It came to pass about the space of fifty years after the driving out of the kings that there arose great talk in Rome by reason of those that were in debt, their creditors dealing harshly with them. For the law was that if a man was in debt and had not wherewithal to pay, his creditor could cast him into prison and scourge him, dealing with him in all ways as with a slave. And when many of the people were already in this case, and many more feared lest they should be so hereafter, neither was there any hope of relief, because the rich men would not, for the most part, relax a right that was their due, they took counsel how they might best deliver themselves from this bondage. Now it chanced in a certain year that the army, having put to flight all their enemies, and being now returned to Rome, was bidden by the Consuls to set forth yet again to the battle, for the Consuls feared lest the men, being discharged from their service, should seek to make some change in the State. This bidding they were not willing to obey. First they doubted whether they should not slay the Consuls, thinking thus to be free from their oath; but, considering that a man cannot free himself from an oath by such ill-doing, they followed rather the counsel of a certain Sicinius, who bade them depart from Rome as though they would build them a city of their own. So they departed, marching to a certain place that men called the Sacred Hill, that is distant from the city about three miles, and is on the other side of the river Anio. There they made a camp with trench and rampart, and abode in this place many days, doing nothing either for good or evil. But when the nobles saw what had been done, they were in great fear what this thing might mean, but doubted not that Rome must be brought to destruction, unless the rich and the poor should be reconciled the one to the other. Therefore they sent a certain Menenius Agrippa, an eloquent man and dear to the Commons, as belonging to them by birth, who should be their spokesman. So Agrippa, coming to the camp and being admitted thereunto, spoke to the Commons this parable only; for in those days men were not wont to make set speeches. "In old times the members of man lived not together in such harmony as we now see to be among them; but each member had his own counsel and his own speech. All the other members therefore had great wrath against the belly, because that all things were gained for it by their care, and labor, and service, while it, remaining at rest in the midst of them all, did nought but enjoy the pleasures provided for it. Wherefore they conspired that the hands should not carry food to the mouth, that the mouth should not take that which was offered to it, nor the teeth chew it. So it came to pass that while they would have subdued the belly by hunger, they themselves and the whole body were brought to great extremity of weakness. Then did it become manifest that the belly was not idle, but had also an office and service of its own, feeding others, even as itself was fed, seeing that it changed the food into that blood from which we have life and vigor, and so sent it back into all parts of the body. Consider then, and see how this wrath of the Commons against the nobles is as the wrath of the members against the belly." With these words he wrought upon the minds of the people so that they were willing to be reconciled, certain conditions being granted, whereof the chief was this, that the Commons should have officers of their own, tribunes by name, whom no man might harm under pain of death, and who should help the Commons, if need should arise, against the Consuls. Also it was provided that no noble should hold this office for ever.
Now it fell out not many days after these things that there arose a great famine in this land, so that the slaves and not a few of the Commons also had perished, but that the Consuls diligently gathered wheat from all places where it could be bought. And it came to pass that there was brought much wheat from the island of Sicily, and the Senators debated among themselves on what terms it should be given to the people. Now there were some among the nobles that took it very ill that the Commons should have officers of their own, by whose help they might stand against the Consuls, and the counsel of these was to use the occasion of this famine against them. The chiefest of these was a certain Marcius, that was surnamed Coriolanus.
How Marcius had won for himself this surname must now be told. The army of the Romans besieged Corioli, that was a town of the Volsci; and while they were busy with the siege, and thought only of the townsfolk that were shut in the town, there came upon them of a sudden an army of the Volscians from Antium, and at the same time the townsfolk sallied forth from the city. Now Marcius chanced to be on guard, and he, having a chosen band of soldiers with him, not only drave back them that had sallied forth, but entered into the city by the gate that was opened to receive them, slew them that were near, and set fire to such houses as were near to the walls. And when the townsfolk set up a shout, and the women and children cried out as is their wont in such alarm, the courage of the Romans was greatly increased, and the Volscians were troubled, thinking that the city to whose help they had come was already taken. Thus did Corioli come into possession of the Romans, and men gave to Marcius thereafter the surname of Coriolanus.
This Coriolanus therefore, being ill content that the Commons should have tribunes, spake in the Senate in this manner: "If the people will have such cheapness in corn as they had in old time, let them render back to the Fathers such rights as they also in old times possessed. Why should I see officers chosen from the multitude, and such a fellow as is this Sicinius bearing rule? Should I endure such disgrace longer than I needs must? If I would not endure King Tarquin, should I now endure King Sicinius? Let him call the Commons, if he will, to the Sacred Hill. The way thither—aye, and to other hills besides—is open if he would go. They have made this dearth for themselves, suffering their lands to be untilled; let them therefore enjoy what they have made."
