Best Drupal HostingBest Joomla HostingBest Wordpress Hosting
Presses Universitaires François-Rabelais


By Alexandre Hardy,


Three words will summarize this subject, so well treated and set forth in all its particulars by Plutarch in the life of this great personage, which I would unhesitatingly recommend the reader to consult as its true source. And it will suffice to say that Coriolan, after many notable services rendered to his country, is finally constrained to yield to the envy of the Roman people, who, for supposed crimes, condemn him to perpetual exile. The injury is so keenly felt and so incompatible with his great spirit that he resolves on vengeance at whatever cost. With this design he resorts to Amfidie, the military leader of the Volscian people, a strong nation and the chief enemy of the Romans, who had taken many towns from them. Amfidie receives him with the utmost courtesy, has him in full assembly elected their field commander against the Romans, whom, with a strong arm, he reduces to defending themselves in the city of Rome, under siege from all sides. The Romans, after some resistance, and assaulted by famine and by dissensions within, as by enemies from without, send to him one ambassador after another. But his irreconcilable hatred leads him to propose to them conditions of peace so unequal, shameful, and impossible to imagine that, when they return unsuccessfully, the priests are dispatched in solemn pomp, so that piety might move him with greater pity for his wretched country, from which his exile had removed good fortune. But this was fruitless effort as far as he was concerned, for he seemed to live and breathe only for the total destruction of his own people. In the midst of the general despair, at the persuasion and sole initiative of Valerie, a virtuous Roman lady of the race of Publicola, his mother, his wife, and his children went to seek him out in his camp, to such an effect that their prayers struck home, and that, natural instinct having prevailed over that inflexible constancy, he caused the siege to be raised by the Volsciens. The latter killed him at his return at the instigation of Amfidie, his rival for glory, as a traitor to their nation and one who, when he could have taken Rome, forfeited the occasion to gratify a mother. Few subjects will be found in Roman history more worthy of the theatre than this one.


Chorus of Romans,
The Senate,
Council of the Volscians,
Troupe of Roman Women,
Chorus of Volscians,


Act I

Scene I


If truly, Jupiter, your punishing right hand
Deals dreadful justice no wrongdoer can withstand,
If lightning-bolts you wield to avenge the offence
A mob of ingrates commits against innocence,
If always in quarrels you take the righteous part,
Will you not punish the criminal boldness, upstart
Insolence, the gross and irreparable wrong
Whose imprint on my heart and brow is still so strong?
Those that I preserved at the peril of my life,
A revolted rabble of plebeian slaves, rife
With rebellion, the scum of the earth, which profusion
Of liberty provokes to propagate confusion –
Those who have served in armies under my command,
Who know my victories dispersed in every land,
Who thanks to me alone dwell in grandeur and peace,
With ardent hostility conspire my decease,
Dare with words and with deeds to do me injuries,
Slight that name which at the walls of Corioles
My valour gained for itself, when all in one day,
That town subdued, back to the camp I made my way,
Which, from the city under siege a certain distance,
Prepared to offer the relieving force resistance.
There my right hand, unflagging in the acts of Mars,
Could not be content to venture on common jars,
Obtained the Consul's order to take on in the fight
The one who had best hope of countering its might,
Antium's brave warrior – whom that hand struck home,
Thus rescuing from death a citizen of Rome
In the sight of all, who, enraptured by the marvel,
Judged at that moment that my valour had no equal,
Saw me out of breath, with my bloody wounds all stained,
So many foes defeated, with such travail pained,
Pursuing nonetheless their army in full flight,
A human flood dispersed by a cowardly fright,
Pursuing as does the furious charging bull
In a grassy pasture his unfortunate rival;
So did I perform, seeking the glory alone
Of public recognition, for my virtue known,
More content to see my garlanded head surrounded
With leaves of Dodona, where Oracles abounded,2
My praises, chanted by the common mouth, to hear,
Than with treasures confined beneath the lunar sphere,
More content to bring my mother in victory
An unspoken joy, my heart exulting within me,
To receive her praise, in her sweet embrace sustained,
Than to enrich my greed with heaps by pillage gained.
But what good have I gleaned from all the blood I shed?
Why by an honour now proved vain was I so led?
That was where the serpent of Envy took its birth,
And as my glory increased, so it grew in girth.
Envy has since incited against me the hate
Of the idle commons in our city called "great" –
Hate that has carried to this point of insolence:
But that the Senate rendered their rage less intense,
Condemned to death with no formality of trial,
All hopes of curbing their excess met with denial,
My head from the Tarpeian rock precipitated
Would have slaked their fury bloodthirsty and frustrated.
Yes, and one more time again I must be exposed
To whatever concocted lies may be imposed:
I must deign to answer – I, come of such a race –
Before the Tribunes and a populace so base,
Abiding its judgement: O you heavens! I blush
At the thought!3 I should have hurtled into the crush,
Dying with my sword in hand, magnanimously,
Purging with its blood such crass criminality.
Be sure, you hydra with the hundred heads, be sure,
Vessel that changing winds blow in endless detour,
That as I see it – this is no slanderous wrong – 4
The insult will not remain unpunished for long.
Your potency usurped I will render so slight
That nevermore between us will be any fight,
And I shall wholly extinguish your raging madness –
But my mother comes to meet me in anxious sadness.5
This is the fateful day that will grant you, my son,
Your enemies by your humility undone:
You shall crush, by bearing, the fierce ingratitude
And the malignant rancour of that multitude;
You charm its angry rage the instant you give way.
Alas! Do not, therefore, let your passion hold sway.
Yield but for a moment, and they will be content,
And so you will pacify a horrible torment
Causing divided Rome to tremble in your name:
Piety could not have any worthier aim
Or be shown, towards a mother, more becomingly –
Or towards the country – than in heeding my plea.
Madam, a thousand deaths you will see me endure
Rather than supplicate its pardon to procure,
Rather than give a vile people reason to vaunt
That by imprinting fear my spirit they could daunt,
That those who as their lord ought to acknowledge me
Should prevail in honour to the smallest degree;
What, me go before the commons on bended knee!
No, I will not do it, and I fear not their fury.
Yet you are accused – before them you must respond.
My innocence is for me, the Senate my bond.
Innocence often yields when faced with calumny.6
These Tribunes made you suspected of tyranny,
A crime whose mere name in each and every nation
Was, and always in Rome will be, abomination –
Capable of killing, all forms of law aside,
Anyone at all with such foul suspicion dyed.
Willful suspicion – to refute it will be easy;
No detriment whatever can such slander do me.
If only you humble yourself, I do not doubt
Your peaceful discharge: the people will hear you out.
It shall never happen that my humility
Shall increase their credit, and their temerity.
Wretched Volomnie! O mother unfortunate!
You see yourself disdained, your offspring obstinate.
Your counsel, your reasons, your prayers, your tears' full flood
Cannot moderate these hot outbursts of his blood,
Nor bring him from that storm-cloud to withdraw his head
Which from afar you show him beginning to spread.
Yet again, my child, as my only comfort cherished,
By the sacred spirit of your father long-perished,
By these hands that embrace your warlike countenance,
By piety, once yours in any circumstance,
By these grey hairs, these breasts which in your infancy
Once nourished you, by this profound anxiety
Which for your sake devours my fear-stricken soul,
In this danger keep your anger under control;
Out of pure pity let my appeal overrule,
Let me turn your frail barque away from this whirlpool.
Consider my salutary words in your heart;
Reflect that pride ever dwells alone and apart,
That in regions far from this people who are free,
Sometimes a king will swerve from rigid monarchy,7
Yields to the will of one who holds the upper hand,
Hides his losses and, prudent, fails to reprimand.
Patience prevails – it overcomes everywhere;
No road so arduous that patience falters there.
Here is another point worthy consideration:
With the peace it desires enjoyed by our nation,
Men such as you are bound to be the most neglected,
Most wronged by plebeians with insolence infected.
Their leaders are treated as the plane-tree is used –
In tranquil weather by the traveller abused,
Who strips its foliage, which is later regretted
When by a vengeful cloud he is thoroughly wetted.
Just so we see cast high and dry upon the shore
A ship the ravages of time in pieces tore,
Which the thankless merchant has often dispossessed
Of the Indies' coveted treasures, East and West,
A ship that built his fortune, kept his life in safety.
Such, even such, are the daily effects of envy,
Examples to make you yield with a softened air,
Withdraw yourself from trouble and free me from care.
Madam, my honour safe, I will do anything.
Listen, there's someone at the door, it's opening . . .
Gods! An Aedile! My senses have never so trembled.
Scene II

