The Revenge Of Coriolanus
: MOTHERS' DAY
: Good Stories For Great Holidays
BY CHARLES MORRIS (ADAPTED)
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 mother, Volumnia, whom he
loved exceedingly, it being his greatest pleasure to receive praise from
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
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
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 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 your mother."
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
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 entreaties.