Young Folks' History of Rome HTML version

9. Coriolanus And Cincinnatus, B.C. 458
All the time these struggles were going on between the patricians and the plebeians at
home, there were wars with the neighboring tribes, the Volscians, the Veians, the Latins,
and the Etruscans. Every spring the fighting men went out, attacked their neighbors,
drove off their cattle, and tried to take some town; then fought a battle, and went home to
reap the harvest, gather the grapes and olives in the autumn, and attend to public business
and vote for the magistrates in the winter. They were small wars, but famous men fought
in them. In a war against the Volscians, when Cominius was consul, he was besieging a
city called Corioli, when news came that the men of Antium were marching against him,
and in their first attack on the walls the Romans were beaten off, but a gallant young
patrician, descended from the king Ancus Marcius, Caius Marcius by name, rallied them
and led them back with such spirit that the place was taken before the hostile army came
up; then he fought among the foremost and gained the victory. When he was brought to
the consul's tent covered with wounds, Cominius did all he could to show his gratitude—
set on the young man's head the crown of victory, gave him the surname of Coriolanus in
honor of his exploits, and granted him the tenth part of the spoil of ten prisoners. Of
them, however, Coriolanus only accepted one, an old friend of the family, whom he set at
liberty at once. Afterwards, when there was a great famine in Rome, Coriolanus led an
expedition to Antium, and brought away quantities of corn and cattle, which he
distributed freely, keeping none for himself.
But though he was so free of hand, Coriolanus was a proud, shy man, who would not
make friends with the plebeians, and whom the tribunes hated as much as he despised
them. He was elected consul, and the tribunes refused to permit him to become one; and
when a shipload of wheat arrived from Sicily, there was a fierce quarrel as to how it
should be distributed. The tribunes impeached him before the people for withholding it
from them, and by the vote of a large number of citizens he was banished from Roman
lands. His anger was great, but quiet. He went without a word away from the Forum to
his house, where he took leave of his mother Veturia, his wife Volumnia, and his little
children, and then went and placed himself by the hearth of Tullus the Volscian chief, in
whose army he meant to fight to revenge himself upon his countrymen.
Together they advanced upon the Roman territory, and after ravaging the country
threatened to besiege Rome. Men of rank came out and entreated him to give up this
wicked and cruel vengeance, and to have pity on his friends and native city; but he
answered that the Volscians were now his nation, and nothing would move him. At last,
however, all the women of Rome came forth, headed by his mother Veturia and his wife
Volumnia, each with a little child, and Veturia entreated and commanded her son in the
most touching manner to change his purpose and cease to ruin his country, begging him,
if he meant to destroy Rome, to begin by slaying her. She threw herself at his feet as she
spoke, and his hard spirit gave way.
"Ah! mother, what is it you do?" he cried as he lifted her up. "Thou hast saved Rome, but
lost thy son."
And so it proved, for when he had broken up his camp and returned to the Volscian
territory till the senate should recall him as they proceeded, Tullus, angry and
disappointed, stirred up a tumult, and he was killed by the people before he could be sent
for to Rome. A temple to "Women's Good Speed" was raised on the spot where Veturia
knelt to him.