Chorus of Romans,
The Senate

The Senate, the Tribunes, and the people assembled
Summon you, resolved to settle your case at once;
Therefore do not delay in obeying their summons.
Let us go, since the course of unjust destiny
Hands us over to that hydra of mutiny;
Let us go put its gross imposture to the test
And call on the gods the injury to attest.
Jupiter! Divine protector of our whole nation,
May you protect my son – that is my supplication:
Inspire his heart8 and restore to harmony
This country divided, by your pitiful mercy.
That you may purge yourself of crimes laid to your charge,
Attempted crimes against the commonwealth at large,
The people by me, their Tribune, command that you
Respond to my question; the answer is now due.
For what reason, in the first place, have you prevented
That to which the rest of the Senate had consented
For the Sicilian wheat donation: the free
Gift of part, the remainder sold reasonably9
A recompense our needy citizens have earned
Long since for brave and tiring feats, who, now returned
To their lands, the burdens borne of many campaigns,
Bear nothing more than blows to pay them for their pains.
Can you deny it – that brutal enormity
Of injustice, greater still of impiety?
Can you deny it that your soul, replete with hate,
Of the furies of Enyo10 has broached the floodgate –
That being thus a troubler of the public peace,
Fomenting sedition when all conflict should cease,
You have well merited capital punishment?
Besides which, we know your treacherous thirst and bent
For tyranny, your ardent striving for that goal,
Which our laws' restraint was unable to control,
Which, the people's enemy, weakens their position,
Purports to bring about their absolute submission
To you, so haughty that addressing you wastes breath;
For these reasons I am the first to vote for death,
If to the charges levelled, as one may suppose,
Inadequate are the defences you oppose.
Although I might seek revenge, being so aggrieved,
And so return an injury for one received,
I, refused the people's voice – ungrateful refusal
That shamefully denied me the honour of Consul –
I, who cannot bring myself with cunning intent
To show them this scarred body, that they may relent,
To cause them to remember in how many battles
I made camps of foes overflow with funerals.
Invincible, more grandeur on Rome I bestowed,
Enriched with experience, by good fortune followed.
Though rejected, yet no motive of spite provoked
My argument against the subsidy revoked,
But only fear that, treated so generously,
The vulgar should swell their arrogance monstrously
And make a rule of the custom thus acquired
Of forcing the Senate to do what they desired.
As for the last crime cited of affecting power,
If that plague has tainted my soul at any hour,
If it can be proven against my innocence,
Let the people's vengeance be extreme and intense,
Let them destroy my body, no agony sparing,
Torment me with dismemberment, burning and tearing.
You know it, great Gods, spectators of human thought –
But, then, no surprise to find such ambushes wrought,
Against all appearance and far from verity,
By you, fire-brands of the commons' mutiny!
This you cannot disprove, deny it as you please,
That of the booty won from the Antietes,
By unfair distribution, partiality,
On your own initiative, and by your decree,
Those who remained behind to guard the town for you,
Whose heedful services were hardly without value,
Have nevertheless been cheated out of their share,
A crime to which infinite witnesses will swear,
Who here – the worse for you – seek vengeance in this presence
If not for tyranny, at least for negligence.
O perverse deception! Wicked malignity!
How far will you go in your effort to destroy me?
Whatever do you have in your heads? And what blot
Upon faith was ever more cursed, what fouler plot?
Purveyors of falsehood, you had given your word
Not to pursue me, that never more would be heard
This term of tyranny, and now, those declarations
Dead as your faith, you spring on me new fabrications.
I call to witness Quirinus,11 and you, my father;
You, Mars, held my guardian more than any other;
You also I call to witness, O hardy band,
Who graced the risk I took propitiously in hand,
Noble upholders of the mighty Roman sword,
Deserving rather heaven than such a ditto,
See, see, how they now hold your leader up to scorn,
How from manly virtue my destruction is born;
See how they prefer you in reclusive repose,
How payment of those wages they wrongly oppose
That you acquired sword in hand, your lives laid on the line;
Behold my justice tainted with thievish design
For dispensing only to you who followed me
The spoil of those dispatched in our victory.
Ha! Their mere numbers impose a chill restraint:
My plea to you is futile, in vain my complaint.
Chorus of Romans
He begins, our rogue lion, to sink to the ground;
Let's make sure he never has the strength to rebound;
May we be left untouched by his compelled submission,
For equally affected is our own position.
It remains that the votes of all should be collected,
So as to condemn him or have his guilt rejected.
Aedile, lose no time, let them tribe by tribe be polled
That the fate of this haughty man may be enrolled.
The Senate
Shall we be cowards and permit unbridled chaos?
Plebeians in a fury, blinded, envious,
To weigh the fortunes of the Senate's champion?
To let ourselves in him be wildly trampled on?
We should, if need be, die together as one man,
All die at his feet – but save him if we can.
Wretched Coriolan! See yourself then the prey
Of the people, apt again to be cast away.
At their untender mercy, see your life in turmoil.
Why have you not yet, O Clotho,12 unwound my coil?
Why did you not prevent, by cutting short my thread,
This second calumny, a fate unmerited?
Following ancient prescripts, spelled out legally,
You have been convicted by a margin of three;
The people of Rome have tempered your punishment
To exile for life – a sentence too lenient;
Return to Rome is forever prohibited,
And if found here tomorrow, you shall lose your head.
You would be well advised to show obedience,
Conforming your will to the letter of the sentence.
I will obey it – yes, yes, surely with all speed
I'll leave behind these ingrates before they have need.13
Chorus of Romans
Go, go, monster of pride, seek a home elsewhere now –
Find some fearful people your threatening can cow.
Yea, what people, except of the dark forest lands,
Or those whom Africa holds on its golden sands,
Or whom Hydaspes conceals on its desert shore,
Would suit the brutal savagery of your demeanour?14
Never has Rome witnessed a day of more delight
Than this at hand, which must divide it from your sight;
And never have we brought back from an enemy
A trophy more glorious, useful, salutary.
The Senate
Ah, gods! Whoever would have thought it? Our indulgence
Has been our downfall, brought to light this insolence,
Spurred the commons to this act of temerity,
The outrage done us all by this last injury.
Henceforth, henceforth no point in clinging to the hope
That our authority may serve to curb their scope.
Henceforth we shall wear the collar of servitude
Because we have allowed – O base ingratitude! –
The light of the Senate, its glory, its mainstay,
By voting plebeians to be driven away.

Act II

Scene I


Devoured by my thoughts, offended in my soul,
From one plan to another recklessly I roll,
Frustrated by the fury that boils in my brain
Like one who wants water his writing to retain,
Arrest the rapid swirl of a whirlpool in motion
Or force the flooding tide to return to the ocean.
Come now, let us settle on a scheme well designed,
A project that will hold in growing from my mind,
One up to bringing down the haughty Roman state,
Though that will be a trifle, compared with my hate –
A trifle to create a mournful wilderness,
Where spirits for eternity stray in distress;
Revenged, to make of that town, with pride overblown,
A tomb strewn over with stones, with grass overgrown;
Playing no favourites, both its parties to destroy –
Matched with the wrong I've had, that's nothing, a mere toy.
That slime of a populace ignoble and vile
Had the strength and audacity to force my exile
In full view of the Senate, which I thought to keep
As my last refuge – wrongly, for those timid sheep
Offered for my rescue mere womanish complaining,
Their silence seeming to accept my honour's staining.
Friendship makes itself known in trying situations:
It is not much to melt in mournful lamentations,
With words to pity one supposedly held dear
And at the same time let his honour disappear,
Permit him to be hounded from his native clime:
One is just a greater, the other less a crime;
But they appear no different to my angry eyes:
Gods of vengeance, favour, favour my enterprise!
Grant me that I may, whatever the cost to me
– Never does one avenged receive an injury –
Enkindle fatal war, whose flames shall hurtle down
Upon the enemies within my native town –
War crueller than the Theban conflict, where each brother
Coloured crimson his hands with the blood of the other.15
Grant me that, since I'm by the same ruin oppressed,
We may free all Latin peoples with fear distressed.16
Equity obliges: it cannot, cannot be
That such a base foundation should tower so grandly,
That the simple shepherds who founded our race
In their grandsons spurn the proudest in highest place;
By violence in mortal actions is foretold
An early ending17 – well, theirs clearly fit the mould.
Elect me, therefore, the instrument of your ire,
So that, as it was hatched, I may snuff out their empire.
Among infinite nearby states to war inclined,
The Volsces are potent; they alone, to my mind,
Have good hope of confronting my ungrateful country.
My valour, backed by their tried assiduity,
A noted leader at their head, one who the foes'
Essential secrets already thoroughly knows,
Being versed in their tricks by long experience,
One for whom Mars has been the study, the sole science;
Certainly, then – for I have not the slightest doubt –
I will get the state of Rome utterly wiped out.
True enough, that nation some losses has sustained –
But light ones, such as in a wink may be regained;
Losses that have rather doubled its hostile urge
Than overwhelmed with hopelessness a troubled courage –
Losses, in sum, that have only increased its hate,
But meant that revenge for opportunity must wait,
Such as now I offer by my intervention.
But wait now:18 with him alone I am in contention
For glory – he who holds their great republic's reins,
And on whom first I am obliged to spend my pains.
A hundred times have we been, by honour induced,
Blind with fury, to the extremity reduced
Of challenging each other in our armies' sight
To death or total fame of conquest in the fight.
You are wrong: for his magnanimous spirit, new
Moved with compassion, will hold out the hand to you,
Allow itself to give way to your gentle prayer,
If reverent intensity is brought to bear.
I will disguise myself in a garment unknown,
By which the loss I've suffered may be frankly shown,
And in that attire his dwelling19 penetrate;
The most barbarous tribes respect that sacred gate;
But let us proceed, whom nothing worse could betide:
In extreme misfortune, everything must be tried.
Scene II


