The Revenge of Coriolanus
by Charles Morris,
Caius Marcius was a noble Roman youth,
fought valiantly, when but seventeen years of
age, in the battle of Lake Regillus, and was there
crowned with an oaken wreath, the Roman reward
for saving the life of a fellow soldier. This
he showed with joy to his mother, Volumnia,
whom he loved exceedingly, it being his greatest
pleasure to receive praise from her lips.
He afterward won many more crowns in battle,
and became one of the most famous of Roman
soldiers. One of his memorable exploits took
place during a war with the Volscians, in which
the Romans attacked the city of Corioli. Through
Caius's bravery the place was taken, and the
Roman general said: "Henceforth, let him be
called after the name of this city." So ever after
he was known as Caius Marcius Coriolanus.
Courage was not the only marked quality of
Coriolanus. His pride was equally great. He was
a noble of the nobles, so haughty in demeanor and
so disdainful of the commons that they grew to
hate him bitterly.
At length came a time of great scarcity of food.
The people were on the verge of famine, to relieve
which shiploads of corn were sent from Sicily to
Rome. The Senate resolved to distribute this
corn among the suffering people, but Coriolanus
opposed this, saying: "If they want corn, let
them promise to obey the Patricians, as their
fathers did. Let them give up their tribunes. If
they do this we will let them have corn, and take
care of them."
When the people heard of what the proud
noble had said, they broke into a fury, and a mob
gathered around the doors of the Senate house,
prepared to seize and tear him in pieces when
he came out. But the tribunes prevented this,
and Coriolanus fled from Rome, exiled from his
native land by his pride and disdain of the
The exile made his way to the land of the
Volscians and became the friend of Rome's great
enemy, whom he had formerly helped to conquer.
He aroused the Volscians' ire against Rome, to
a greater degree than before, and placing himself
at the head of a Volscian army greater than
the Roman forces, marched against his native
city. The army swept victoriously onward,
taking city after city, and finally encamping within
five miles of Rome.
The approach of this powerful host threw the
Romans into dismay. They had been assailed so
suddenly that they had made no preparations for
defense, and the city seemed to lie at the mercy
of its foes. The women ran to the temples to
pray for the favor of the gods. The people
demanded that the Senate should send deputies
to the invading army to treat for peace.
The Senate, no less frightened than the people,
obeyed, sending five leading Patricians to the
Volscian camp. These deputies were haughtily
received by Coriolanus, who offered them such
severe terms that they were unable to accept
them. They returned and reported the matter,
and the Senate was thrown into confusion. The
deputies were sent again, instructed to ask for
gentler terms, but now Coriolanus refused even
to let them enter his camp. This harsh repulse
plunged Rome into mortal terror.
All else having failed, the noble women of
Rome, with Volumnia, the mother of Coriolanus,
at their head, went in procession from the city to
the Volscian camp to pray for mercy.
It was a sad and solemn spectacle, as this train
of noble ladies, clad in their habiliments of woe,
and with bent heads and sorrowful faces, wound
through the hostile camp, from which they were
not excluded as the deputies had been. Even the
Volscian soldiers watched them with pitying eyes,
and spoke no scornful word as they moved slowly
On reaching the midst of the camp, they saw
Coriolanus on the general's seat, with the Volscian
chiefs gathered around him. At first he wondered
who these women could be - but when they came
near, and he saw his mother at the head of the
train, his deep love for her welled up so strongly
in his heart that he could not restrain himself,
but sprang up and ran to meet and kiss her.
The Roman matron stopped him with a dignified
gesture. "Ere you kiss me," she said, "let
me know whether I speak to an enemy or to my
son - whether I stand here as your prisoner or
He stood before her in silence, with bent head,
and unable to answer.
"Must it, then, be that
if I had never borne a
son, Rome would have never seen the camp of
an enemy?" said Volumnia, in sorrowful tones.
"But I am too old to endure
much longer your
shame and my misery. Think not of me, but of
your wife and children, whom you would doom
to death or to life in bondage."
Then Virgilia, his wife, and his children, came
forward and kissed him, and all the noble ladies
in the train burst into tears and bemoaned the
peril of their country.
Coriolanus still stood silent, his
face working with contending thoughts. At length he cried
out in heart-rending accents, "O mother! What
have you done to me?"
Then clasping her hand he wrung it
vehemently, saying, "Mother, the victory is yours!
A happy victory for you and Rome! but shame
and ruin for your son."
Thereupon he embraced her with yearning
heart, and afterward clasped his wife and children
to his breast, bidding them return with their
tale of conquest to Rome. As for himself, he said,
only exile and shame remained.
Before the women reached home, the army of
the Volscians was on its homeward march. Coriolanus
never led it against Rome again. He lived
and died in exile, far from his wife and children.
The Romans, to honor Volumnia, and those
who had gone with her to the Volscian camp,
built a temple to "Woman's Fortune," on the
spot where Coriolanus had yielded to his mother's