This counsel seemed over harsh to the Senate; as for the Commons, it wrought them to madness. "See now," they cried, "how they would subdue us by hunger, even as though we were enemies! See how they would cheat us even of food! Lo! there is come this wheat from the stranger, which fortune has given us beyond all our hopes, and they would snatch it even from our mouths, unless, forsooth, we hand over our tribunes bound hand and foot to this Marcius, when they may work their will on the Commons of Rome with their scourges. What a savage is this that has risen up in our State, bidding us choose whether we will have slavery or death!" And as Coriolanus went forth from the senate-house they would have taken his life, but that the tribune named a day when he should stand his trial before the people. When they heard this their wrath abated, knowing that they had the power of life and death over their enemy.
Now at the first Coriolanus made light of the matter. "Who are these tribunes," he would say, "that they venture on such matters? Succor they may give to them that need it, but whence have they the power to punish? And are they not tribunes of the Commons and not of the nobles?" Notwithstanding, when the wrath of the people increased beyond all measure, the Fathers perceived that they must let one man suffer for all. For a while, indeed, they held their place, using all their power if haply they might prevail. First, they would set their followers about the city, who might prevent the Commons from holding assemblies, and so bring the matter to nought. After they came forth all of them, so that a man might have thought that all the Fathers were on their trial, using prayers and supplications for Coriolanus. "If ye will not acquit him of the charge, count him guilty indeed, but spare him for favor toward us."
When the day of trial was come, Coriolanus appeared not to answer, and the wrath of the people was still fierce against him. Being condemned, he was banished, and was to pass his exile among the Volscians, having even now in his heart the spirit of an enemy against Rome.
The Volscians, indeed, bade him welcome right heartily; and their goodwill toward him increased when they perceived what wrath he bore against his native country. His host was a certain Attius Tullus, than whom there was none among the Volscians either more powerful or more hostile to Rome. So the two held counsel together how they might stir up war. They knew, indeed, that the people could not easily be moved to that which they had tried so often with ill success. For their spirits were broken not only with many defeats which they had suffered in time past from the men of Rome, but also from pestilence, which had of late sorely troubled them. Nevertheless Attius had good hopes that he might yet kindle their anger against the Romans; and this indeed he accomplished, as shall now be told.
It chanced that in that year the great games at Rome were celebrated a second time; and the reason why they were celebrated a second time was this. On the day of the first celebration, early in the morning, a certain householder drave one of his slaves through the market-place, beating him with rods. Afterward the games began, and no man thought that aught was amiss. But no long time after a certain Atinius, a man of the people, dreamed a dream. He saw Jupiter, who spake to him saying, "I liked not him that danced the first dance at my Games. Unless they be celebrated again, and that right splendidly, there will be danger to the city. And do thou go and tell this to the Consuls." Now the man was not careless of the gods, nevertheless because he stood in great fear of the Consuls he went not, lest he should be laughed to scorn for idle words. But this delay cost him dearly, for within a few days his son died. And that he might not doubt what this great trouble might mean, the god appeared to him yet again in a dream. "Hast thou had wages enough for thy neglect of that which I commanded? Verily, thou shalt receive yet more if thou tell not the matter straightway to the Consuls." Nevertheless, though the matter was now more urgent, yet the man delayed, and there fell upon him suddenly a great sickness and weakness. Thereupon he called his kinsfolk together to counsel, and told them all that he had seen and heard, how Jupiter had appeared to him in his dream, and had threatened him with punishment, and what had thereupon ensued. When they heard these things, all with one consent agreed that the man should be carried straightway in a litter to the market-place into the presence of the Consuls. The Consuls commanded that he should be taken into the senate-house where, being set down, he related all that had been told, to the great wonder of the Fathers. And when he had finished speaking, lo! there followed another marvel. His sickness departed from him in a moment, so that he that had been brought into the senate-house without power to move any limb, now, having fulfilled the command of the god, returned upon his feet to his own home.
The Senate, therefore, decreed that the Great Games should be celebrated a second time with great pomp. To this festival there came at the bidding of Attius, a great company of the Volscians. But before the beginning of the games Attius, having agreed with Coriolanus what should be done, sought audience of the Consuls, saying that he would speak with them of a matter of great moment to the State. To them, none others being present, he said, "I like not to speak ill of my own countrymen. Yet seeing that I have not to accuse them of aught that they have done amiss, but rather to take care they do it not, I will even speak my mind. The Volscians are of too light and fickle temper. From this cause we have already in time past suffered many things, so that in truth it is of your long-suffering rather than of our well-deserving that we are alive this day. Even now there is a great company of my people in this city; ye, men of Rome, will be wholly occupied with these games. Now I remember what on the like occasion was done in this place by certain young men of the Sabines, and I am in some fear lest the Volscians also should venture on a like misdeed. Of this, therefore, I give you warning, not for your sakes only, but also for ours. As for myself, it is my purpose to return straightway to my own home, lest something of the guilt of my countrymen should fall also upon me."