So, it seems to me, you heavenly gods intend
The conquests of Rome without limit to extend
To the edge of the world; by decree of the Sisters,20
They must be the universe's peaceful possessors;
Their arms pushing further, which no one can withstand,
Must range from the west as far as the icy strand,
From the east to the south, despite all opposition,
The hindrance of neighbours in the strongest position;
An edict of destiny has granted their boon
To vanquish this whole round of earth circled by Neptune;
And have you no fear that later they may be tempted
To remount the monstrous feats the Titans21 attempted –
That they, the earth's obscure abortive spawn – no more –
May send to you in heaven to declare a war,
That they, not meeting with resistance here below,
May seek to deal Jupiter a usurping blow?
No, no, you do your prescience a great disservice
If such a fearful prospect does not make you nervous –
If you dream that that people, for conquest on fire,
The world once subjugated, should not then aim higher.
You do yourselves great wrong – and us, abjectly under
The thumb of these wretched slaves, nothing but their plunder:
Slaves born of brigands gathered at Romulus' call –
He who sullied with his brother's blood the wall
He built,22 established his rule with a parricide
Worthy of the wheel to which Ixion was tied.23
Yet gradually this impious man gained strength,
As one sees from a spark a great blaze grow at length,
Or as from a breeze a storm blows up fierce and mighty
Which strikes with fear the denizens of Amphitrite24
An accident, truth to tell, strange in the extreme,
An accident resembling a deceptive dream,
And which would make me in the end acknowledge
The glory of power as Fortune's privilege,25
That unjust marks of greatness she alone distributes,
Regarding neither good nor evil attributes.
Ah, that doubt is killing, to gnaw me never spares,
Plunges me into a gulf of troubles and cares:
That I could not yet stop them feels like my death-blow.26
But a servant comes running. What transports you so?
A stranger who entered your house just recently
By sleight, deceiving our vigilance cleverly,
Grave of countenance and with a supplicant's air
(For we have done our utmost to send him elsewhere),
Desires, my lord, to speak with you, and reveals
Extreme assurance by following at my heels.
Scene III


Who are you? What brings you here? What was your intention
In seeking this meeting, contrived with such invention,
So deviously, brazenness with fear combined –
As well as with a sad, imploring, downcast mind;27
Speak out freely, then, holding nothing in reserve:
My aid is accessible to those who deserve.
On that assurance I disclose myself to you:
My name comprises that hate I strove to pursue
By killing Volsces on many a battlefield;
Corioles knows it, which my strength forced to yield;
From it I took my name: it is I, Amfidie,
Whom my own people, by ungrateful perfidy
Possessed – traitors! – reward with shameful banishment.
Make use, then, of this offence, back upon them bent;
Your foes thus make return with honourable interest:
Use me, to vengeance of our common wrong addressed
And thwarting of Rome's pride, which all restraint withstands;
I have the same spirit, as well as the same hands.
Same spirit, did I say? – no, of another kind:
My right hand stronger still, and more subtle my mind;
They, inspired by rancour, will find greater fame
For deeds done against Rome than for those in its name.28
But if by your lordship I am to be refused,
Let me as a victim of your fury be used,
Both joyful and content to cease all resistance,
My days thereby severed from the sweet hope of vengeance –
My hope being fixed on it, which, if it should fail,
Would render life to me at once cruel and stale,
Obliging me to have recourse to my right hand
And deal with Acheron, since men don't understand.29
Pluck up your courage, you captain unconquered still!
You will certainly obtain the Volsces' good will,
Into their protection will be, I pledge, received;
As for the rancorous rivalry we conceived
For glory between us, leaders of enemies,
Henceforth I abjure it, touched by your miseries,
Examples to me who, from the inconstancy
Of spiteful commoners may suffer equally.
Through you, then, let them know a man can do them harm,
Though slighted – how far they must fear his wrathful arm.
Let them learn to cherish and grace in his position
One able to bring down their exalted condition,
One – I will not mince words in stating it before you –
Whose right arm served their power as the nerve and sinew,
As a basis for pride, a rampart and a shield.
But what malignant spirit has their eyes so sealed30
So favourably for us – has dazzled their prudence
That they dare as far as yourself extend their licence,
Attack your glory with insults unjust, directed
Against one to whom altars should have been erected?
The crime's enormity, the size of the injury –
Such an occurrence fills me with perplexity.
Alas, do you wonder that the envious biting
Of popular enmity can cause such a slighting?
Have you from such biting been exempted thus far?
Yes, you were born beneath a more fortunate star,
Of innocent lambs the unperturbed governor,
While I, poor man, was cursed with those lions that roar,
Barbarians adept in fraud, in treachery,
Who sought to make me suspected of tyranny –
Falsely accused, the gods I summon to attest,
Of that very crime which above all I detest –
With them both judge and witness, wretched in the end,
I was forced to come implore you to stand my friend.
Why did not the Senators, drawn up on your side,
With their authority turn the assault aside,
Repress the mad excesses of a mob confused,
Which, the more strength it gets, the more that is abused?
(It tries, little by little, to acquire stature
And a rank forbidden by Heaven and by nature.)
Could they not have boldly, by plausible pretence,
Reversed, if they were resolute, your cruel sentence?
The timid Senate quailed when my need was extreme;
The hope I founded on it proved a mocking dream.
They have seen – O shame! – the armed rabble of the town
Mount an attack against my life, and my renown,
Opposing it with words alone, with the intent
To save me from death by accepting banishment;
They think me grateful for the shameful life they buy,
A life at the mercy of the first passer-by.
They have no feeling for the slight they've done to me;
My soul, already furious, would like to see
Them gathered in the open, both at the same time,
And punish all together tainted by that crime.
I will do it, provided your community
Is willing to rely upon my loyalty.
You need not doubt that on this side we are resolved.
My only wish is that our truce could be dissolved,
So we might confront the Romans equitably,
Tangling them anew in nets of hostility;
Set your mind to pondering some malignant ruse,
Which a pretence of honesty would let us use.
Given extreme desire, a short while suffices
To furnish me baits and hooks, sufficient devices;
I'll have them drawn despite themselves into the lists.
Dealing with the malicious, no malice exists;
Against someone treacherous to make use of treason,
Lay ambushes for him, is the dictate of reason.
Come, whether the helm of the ship of state I'm handed,
Or to try the fortune of Mars I am commanded,
I hope I shall fulfil my charge in such a sort
That I shall earn from all a satisfied report.
May a bolt of lightning exploding from the skies
Into dusty powder my poor head pulverize
Before I show such ambition as above you
To command in the field. For I have found it true
That, equal in courage, in fortune I am exceeded;
You have more help from Fate and the graces needed
From heaven for victorious success in combat.
The rank of general – there is no doubt of that,
Should new war with Rome be the order of the day,
While I will take the public weal under my sway.
Let us save this discourse for the Council tomorrow,
And – the first step of my succour – these signs of sorrow
Put off at once, so that, transported with elation,
This evening I may dedicate to celebration
Of your coming – a sign of my sincerity,
Coriolan, in wishing you prosperity.31


