Caius Marcius was a noble Roman youth, who 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
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 people.
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
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
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
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 past.
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
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
built a temple to "Woman's Fortune,'' on the spot where Coriolanus had
yielded to his mother's