have a complete system. There's even a doll Hell. This is not Timonism, I am an optimist. They are saved, most of them by their guts. A doll has no guts.
    • 1988, Paul Ollswang, "Cynicism":[4]
      Cynicism is often contrasted with "Timonism" (cf. Shakespeare's Timon of Athens). Cynics saw what people could be & were angered by what they had become; Timonists felt humans were hopelessly stupid & uncaring by nature & so saw no hope for change.
  • Bitter behavior or cynical utterrance
    • 1891, Fergus Hume, When I Lived in Bohemia:[5]
      Thus he ran on carelessly in this cynical vein; but I, after a time, paid no attention to his Timonisms, being taken up with the spectacle of a crowd in the street surrounding a carriage.
  • For more quotations using this term, see Citations:Timonism.


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  1. ^ Signed "C.", "Fiction: Timon, But Not of Athens [review of the same-titled book by James Sedgwick (pseud. Timologus), London: Saunders & Otley, 1840]", Westminster Review, Vol. 34, No. 67, September 1840, "Critical and Miscellaneous Notices", p. 501; repr. in Vol. 34 (Nos. 66-67, June–September 1840), No. 2 (orig. 67), London: H. Hooper (C. Reynell, printer), 1841, p. 501 at Google Books.
  2. ^ Herman Melville, Pierre, 1852, chapter XVII "Young America in Literature", part III, online version.
  3. ^ Prof. Walter Raleigh (1861–1922), letter to linguist John Sampson, Oxford, 1 January 1906; pub. in The Letters of Sir Walter Raleigh (1879-1922), 2 vols. ed. by Lady Raleigh, Vol. 1, London: Methuen (1st ed.), London: Macmillan (2nd ed.), 1926; repr. in The Letters of Sir Walter Raleigh 1879 to 1922, Kessinger Publishing, 2005, →ISBN, p. 293 at Google Books. (Note: letter popularized in various other works, including by poet and critic Herbert Read in The Anthology of English prose (1931, aka The London Book of English Prose and English Prose Style, p. 252), and by Philip Wayne in The Personal Art: An Anthology of English letters (1949, p. 226).)
  4. ^ Paul Ollswang, "Cynicism: A Series of Cartoons on a Philosophical Theme", January 1988, page B at official site; repr. in The Best Comics of the Decade 1980-1990 Vol. 1, Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 1990, →ISBN, p. 23.
  5. ^ Fergus Hume, When I Lived in Bohemia: Papers Selected from the Portfolio of Peter ---, Esq, 1891; repr. Tait, sons & company, 1892, p. 150 at Google Books.