Scene I

Chorus of Romans,
The Senate,

Chorus of Romans
Will you permit, great gods, one man leaving the city
To carry off Rome's fortune and felicity –
That those its walls enclose should freeze with fear of harms,
When they were rather used to frightening in arms
The rest of Italy's inhabitants,32 all regions
Combined, and with the fearsome show of warlike legions
Bowing down their cities, imposed on them the yoke?
And now to forfeit glory at a single stroke!
The Volsces, again and again in wars defeated,
The Volsces, who back to their own land had retreated –
Their power Rome now fears, besieged behind its wall.
Ah, how your hidden judgements may deceive us all,
How often hard for us to gauge the likelihood,
Alas, of what is harmful, what may do us good –
To recognize the source of our prosperity
And then preserve it safe in its integrity!
He whom we lately banned for the rest of his days,
Despised, consumes our city in his anger's blaze.
He has changed sides – no more – and all at once
Destiny has turned a direful face upon us;
Destiny fights for him, graces with gain his army,
Threatens with his fetters our ancient liberty.
Incredible prodigy! Strange and cruel effects
Of Her33 who so quickly destroys what she erects –
Who, fickle, delights to stir up trouble galore
For people whom her shade had sheltered just before.34
Alas, we feel it, in our inmost spirits daunted,
Those virtues wholly lost that our ancestors vaunted,
Devoid of counsel, all defenceless and forlorn,
Helpless as the infant in its cradle new-born;
We are stopped dead, as is the vessel in its course
By that fish endowed by nature with wondrous force,35
And are constrained to ask his pardon for our error.
Ah, for all of us I inwardly quake with terror
Lest his arrogance, at our pleas increased in pride,
May not by our ambassadors be mollified,
Lest he pursue his revenge with obstinacy
And not from a fatal siege deliver our city –
As fatal as that siege which for ten years oppressed
Ilium, once by our forefathers possessed.
The Senate
The madman rarely calms himself and turns more wise
Until he has received a disastrous surprise;
He persists in the error of his vain delusion
To the point of producing his utter confusion.
So you in your frenzy ever turned a deaf ear
To well-intentioned warnings not to persevere,
Refusing in due time wholesome counsel to swallow,
For which now – but too late – in repentance you wallow.
To no avail the Senate pointed out to you
The harm to his former town such a man would do –
That one day he might avenge his wrong, to the peril
Both of the state itself and of the common people.
We were not believed; no, you gloried in great style
For vanquishing the Senate by forcing his exile –
A victory absurd, which still smacks of the one
Accomplished by the army of Agenor's son,36
A victory that remains mournful for the victors,
Disposing them, not for laurels, but for remorse.
But what good may be gained from the contrary strife
Of limbs divided when one body gives them life?37
Chorus of Romans
Of our affliction you may discourse at your leisure,
Your goods being safe from his fiery displeasure;
In the fields, the traitor has ordered them preserved,
With soldiers assigned to see his command observed.38
If the fault was ours alone, so ours is all the pain,
We alone the victims of his rage inhumane.
Why then reproach us, with such importunity,
For an evil from which you have immunity?
Why forbid us the attempt to assuage our anguish
By lamenting the agony in which we languish?
The Senate
O the simplicity, error, and impudence
To think there's no anger towards us in his intents,
No hidden rancour, bitterness, and enmity,
That more than the commons' he spares our property,
Cunning as he is, but for one reason – to sow
Discord between us, more strongly the flame to blow,
Now that we face together ruin absolute
And are bound to pluck out that discord by the root,39
Now that we require a peace between us more –
To help each other – than we ever did before;
You remember, blind men, with whom we have to do,
That he fights with courage, but with subterfuge too,
That where he knows he faces failure if he uses
Achilles' strength, too well he wields Ulysses' ruses.
Such, such he is, I promise, and many a deed
He has done with us is the only proof I need;
I only seek to liken the past to the present.
But now, alas, we have fresh word of his intent;
Here come our deputies, whose mournful looks downcast
Reflect his rancour without bounds, and bound to last.
Friends, what success have you had? With what disposition
Has he, that heartless man, responded to our mission?
Worse than the worst barbarian – infinitely;
But for sceptre and crown, effusing royalty
Just like a king, disdains quite simply to give ear
To those he used to have as his companions here,
Resolved to extirpate his country's very name,
And not before to mitigate his fury's flame.
Chorus of Romans
Wretched citizens of a city facing doom!
Peace we may hope to find when we are in the tomb.
The Senate
But did he to any settlement close the door?
The terms he offers are no different from war.
Chorus of Romans
O heavens, all is lost!
The Senate
Briefly now, please relate
The penalty that is exacted by his hate.
As everybody knows, after the truce expired
And he again advanced his troops, which had retired,40
We, as the people's and the Senate's good behooved,
Beseeched him to command his camp to be removed
Beyond the frontiers of Rome, said,41 if that were done,
That everything within the bounds of right and reason
Would be conceded with a spirit free and willing.
But he, with the turmoil of angry passion thrilling,
With rancour breathing deeply, his gaze turned aside,
Haughtily and curtly your petition denied,
Answered that he, as general, did not possess
A remedy or solace fitting our distress,
But, as a Roman of a patriotic bent,
Foreseeing that Rome's glory is doomed to interment,
Since the destinies take umbrage at great ambition,
He offered us, dispassionate, this admonition:
Render the Volsces, now stronger, the towns we conquered,
Which we have pillaged of their riches and dishonoured;
Promise never again to instigate a war;
Renounce claims against them pretended heretofore.
Thus, he said, would we enjoy the peace so desired;
Thus would his favour be assuredly acquired;
Thus our ship avoids42 the close-looming rocks and foam,
And his army would abandon the walls of Rome –
Giving us three days only to deliberate
(At those words Jupiter, when thundering his hate,
Appears less harsh) – moreover, with this stipulation:
That then, excluding all further negotiation,
To punish us his army would enter the town.
Chorus of Romans
O city ill-starred, what's become of your renown?
The Senate
More artful in secret to have sounded him out,
While plying the Volsces with speeches roundabout.
Yes, except that he prevented our clever scheme –
After a council, called those highest in esteem
To hear the embassy, at once gave us no choice
But point by point to declare it in a loud voice.
Chorus of Romans
Come, let us shed our blood to feed his cruelty,
Sooner than submit ourselves again to his mercy;
Come, we'll hurl ourselves on his squadrons sword in hand;
A noble end at least remains at our command.
The Senate
No, return to him now, reiterate our prayers;
The variable sunlight that the same day shares
Shows us that a man can equally change his mind,
Can alter from severity to being kind.
In case of rebuff, there remains a final chance –
To send to him our very priests as suppliants,
Who, out of piety, will cause him to relent.
Make haste, and may our danger make you diligent.
Although the prospect of success is worse than bleak,
We will try to get from him the answer you seek.
Chorus of Romans
O bitter destinies! Must our sorrow's flood-tide
Serve to swell a tyrant's insufferable pride?
Must we on a Busiris43 for pity depend,
When saving him brought us to this pitiful end?44
Scene II
My vengeance almost half achieved, within my reach,
The impudent plebs, who dared my fame to impeach,
Trusting in their numbers and the name of the city,
Bear, as I see fit, their yoke with servility;
Twice, through their ambassadors, they have seen refused
The pact they pleaded for, repentant and confused,
And cannot hope for it, whatever they may do.
Attempting, now humbled, to gain my grace anew,
To draw me apart, by corruption to entreat –
That is no way to moderate my anger's heat,
Nor will extinguish it, till their glory, supine
And level with lesser peoples', ceases to shine,
When, satiated, I've laid their power so low –
The happiness their luck in combat caused to grow –
That with impunity each subjugated nation
Shall compensate their crime, exacting reparation.
Nothing happens without a cause, and the provident
Gods, on whom we fallible mortals are dependent,
Know how to set our arrogance on reason's path,
Supplied, when they please, with an instrument of wrath,
An instrument like me against the vanity
The Romans flaunt, abusing too much liberty.
O sacred, O most righteous, O terrible justice!
For Coriolan to carry it out – what bliss!45
Avenged, the summit of your wishes you attain;
Avenged, a pattern to our children you remain;
Avenged, you'll have acquired more honour, more glory,
Than this arm ever won in another victory:
Then suppress from this time forth devouring care.
But my thoughts and spirit wander I know not where.
Am I wrong? No, here again their mission they send,
Which in a shamefully concluded peace will end.46
Scene III


Again, one final time, your lamentable city
Begs you to use mercy in its adversity.
One final time, if your pity may be procured,
We say your pardon by the people is assured,
A repeal to which all have subscribed their desire,
Repeal of your exile, which to us was so dire,
Praying you, moreover, to give us audience
Somewhere in private, and to hear us out with patience.
Soldiers, bid the lords of the Council to assemble.47
At the glance his eye shoots forth, I begin to tremble.
Confer with me apart on matters that are public!
If you do not desist from such a two-faced trick,
By treating you as merely treacherous suborners
Who seek to bait me and corrupt me in dark corners,
We'll have you all taught a lesson! Now, with all present,
Tell us if the Romans, induced to turn repentant,
Are willing to restore those lands where they intrude,
Thus ending the siege, or prefer it continued.
If you don't bring the peace prescribed on that condition,
Have I not denied you access to our position?
Should it please you, mollified, those under your sway
To withdraw from our confines, moving them away,
As much as equity permits them to accord
They will accord you, being desirous of concord.48
Impudence! Is that the beginning and the end?
No farther than that does our commission extend.
Then what now authorizes your return to me?
All things are permitted for the good of one's country.
You may seek a good but the harm will be your own.
You might speak without passion, take another tone.
No passion moves my soul beyond its normal state.
Of the temple of Janus, therefore, close the gate.49
Betraying my party just to gratify you?
No, deigning by peace to make one people of two.
That is what I wish, on terms of equality.
Equality, or you decrease your people's glory.50
Assassins, ingrates – my people, you dare to call them?
You always wished – and must wish – that good may befall them.
They are all guilty, and all I repudiate.
With milder words, at least, our evils mitigate.
With the first that I spoke their destiny was sealed.
Your own country's honour as a prize will you yield?
I have no country but where my fortune may flourish.51
Rome remains, however, the one that did you nourish.
Rome is the one that wished me to my death pursued.
Let your love compensate for her ingratitude.
Importune me no longer with a vain petition.
To others more welcome we relinquish our mission.
I forbid anyone to come, no matter who,
If he seeks to dispute the peace I've offered you.
We shall convey this latest woeful information.
And I continue more devoted in my station,
Employing my valour and my dexterity
For those who took me in in my calamity.
O bravest of the brave, incomparable sun!
How with the loss of yours, our happiness was won!
How much we needed such a chief, and in what measure
Your virtue must, regarded as an earthly treasure,
Oblige one who holds it to stay on its good side:
The boldest are broken when with it they collide.
Fortune is its follower; fortune itself cannot
Revoke what now is purposed by a single jot.

Act IV

Scene I

Troupe of Women.

