A Poet, a Painter, a Jeweler, and a Merchant enter Timon's house in Athens. The Jeweler shows off an impressive jewel he hopes to sell to Timon, and the Painter and Poet discuss commissioned works they have completed for Timon. The Poet comments about the senators entering Timon's house, but no one can understand his elevated prose, so he clarifies. He observes that Timon's large fortune and his generous nature draw all kinds of people to his house, from the lowest flatterers to Apemantus, a man who usually criticizes rather than praises. The Poet says that his latest work concerns Timon, a man enthroned by Fortune, sitting atop a hill where all gaze up at him adoringly. But he says that Fortune is fickle, and those who adore the man now blessed by Fortune will later not come to his aid if he falls. The Painter is impressed, but the Poet says that it is easy to demonstrate the quick actions of Fortune.
Timon and his attendants enter. A messenger tells him that his friend Ventidius has been imprisoned by creditors, and Timon decides to pay his debt in order to free him. Then an old Athenian enters and tells Timon about how his servant Lucilius hangs around his house charming his daughter. Timon negotiates with the old man for Lucilius to wed his daughter, and offers to provide cash to Lucilius to make the deal sweeter. Lucilius is thankful, and admits he owes Timon everything.
Then Timon accepts the poem and the painting from the Poet and the Painter, and he admires the Jeweler's gem. Apemantus enters, and Timon greets him. But Apemantus says Timon shouldn't expect a polite greeting from him until Timon is changed into his own dog, an event as unlikely as Timon's hangers-on becoming honest. Timon asks Apemantus's opinion about the painting and the jewel, and Apemantus scorns both, and then criticizes the Poet, calling him a flatterer.
The arrival of Alcibiades is announced, and Timon welcomes him. On the sidelines Apemantus scorns the fake courtesy of Timon's flatterers. Timon and Alcibiades exit, leaving Apemantus with several Lords. They ask if Apemantus plans to attend Timon's feast, which he plans to do, if only to watch flatterers at work. Apemantus exits, and the Lords discuss Timon's seemingly inexhaustible bounty--so great that his very possessions seem to breed and multiply under his nearly magical touch.
The first scene gives the audience a sense of Timon's status in Athens. Attended by merchants and artists anxious to sell him goods or artworks, Timon is the patron with the bottomless purse. And this bounty draws the lords and senators of Athens, who are anxious to benefit from his generosity. Timon seems glad to give gifts to any and all who arrive. He'll buy a painting, a poem, a jewel, merely because it is presented to him, and he'll offer cash to any who seem to need it--or not. And those around him come to believe that Timon's bounty is truly endless--that the more he spends, the more he has--that wealth breeds wealth.
We also meet two other significant characters, Apemantus and Alcibiades, though Alcibiades will be more fleshed out later. Apemantus criticizes Timon for creating a court of flatterers, and is quick to make vicious observations. Yet Timon welcomes him to his house, apparently trying to get him to break down and be friendly. Apemantus, for his part, seems to enjoy being the critic, and has a rich environment to observe at Timon's house. But it's unclear what his real opinion of Timon is; if he really thinks he is a despicable breeder of flatterers, why does he consent to attend his feasts? Or is he merely a different breed of Timon's flatterers?
The Poet says his poem depicts a man favored by Fortune and admired by all, but also comments that Fortune is fickle, and can change suddenly. And in that situation, those who admired and flattered the successful man would not step to his aid. For the moment Timon is the man admired by all, and several will admit that they owe Timon everything (as Lucilius does). In the event of a change of fortune, the Poet has predicted correctly--Timon's friends will abandon him. But the Poet depicts this as a fault of Fortune, whereas for Timon it comes to be a fault of his fickle friends.