So Attius departed. And when the Consuls had brought the matter before the Senate, the Fathers, judging that they must take heed to that which had been told on such authority, commanded that all the Volscians should depart forthwith from the city. Thereupon criers were sent into all parts making proclamation, "Let every Volscian depart hence before nightfall." At the first, on the hearing of these words, as they hastened each man to his lodgings, to take up such things as belonged to him, there was great fear; and afterward, when they were now setting out on their journey, not the less anger. "What is this," said they, "that we are driven forth from the presence of gods and men on a day of festival as if we were polluted with crime?" Now Attius had gone before them to the Fountain of Ferentina; and as each of the chief men of the State came hither he spake with him about this matter, making loud complaints and much display of wrath. And the chiefs gathered the people together to an assembly in the plain ground that is beneath the road. To whom Tullus spake, saying, "Though ye forget, ye Volscians, all the wrong that the Romans have done to us in old times and all that we have suffered at their hands, how will ye bear the scorn that hath been put upon you this day, when they have begun their games by making sport of us? Do ye not perceive that when ye departed in this fashion ye were made a spectacle to citizens and strangers and all the nations round about? What thought they that heard the voice of the crier? or they that saw you depart? or they that met you as ye came hither in such unseemly plight? What but this, that ye had done some great wickedness, wherefore ye must be driven away from the gathering of gods and men lest your presence should be a defilement? Is not this a city of enemies, wherein if ye had tarried but one single day ye would all have suffered death? They have declared war against you, and if ye are men they will suffer no small loss therefrom."
The mother of Coriolanus pleads with her son.
Thus it was brought to pass that all the Volscians joined together to make war against Rome. First they chose for leaders Attius and Coriolanus, in whom indeed they trusted the more of the two. And indeed they trusted rightly, as was proved in the end, so that it became manifest that Rome had prevailed rather through the skillfulness of leaders than the courage of armies. First Coriolanus came to Circeii, that is hard by the sea, and drave out thence the Roman colonists, and gave over the city to the Romans. After this he took many cities of the Latins, and at the last pitched his camp five miles from Rome, sending out thence those who might spoil the lands of the Romans. Only he gave commandment that they should not spoil the lands of the nobles. And this he did, either because he hated the Commons more than the nobles, or that he would sow dissension between the two. This, indeed, he did not, for a common fear bound them together. Yet there was so much of disagreement that the nobles would have had recourse to war to rid them of the enemy, but the Commons were urgent that they should rather seek for conditions of peace. And this opinion prevailed. Ambassadors therefore were sent to Coriolanus, to whom he gave this answer only: "When ye shall have given back all their lands to the Volscians, then may ye talk of peace. But if ye seek to enjoy in peace that which ye took for yourselves by war, ye shall see that I forget neither what wrong I suffered from my own people, nor what kindness I have received from my hosts." And when the ambassadors were sent a second time he would not suffer them to enter the camp. After them came the priests, bearing the emblems of their office; nor did these prevail more than the ambassadors. Then a great company of the women came to Veturia, the mother of Coriolanus, and to Volumnia, that was his wife. But whether they did this by consent of the rulers, or by prompting of their own fear, cannot be affirmed for certain. These women then prevailed with Veturia, though she was now well stricken in years, and with Volumnia, that they should go to the camp to Coriolanus; and Volumnia carried with her the two sons that she had borne to Coriolanus. These having come, it was told the man that a great company of women was arrived. At the first, indeed, he was not minded to yield to their tears that which he had steadfastly refused to the ambassadors. But afterward, when a certain one of his friends, seeing Veturia stand together with her daughter-in-law and grandsons, said, "Unless my eyes deceive me, thy mother and wife and children are here." Coriolanus, being greatly troubled, leapt from his seat and would have embraced his mother. But she, turning from supplication to anger, cried, "I would fain know, before I receive thy embrace, whether I see a son or an enemy before me, whether I am thy mother or a prisoner. Has long life been given me for this, that I should see thee first an exile and afterward an enemy? Couldst thou bear to lay waste this land which gave thee birth and nurture? Didst thou not think to thyself, seeing Rome, 'Within those walls are my home, my mother, my wife, my children'? As for me I cannot suffer more than I have already endured; nor doth there yet remain to me a long space of life or of misery. But consider these thy children. If thou art steadfast to work thy will, they must either die before their time or grow old in bondage." When she had ended these words, his wife and his children embraced him; and at the same time the whole company of women set up a great wailing. Thus was the purpose of Coriolanus against his country changed, and, breaking up his camp, he led his army away. Some say that the Volscians slew him for wrath that he let slip this occasion against Rome; but others relate that he lived to old age, being wont to say, "There is no man so unhappy as he that is old and also an exile."