How can you doubt that the gods my courage inspire?
Those good gods whose altars, as waves still tower higher
Above our fragile vessel, all now supplicate
Abjectly? Often miracles originate
In a heart made humble by fear, and singled out
That therein faith in heaven's aid alone may sprout
To render its advice the means of benefit--
Besides which I should think such conduct most unfit,
Worthy some Idol's offspring, not the noble state
Conferred by the blood of Publicola the great,
If any thought of mine were not put to the test
That might profit my country, by hardship oppressed--
Prepared to make a peace full of ignominy,
A peace worth no more than the yoke of tyranny;
A peace to make our ancestors bristle in horror
If they should gaze down upon our cowardly error.
Now the gracious gods have expressly shown their will
That a pledge should remain in our safekeeping still
From our foes' chief, a pledge more than commonly laden
With love and pity: his mother, dear wife, and children.
To implore their succour, implore their potency,
To speak for all of you I'll take the liberty.
Let us then go find them.
Troupe of Women
Let us, since you are willing,
The augury of good hope such power instilling
In you--though first we should go together and see
What the Senate wants us to do, it seems to me.
Not so: when intents thus virtuous are proposed,
The great gods authorise them, and the case is closed!
Scene II


Madman, what have you done–-by what strange urge incited
To ensure your own glory eternally blighted?
Foe to all the honour that your former deeds bore you,
You consent that a rival should be placed before you;
A foreign rival, a traitor and renegade,
Has been put in charge of the Volsces with your aid--
Commands absolutely, leads their troops to the fight;
Your praise is obscured while his own is shining bright;
Your credit is abolished, your renown extinguished.
So that now, when you find yourself wounded and anguished
By jealousy, to clip his wings will not be easy,
Nor to shake the faith of the common soldiery,
Who disdain to accept any other's commands,
Insist that all the authority in his hands
Remain irrevocably, and unless his eye
Falls on you for something--well, you need not apply.
Shall this shame be endured? O gulfs of Taenarus--
Down, instead, to your greedy Prince may you bear us!52
My life is worth only what honour will afford--
I can stand to have no equal, much less a lord.
What's more, he has proffered me a means of prevailing,
Having the occasion of a bold stroke, but failing--
Occasion, whose forelock alone provides a grip
And fills your hands with wind, if you should let it slip.53
But then he sought to lose it, giving a month's truce
To his quivering people, stewing in their juice;
Oh, well done!--so that Rome, while the siege was suspended,
With full permission and in all liberty mended
Its spirits, its courage, and now, stocked with supplies,
Mocks us to scorn, as our negligence justifies.
A traitor's faith is worth nothing; he knows no bounds;
He'll do the same thing whenever the music sounds
In his ear of his banishment's repeal: no doubt
We'll soon be hearing of the Volsces put to route.
As author of this harm, on me they'll turn their ire,
Murder me in my bed or set my house on fire.
Pattern of perfidy--go speed your preparation,
For I'll subject your life to close examination;
From now on I will set on you so many spies,
And your movements will be tracked by so many eyes
That you will have trouble putting a plot in place,
Except to your confusion, your bloody disgrace.
If not, I shall set such a trap when you come back
That your glory and your life shall both go to wrack.
Scene III

Troupe of Women,

Ladies, may it please Heaven as greatly to speed
This plan of ours as I warrant there is need.
Alas, I shall spare neither my tears nor my prayers;
As I depict them, still worse than they are our cares
Shall appear. Still worse than they are? That cannot be:
Poor Rome has never suffered such calamity,
Since twin brothers founded her on that riverside
Where, but for happy destiny, they might have died.
Sure not to be turned away by my angered son,
With a new city I'll replace the vanquished one.
Alas, these are mere words, words tossed into the air
Unfruitfully, which glide away, leave nothing there:
Can I, his mere mother, bow a hero's great mind,
One always more to his country's esteem inclined,
And glory, than to the affection of his parents –
Or to the very life we mortals breathe and sense.
Thus, from loving his country to extremity,
He now pursues it with an equal enmity--
Our ambassadors' brutal and bitter rebuff,
Petitioning in vain for peace, was proof enough,
And, worse testimony of his fury unchecked,
The praying of our sacred priests has no effect.
The power of a mother surpasses all power.
His duty to you has not failed at any hour.
Humble and respectful, a child so well-disposed,
Piety itself was the model he proposed,
And your weeping will mollify his heart of steel;
Thus Rome will have still another reason to feel
Thankful, more grateful to you than to the Sabine
Matrons who hurled themselves across the battleline
In Latium, making their fathers and husbands friends,
When Mars, roused to rage, was pursuing violent ends.54
Only take heart; courageously that fortune dare
Which we, companions with you, wish alike to share--
Whether shame or honour, death or security:
Whatever shall be Fate's immutable decree.
By taking risks without hope is madness betrayed.
But here hope smiles upon you and implores your aid.
So many others turned away daunts me with fear.
Their credit next to yours like mere smoke will appear.
Their credit comprehended the whole country's needs.
And who would refuse his own mother when she pleads?
Consider that his power on strangers depends.
The Volsces are just there to serve his vengeful ends.
The Volsces, bitter rivals with us for empire,
Our mortal enemies, must certainly aim higher;
They scarcely deploy for one person's situation
The entire armed forces of that warlike nation.
I would much rather see us straightaway refused –
To play thus with excuses cannot be excused.
Fortune frequently brings felicitous success
When one proceeds with hope and not in wretchedness.
Let me perish before, with an ingrate's disdain,
I refuse to plead for my country in its pain.
I refuse no longer, though I fear his refusal,
Fearing for good reason, if ever I was fearful;
Rebuffed or accepted, I shall not fail to sue:
Whether the end of a war or war's doubtful issue.
O pitiful gods, by whom good plans are created,
So just, so mild, your omnipotence consecrated,
Accompany my voice with a charm that may cleave
His stony heart; may I, in cleaving it, receive,
Receive remission of the wrongs he has endured,
Joined with the favour of a happy peace secured.
Let us go, dear daughter-in-law; with your chaste lips
Send that Mars's bitter rancour into eclipse,
And you, from your cradle, his sweet hope, noble seed,
Oblige your country to you in its dire need.55
Scene IV

Troupe of Women.

You Volscian lords, who do your republic proud,
Whose Olympian worthiness is well allowed,
This vital siege the Council calls us to pursue
Until, between the warring parties, one of two
Has lost, the Romans or ourselves--one bent on taking
Their wall-surrounded world, the other party staking
All on their defence: the outcome with certainty
Unknowable by any except destiny.
As far as human sense and knowledge can find out,
The capture of their stronghold hardly seems in doubt;
Whether compelled to give in quickly by attack
Or worn down by time, with less risk of loss and setback
(A course that spares blood, gains wisdom's approbation),56
The enemy must take the yoke with resignation:
He will have to agree to come to composition
Despite his resistance, along with his ambition.
Now, given the size of the force with which we're faced,
Proceeding by main strength appears to me a waste,
Like fighting shadows, advancing to fall behind.
When one fights for something so precious, one is blind
To dangers; for liberty, fortune, and one's race,
There is nothing impossible, nothing one will not face;
To the last gasp one struggles and will not relent--
As long as physically they still have nourishment
And vigorous blood boils undiminished in veins
That the rich plenitude of spirit swells and strains.
We are far from having to tame men who are famished,
Confined within their ramparts, enfeebled and vanquished,
Amid the children and women plaintively crying
And soul-abandoned carrion silently lying
In heaps--with fear of assaults, the pestilent air,
With Fate at their heels, worked harder than they can bear.
I judge that over time this siege will turn out grievous
And crushing for them, as much as it lightens us;
Such is my view--unless a better case opposing
Is made by someone as to what we are proposing:
Just as a single swallow does not make a spring,
One person's mind does not hold others on a string
And may go quite wrong, as often a horse more able
Loses all its bearings and cannot find the stable.57
Such is human weakness! But--blest divinity!
What troupe of women is making its way towards me?
I recognize my mother and my wife. Now then,
Arm yourself steadfastly, if ever you can harden
Yourself against her. Ah, affection that avails
More strongly than all else surpasses me, prevails;
I see them weep.58 O wife, model of modesty,
Do not provoke me further by your tears to pity;
Comfort yourself with hope, and you, my mother, too,
You to whom my homage for the light of life is due,
Whom I honour above all, to whom all I owe;
What now brings you to my presence? Let me know.
My motive, my child, for coming thus in sorrow
This old white head of mine may all too plainly show.
The fault is yours, alas, as you well know. My coming
Has the aim of causing from evil good to spring,
From war, a peace, on condition it may please you
To temper those fiery thoughts that now seize you
With reason; that it may please you to overlook
The insulting actions the raging people took
Against your merit--ignorant ingrates, to slight
Their benefactor, their refuge and guiding light!59
Now they cry to you for mercy, now they repent,
Now they would stir your heart, less inclined to relent,
With their calamities, their plaints dolefully sounded.
Now, your vengeance achieved, you hold their walls surrounded;
You may, father-like, having given punishment,
Render them a benefit: the Volsces indulgent.
You may and you must,60 pious and magnanimous,
That your renown may shine sublime and glorious,
That you may gain the thanks equally of each nation
By judging our disputes with even arbitration.
I would not, like a fool, counsel you to betray
Those who have engaged their army under your sway--
No more than to seek your country's calamity.
You must offer pardon, maintain fidelity,
Between two extremes, find a mid-way to proceed:
When it comes to the virtues, mercy takes the lead.
Ah, do you not see how dread of the cruellest fate
Keeps our minds ever-churning in an anguished state,
And more will pain your mother and your grieving wife,
If there is no dousing this deadly blaze of strife,
If--but such an outcome may the great gods forfend!--
My prayer is shamefully rejected in the end?
To hope that your camp may gain the victory,
That this nation erect a trophy to your glory:
That is stark impiety; that is mere treason.
But to wish the contrary? Alas, for what reason?
You are my blood, my flesh, my bones--in short, my son,
That which I love most by natural obligation.
So, if all hope is lost of achieving a peace,
I have determined not to defer my decease:
Across my dead body with armour on your back
You will lead your choice soldiers on to the attack.
My son, do not descend to such impiety!
By this breast at which your small mouth sucked milk from me,
By these eyes my tears have drained to the point of dearth,
By the mortal pains this woman felt at your birth,
Bringing you into the world by the chaste amours
Of the bond of wedlock, and by this child of yours,
Accord, I pray of you, accord me this my plea,
And promise to maintain our fearful lives in safety.
You reply not a word, you turn pale with remorse;
Your heart travails, shaken by superhuman force.
Ah, my son; ah, my son--take the pitiful path;
Know that you need not always forfeit to your wrath
All I've done for you. Come, embrace him and entreat--
And if he denies us, let us die at his feet;
Let his stony harshness together kill us all;
His vengeance entire--upon us let it fall.
Ah, mother, what have you done to rescue your nation?
My honour and life you betray to ruination;
For your country a victory happy and real,
But to your tamed offspring fatal, funereal.
Follow me. I will in secret with you converse
As to when and how I will make this camp disperse.
O power of pious speech, which heaven inspires!
More precious when beyond hope you grant our desires.
Vanquished by affection! This murmuring apart
Means nothing better than that we will soon depart.
To raise--and be mocked for it!--the siege of a city
So close to submission, reduced to extremity,
A city that had no greater hope of making it
Than we now possess any power of taking it.
To endure that a stranger should thus do us wrong!
But then, who could hold out against constraint so strong?
The depth of his piety he gives us to know,
Rather than his malice, in dealing us this blow.
Mother, you may reckon it as something assured,
Though, even as I vow it, my ruin is procured.
Return and deliver those ingrates from their fear,
Since you made that agreement before coming here.61
Son, they would credit it from no one in my stead;
My stay in your camp must be filling them with dread.
May Jupiter the Protector guard you, until
We see you again, and preserve you from all ill!
Do not hope for that till Erebus holds my life
Below.62 Mother, adieu; adieu, my faithful wife.
Ah, with that thought you throw my heart into confusion:
O great gods in heaven--may it prove vain illusion!

