Coriolanus, by William Shakespeare

Introduction 1

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's later plays, appearing about 1607.

This tragedy revolves around Caius Martius Coriolanus, a brilliant Roman general who ultimately is banished from Rome and leads an assault on that same city. Only the pleadings of his mother stop him from sacking Rome, a change of heart which leads to his destruction.

Coriolanus is a legendary figure who is said to have lived during the 5th century BC. Born Gaius Marcius, he was given the surname as a result of his action in capturing the Volscian town of Corioli in 439 BC.

According to Plutarch2, Coriolanus represented the Roman aristocracy and was well respected in the Roman Senate for arguing against the democratic inclinations of the plebians. He was perpetually banished from Rome upon being convicted on charges of misapropriation of public funds. He later turned against Rome and made allegiance with the same Volscians he had once fought against. Plutarch's account of his defection tells that Coriolanus donned a disguise and snuck into the home of a wealthy Volcian noble, a certain Tullus Aufidius, and appealed to him as a suppliant. Coriolanus and Aufidius then persuaded the Volscians to break their truce with Rome and raise an army to invade. When Coriolanus' Volscian troops threatened the city, Roman matrons, including his wife and mother, were sent to persuade him to call off the attack. At the sight of his mother, wife and children throwing themselves at his feet in supplication, Coriolanus relented, withdrew his troops from the border of Rome, and retired to Aufidius' home city of Antium. Aufidius then raised support to have Coriolanus put on trial by the Volcians, and then formed a conspiracy to assassinate him before the trial had ended.

The tale of Coriolanus' appeal to Aufidius is quite similar to a tale from the life of Themistocles, a leader of the Athenian_democracy who was a contemporary of Coriolanus (given the important dictinction that Themistocles was an actual historical figure and Coriolanus was not). During Themistocles' exile from Athens, he travelled to the home of Admetus, King of the Molossians, a man who was his personal enemy. Themistocles came to Admetus in disguise and appealed to him as a fugitive, just as Coriolanus appealed to Aufidius. Themistocles, however, never attempted military retailiation against Athens.

1 This introduction is derived from the entry in Wikipedia

2 Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59