Act V

Scene I


Chill, pale, and trembling with a fearfulness unknown –
Resistance is vain, my constancy overthrown;
A hundred mortal presages my eyes encumber,
Closed the whole night through to the grace of gentle slumber:
Perturbed and restless spirits, faces of the dead,
With long lugubrious groans, auguries of dread.
Sometimes I felt my bowels stabbed by an angry mob,
An executioner who fiercely did his job;
Then my cast-off spirit seemed far and wide to stray,
Joined to the crowded ranks of an airy array,
Imploring all in vain the services of Charon
To provide it with passage across the Acheron;
Neglected on the bank, wandering in a craze,
Like those who have hastened the ending of their days.
A cry of those birds who are prophets of mischance,
Prolonged until the dawn, increased my sufferance,
Phoebus, at daybreak, as if with illness awry,
Seemed to lower on me with a sinister eye;
The very ground groaned at every step of mine.
For one who fears death, that makes many a sure sign.
Not the Great One himself, in thundering perdition,
Could frighten me with such a feeble premonition.
But there's an enemy, spawned by our former quarrels,
The towering height of my victorious laurels,
Who fans the fury deep within the city's core,
Rekindling the embers of an ancient war;
He can stand it no more that for the Volsces I'm
The favoured leader, despite my apparent crime,
Nor that my valour still imposes a restraint
On the malice conceived against me for that taint,
Makes it that my fault to piety is imputed
And I will likely be pardoned, not prosecuted.63
He alone, driven by emulous jealousy,
At all costs aims at purloining my life from me.
Then let him! To die becomes us on any day,
To let the laws of Fate above us hold their sway,
Whether put to sleep by age or in full career--
But this man who comes in haste freezes me with fear.
You are summoned by the Lords of Council assembled.
Now calm, you wretched coward, your senses that trembled!
Resolve now to find safety or to tumble down:
Then are you sure to wear immortal glory's crown.
Scene II

Chorus of Volsces.

The Heavens may witness, the sun that shines above,
That love for our country, a charitable love,
And my offended honour, which might be suspected
Of being by this monstrous treachery infected,
Lead me despite myself to make this accusation
Against a man who seeks the ruin of our nation,
Pranked up with courage, hypocritical, disloyal,
Who made our faulty judgement serve his private quarrel,
Awaiting nothing but repeal of banishment
To practise some treason, immune to punishment,
Some flagrant harm against that people who, credulous,
Accepted this abortive serpent of Romulus.
The first to be abused, I shipwrecked on the shoal,
Urged this very Council his command to enrol,
Gave up preeminence, took his word for a token--
For by a man of worth it will never be broken--
Sent from an Oracle, not merely something promised,
That he would become Rome's deadly antagonist,
Unreconcilable and burning hot for vengeance,
(Most welcome assuagement of a great heart's offence).64
Yet, pleased by our ills, this pattern of perfidy,
Basely suborned by tearful femininity,
Has countermanded our siege for the second time--
An act worse than sacrilege, an odious crime,
One that should already have been punished by fire--
No mercy due, no need his reasons to enquire.
As to what he has in store at this point, who knows--
To deliver us bound hand and foot to our foes?
All that I've already said--but, ha, he's coming now;
To hold in check my fury, I hardly know how.
Let us hear, assured that he will have a defence
Against the accusation of such an offence.
Through us the entire community commands
That you yield your power at once into its hands,
That you now give account of the wrong--or the right--
Of an affair that makes Heaven blush at the sight,
The infinite outrages you have perpetrated,
Our efforts, our designs, by your actions frustrated.
Take care, then, to put off, with due obedience,
Your high office, which is no traitor's recompense.
Next, it behooves you to respond, by me accused,
For the authority you have gravely abused.
As with the consent of all I took on the charge,
I'll yield it when deprived by your consent at large.65
Without delay let me declare each incident,
All that has taken place under my government,
And give account of it to you and to this Council,
Best judges whether it has done them good or ill.
Double-hearted man, over and over an ingrate,
Plotter of ruins, refractory to the state,
With the course of our victories why have you trifled,
Maintained our wars in breath, which are suddenly stifled?
Whoever in the first place gave you a commission
To grant the Romans a truce without our permission--
Raising the siege just when, in fearful desperation,
Their city would in days have sought capitulation?
Why since then have you used your power absolute
To offer them a peace, a shameful one to boot?
Why have you raised our siege, treating with abuse
An army that could, beneath its renown, reduce
The daunted universe, not just a single place.
Tell us, traitor, what impelled you to such disgrace--
If that is how you've chosen to offer us thanks
For the honour of giving you charge of such ranks,
With myself speaking out for your candidacy?
Make up no ruses now, be quick and answer me!
May it please you all, patiently hear me explain.
It shall not be found, I positively maintain,
That I have showed contempt, that of disloyalty
To the nation I may at all be counted guilty.
Rome, at the outset of the war we undertook,
I never hoped to capture, nor did ever look
To take it: neither did you; no higher we aimed,
Once their strength was sapped and arrogance was tamed,
Than to take back the places of yours that they held;
After discussion, such arrangements I compelled
Them to perform before I left: I kept my word.
So in that limit to our triumphs you concurred?
I feared to run the risk of fighting day by day.
What risk did you run, their strength confined in that way?
The extreme despair of valiant foes in arms
To an insolent conqueror has caused great harms.
A foreign leader's treason, greater cause for fear,
May call forth the complaints of those who gave him ear.
I pray the benignant gods never to increase
Your causes of complaint further than such a peace.
Did you not, listening when women did entreat,
Impose upon our army a shameful retreat?
Alas, I know none of you who would not have bent,
Piety deflecting his dutiful intent.
You see how his perfidy he frankly admits.
The traitor has only too much fuddled our wits
With pointless speeches, has too well deserved the death
We'll give him instantly with our united breath.
Rescue, my friends, they're killing me! Help me, come on!
Plunge down, false one, into the river Acheron!
Double-cross the shades of Pluto, if you're so wise.
Stop, Citizens – can you not see? Where are your eyes?
Now there you are, well paid the wages you deserve;
As a dread deterrent to your kind you may serve!
The people have done nothing in just mutiny
But execute the heavens' fore-ordained decree.
Since, like a Tyrant, his power he would not cede,
They've forced him to it with this sacrificial deed.
Therefore praise the act, which deserves your full acclaim,
And do not consider expressing any blame.
Had the form of justice been followed in due course,
All would have then approved his punishment by force.
Not so, he would have been allowed by that respite
To try out some trick spawned by his villainous spite--
To escape execution, and, his arms reversed,
Make us halt our pursuit after much ground traversed;
This is merely to apply, the ulcer begun,
Sooner, and not later, the treatment of hot iron.
When something is finished, second thoughts come too late:
But to make his error appear less reprobate,
Let us procure his corpse an honourable bier,
By which his virtues, not his vices, shall appear.66
I approve what you have magnanimously said;
It is an enormous crime to insult the dead.
Scene III


Like a leaf in the wind or a blustery sea,
My thoughts with fright have long been tossed inconstantly;
My head in horror bristling, my blood seized with fears,
Open my mouth to wailing, my eyes to shed tears.
With hope I cannot, cannot, set my heart at ease,
Disaster for my son--no less--my mind foresees.
One shoal he averted, but a gulf opened wide,
Subject as thus he was to the popular tide,
Subject to account to a populace of strangers
(For which, in my view, the more pressing are his dangers)
For failing to perform as his mission required,
For a peace which my prayerful entreaty inspired--
Harmful to the Volsces, to the Volsces who might
Better have wielded the arms they brought to the fight,
Dictated to us, under siege, our will worn down,
Such laws as a victor assigns a conquered town.
Alas, my dear child, your surpassing piety
I fear already has been, but will surely be
The cause of your disaster, and, kind beyond measure,
You will have preferred certain death to my displeasure:
You will have preferred embracing your Destiny
To having my blame, committing impiety.
I remember, alas, I remember once more--
Ever since then I dwell upon, and I abhor--
The grim prediction that you made at our Adieu,
Sadly foreknowing, son, I would be losing you:
Your forehead pale, your voice in gulping sobs upsurging,
You said aloud, and so revealed your deepest urging--
Yes, closing our Adieu with tears, you told us then,
Only with the dead could we hope to meet again.
O Fate-weaving sisters, I clasp my hands and pray,
If his heart has felt you piercing his life away,
Sooner than endure a death of more painful sort
From whatever messenger brings me that report,
Transfix my own, you dismal ministers of hell,
Use the same force with which your fatal arrows fell.
Do me so great a favour! –-But, who here advances,
Casting his wild eyes about with distracted glances?
Ha, it is done! He has seen me, and with a dark stare
Confirmed the horror of which I am well aware.
Approach, Messenger, approach; to me you address
Yourself, your forehead turning pale for my distress.
Madam, it is you that cruel Fortune pursues,
Imparting by my mouth her most terrible news.
Boldly recount the evil present in my mind;
It is not just from today that Heaven proves unkind.
Your son has been murdered, who was once our Alcides,67
To slake a crazed multitude's homicidal frenzies.
O fear too true! O destinies merciless!
O the doubtful ills of fortune, how they oppress!
Fragile, tenuous favour of the fickle crowd!
But make me believe this mishap: speak it aloud.
The Volsces assembled, ill-content with the pact,
Already had scripted the Hero's final act--
A part of them, at least, instigated by him
Who, envious, perceived his glory was now dim,
His fame overshadowed, as, close to the sun's light,
The stars of the vaulted heavens do not shine bright.
His name is Amfidie, jealous of domination,
Who traitor-like had long designed his ruination.
Accusing him in full Council, he takes the stand
That he must be deprived of the supreme command,
Then justify his orders, at once and at large,
To purge the crimes the people now lay to his charge.
Coriolan fearing, stripped of authority,
Helpless subjection to the other's enmity,
Protests that, granted power with their whole consent,
He would not resign it without all in agreement;
He tries nonetheless to allay their sense of wrong
With honeyed words distilled from his most gentle tongue.
Indeed, those preeminent made clear by their silence
That they were far from harbouring spiteful intents,
That his singular virtues, so deeply respected,
Would drown in oblivion those crimes recollected.
Suddenly, the other, fearing him back in grace,
To his troop of assassins already in place
Runs in revolt, urges the crime that they conspire,
Fills them with audacity, with fury and ire.
Alas! Forbid me to continue with the rest.
From your mournful speech I have only too well guessed:
He is dead; I see him by trampling feet laid low,
His breast taking hundreds of stabs, blow upon blow;
And now, enclosed within a space of deadly chill,
I see that warlike body of his sprawling still
In the market-place, colourless, stripped of its soul.
O the rage of my pain! O grief beyond control!
O mother steeped in crime, O mother and murderer!
Of your innocent blood the hateful torturer!
O gods, O cruel gods! What execrable fruit
Has it pleased you to bring forth from my pious suit!
Wretch! When I prevented my homeland's devastation,
To my race I brought ruin, my child's immolation.
Might I at least see him–-were it permitted me
To grieve his body, captive of the enemy,
To kiss him on the lips, gently his eyes to close,
Then to offer him the bed where the dead repose.
And might I be allowed to speak to him, though dead,
With wild laments to let my loss be comforted.
There is no one but myself who tears will devote;
His country still recalls his knife against its throat,
Remembers that it could not turn aside his hate,
And that to me alone it owes this happy state.
This happy state it owes me; death to him I owe:
I cruelly took his life, when I made him stoop low.
O my one and only comfort, my dear offspring,
Suppose not that the river Styx, though nine times winding,68
Can long prevent me from keeping you company;
Sorrow for your death to the soul has wounded me,
Bowed me beneath the burden of a weary age--
One to whom earth does harm and harsh heaven outrage.
Not with my complaints can your shade be satisfied:
You require me to be below at your side,
And since my grieving cannot alone stop my breath,
In a blow--courageous, noble--I will find death.69

The end


As Fabien Cavaillé points out, the absence of Coriolan's son from this list suggests that he was represented on stage by a doll – a device for concentrating and reducing the emotional essence of the supplication scene (Act Four, Scene Four) beyond what is found in Shakespeare, who, however, also gives Coriolanus a single son, not children, as in Plutarch. References to Shakespeare's play in the notes are based on William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, ed. R. Brian Parker, The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).
“Plus content de me voir le chef environné / De l'arbre de Dodone aux Oracles donné”. The allusion is to the corona civica, composed of oak leaves, betowed for saving the life of a Roman citizen. The detail, with explanation, comes from Plutarch (“The Life of Caius Martius Coriolanus”, trans. Thomas North, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, vol. 5: The Roman Plays: Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus [London: Routledge; New York: Columbia University Press, 1977], p. 507). The image, however, is enfolded into the rustling leaves of the oaks at Dodona, in which the voices of the gods were heard.
The edition of Fabien Cavaillé retains the punctuation of the 1632 text, which is rhetorical rather than grammatical; the sense, however, is clear enough and fairly represented by the translation.
“Que comme je le voy franc de la Calomnie”: the point of the reference to calumny, I take it, is to contrast his own dispassionate judgement with the unjust slander to which he is being subjected.
In Plutarch's account Volumnia plays no part in trying to persuade Coriolanus to moderation, in contrast, of course, with Shakespeare's play (esp. in III.ii).
I place in italics the lines signalled as aphoristic by a guillemet in the original.
I eliminate the parentheses around this line in the early editions, which interfere with the sense for a modern reader.
Here, as even in Coriolanus' own earlier use of “courage” (l. 90), it seems misguided to translate by English “courage”, which the hero hardly lacks. The sense is closer to “innermost being”; cf. Chaucer: “so priketh hem nature in hir courages” (Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed. [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987]), Gen. Pro., l. 11). Volomnie does not wish for greater boldness on her son's part but, on the contrary, for greater depth and breadth of understanding.
Hardy's condensed lines simplify the situation as presented by Plutarch and conflate two lots of grain; see Alexandre Hardy, Coriolan, ed. Terence Allott, Textes littéraires, 28 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1978), n. to l. 169.
This seems to be a case where Enyo, a Greek goddess of war, is conflated with Eris, goddess of discord.
Quirinus: i.e., Romulus, who was posthumously endowed with this addition deriving from an ancient Sabine god, presumably of war.
Clotho: the one of the three Fates (Parcae) who held the spindle on which the thread of life was wound.
“De quitter ces ingrats plustost qu'ils n'ont besoin”: the translation preserves the elliptical phrasing of the original; no doubt, the sense intended is that he will leave them before they have to force him, although the conclusion of the line on “besoin” (“need”) may introduce a suggestion of their subsequent need for his services.
The battle of the Hydaspes river (326 B.C.E.) marked the farthest extent of Alexander's advance into India. The Chorus is defining the most distant boundaries of the world as known to Romans.
The reference is to the sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices, who were supposed to rule alternately in Thebes; instead, the former banished the latter, who instigated the bloody war known as the Seven against Thebes, in which the two brothers killed each other. Indirectly evoked is also the founding myth of Rome itself, which included the fratricide perpetrated by Romulus upon Remus.
“Donnez-moy, qu'accablé de sa mesme ruine, / Nous delivrions de peur toute la gent Latine”: the original thus shifts, as in the translation, from singular to plural – somewhat confusingly, although the sense is clear enough. “We” is conceivably the “royal we” (“nous de majesté”), but Coriolan may rather be envisaging the forces he will lead.
A not uncommon application to the political sphere of a principle from Aristotle's Physics. Cf. N. W. Bawcutt, ed., The Jew of Malta, by Christopher Marlowe, The Revels Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press; Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), n. to I.i.131-32.
The syntax of ll. 364-66 is doubtful. I prefer to take the initial "Comment" of l. 364 as a self-interruption parallel to “Tu t'abuses” in l. 371, hence as imparting a conventional “wavering” dynamic to the soliloquy: Coriolan is giving full weight to the possibility that Amphidie will give him a hostile reception. The soliloquy thus corresponds to the hero's pondering as recorded by Plutarch (Bullough, ed., pp. 526-27; cf. Shakespeare, IV.iv.12 ff.). Alternatively, however, “comment” may be understood as “because” (the solution preferred by Fabien Cavaillé), in which case the sentence would not end with l. 366 and the period there should be a comma. (The original punctuation is, as often, of limited use in determining the meaning.)
The original has, by metonymy, “lares”, that is, the gods of the hearth and hospitality, so that the sense of the sacred in the following line is anticipated.
I.e., the three Fates (Parcae).
Titans: the Giants who rebelled against the Olympian gods.
Because Remus mocked its height be leaping over it (see Oxford Classical Dictionary).
Ixion, punished on the eternally rolling wheel, was the first man to murder one of his kin.
That is, the fish, Amphitrite being the metonymic queen of the sea.
“Que du monde regi fortune auroit la gloire”. My translation of this line preserves the ambiguity as to whether the glory of ruling the world is Fortune's or something she bestows; the following line seems to confirm the latter sense, but the gist is the same.
Hardy's development of Amphidie into an envy-driven murderer thus begins with representing him as melancholic – a commonplace Renaissance association, not alien to Shakespeare's depiction of Aufidius.
L. 430 effectively adds the effect of observation to the qualities merely inferred in l. 429.
I name Rome to clarify the use of pronouns.
“Deal with Acheron” (“flechir l'Acheron”): Hardy personifies the underworld river. The idea of suicide (as opposed to mere willingness to die) is added by Hardy to Plutarch and seems significant in view of the suicidal element in Shakespeare's character. See Richard Hillman, “Tragedy as a Crying Shame in Coriolanus and Alexandre Hardy's Coriolan: The ‘Boy of Tears’ and the Hardy Boys”, Coriolan de William Shakespeare: Langages, Interprétations, Politique(s), Actes du Colloque international organisé à l'Université François-Rabelais les 3-4 novembre 2006 sous les auspices de la Société Française Shakespeare, ed. Richard Hillman (Tours: Presses Universitaires François-Rabelais, 2007), pp. 187-90.
“Sealed”: “siller” for “ciller” (cf. English “sill”): the term used in falconry for blinding birds by sewing shut their eyelids.
The personal element and the festive ambiance are developed from a slight hint in Plutarch (“he feasted him for that time” [Bullough, ed., p. 528]) and are notably in keeping with the equivalent sequence in Coriolanus.
The original uses the common poeticism “Hespérie” (“the Western land”) for Italy.
The reference must be to Fortune, although the phrasing is elliptical.
“A ceux qu'elle couvroit maintenant de son ombre”: “maintenant” here carries the Latinate sense of “recently”.
The remora, according to Pliny the Elder, Natural History (book IX, chap. 41), whose power to arrest motion was also exploited in magical preparations.
Agenor's son: Cadmus, founder of Thebes, whose soldiers, sprung from a dragon's teeth, destroyed each other, except for five men. It may be pertinent that those survivors formed the basis of the Theban aristocracy, but then also to the point would be the subsequent history of the city as a famous emblem of tragic self-destruction (notably in the war of Seven against Thebes and its aftermath). See above, n. 15.
Ll. 603-4 contain what remains, in Hardy's rendering, of the Fable of the Belly recounted by Menenius Agrippa in Plutarch (Bullough, ed., p. 495) and Shakespeare (I.i.93 ff.).
According to Plutarch (Bullough, ed., p. 531), this was Coriolanus' deliberate tactic for fomenting dissension between the classes in Rome, as the Senate will shrewdly grasp, and it succeeded in much the way dramatized by Hardy. Hardy's Coriolan – in contrast with Shakespeare's Coriolanus – is notably an all-round soldier who combines personal heroics with strategic shrewdness.
“Nous en extirperons jusques à la racine”: the gist seems clear, but the grammar of the original remains puzzling.
Cf. Plutarch, ed. Bullough, p. 535: “Wherefore, the time of peace expired, Martius being returned into the dominions of the Romaines againe with all his armie, they sent another ambassade unto him. . . . ”
I supply the second verb for clarification, since the phrasing of the original is especially elliptical.
The translation follows the original in switching to the more vivid present tense.
Busiris, King of Egypt: an archetype of cruelty because he sacrificed strangers to Zeus; he was finally killed by Hercules.
The perspective of the people is obviously distorted, but it is true that they would not be in this predicament had the death sentence been imposed. The repetition “pity”/“pitiful” imitates the original.
Coriolan's crowing here combines a Hamlet-like sense of himself as heaven's “scourge and minister” (on the standard Renaissance model of the “scourge of God”) with a distinct touch of the hubris of such Senecan revengers as Thyestes. At the same time, l. 731 confirms that he is trying to overcome the mixed feelings that have caused him to pursue his campaign half-heartedly. From both perspectives, his downfall is anticipated.
“Que la honteuse fin d'une paix viendra clore”. The phrase is somewhat elliptical, but the sense is confirmed by ll. 750-54; Coriolan had forbidden them to return for any other purpose than to accept his shameful conditions.
The question mark in the original at this point signifies, according to contemporary practice, emphasis rather than interrogation.
The blandness of this speech is clearly deliberate, and I imitate the effect of double-talk produced by the repetition of “accord” and the rhyme with “concord”.
The Romans closed the door of this temple in time of peace, as happened very rarely.
The negotiating game played here seems to depend on different inflections of “equality”: Coriolan envisages reducing the Romans to the level of the Volsces; the ambassadors pick up his term to argue that, unless the Romans are treated “equally”, that is, with a generosity beyond what their abject position justifies, Coriolan will do himself a disservice as a Roman.
Fabien Cavaillé points to a parallel with the repudiation by Shakespeare's Coriolanus, equally unanticipated in Plutarch, of all patriotic feeling, coupled with a resolution to “stand / As if a man were author of himself / And knew no other kin” (V.iii.33-35).
Taenarus: traditionally the site of the entrance to the underworld, of which Pluto is the prince; his name means “riches”, so he is “greedy” essentially by etymology.
According to the traditional emblematic figure, Occasion has no hair behind, so cannot be seized after passing by.
This followed the war between the Sabines and the Romans, who had forcibly carried off the Sabine women to become their wives.
Plutarch speaks of Martius' children as accompanying the women (Bullough, ed., pp. 538-39). Martius here has one son, as in Shakespeare, though the reference to a cradle supports Fabien Cavaillé's supposition that a doll would have been used to represent an infant.
Ll. 946-49, in the original, bear comparison with the attempt of Volumnia in Shakespeare to persuade Coriolanus to stoop to a deceptive strategem:
Sa prise ne nous doit balancer incertaine;
D'ouverte & vive force, ou du temps ménagers
Avec moins de hazard, de perte & de danger,
Moins prodigues de sang, & plus meurs de prudence [...]
(ll. 946-49 [Act Four, Scene Four])
Now this no more dishonours you at all
Than to take in a town with gentle words,
Which else would put you to your fortune and
The hazard of much blood.
I translate freely here so as to convey the double sense of chopper in the context of the image: it means literally to run into obstacles, as a horse may do, but figuratively to blunder, as of human judgement.
One might insert at this point the stage direction, "He rises and descends to greet them", on the basis of the account of Plutarch:
Nowe was Martius set then in his chayer of state, with all the honours of a generall, and when he had spied the women comming a farre of, he marveled what the mater ment: but afterwardes knowing his wife which came formest, he determined at the first to persist in his obstinate and inflexible rancker. But overcomen in the ende with naturall affection, and being altogether altered to see them: his harte would not serve him to tarie their comming to his chayer, but comming downe in hast, he went to meete them, and first he kissed his mother, and imbraced her a pretie while, then his wife and litle children. And nature so wrought with him, that the teares fell from his eyes, and he coulde not keepe him selfe from making much of them, but yeelded to the affection of his bloode, as if he had bene violently caried with the furie of a most swift running streame. (Bullough, ed., pp. 538-39)
Hardy's alterations here include having Coriolan first address his wife, a silent character; this makes it possible to concentrate attention quickly on the dramatic confrontation between mother and son.
Plutarch has Martius' mother speak generally of “injuries”, but the dimension of ingratitude here as elsewhere is due to Hardy. Cf. Shakespeare, Cor. II.ii.30 (“ingrateful injury”) and IV.v.131 (“ungrateful Rome”).
“Tu le peux, et le dois”: cf. Volumnia in Shakespeare, Cor. III.ii.99, “He must, and will”, where “must” and “will” are played on in the attempt to induce Coriolanus to humble himself in the market place – the key forerunner of the supplication scene.
“Puis qu'à vostre depart l'avez remis ainsi”: the sense must be as translated, but the usage of “remis” appears strange.
Erebus: Darkness, the son of Chaos; metonymic for the underworld.
Ll. 1103-8 are obscure, as Fabien Cavaillé notes; I translate according to his proposed gloss.
Amfidie's identification with Coriolan and ironic appropriation of his heroism are striking here.
Cf. below, ll. 1303-6.
Cf. Cor.,
First Lord
Bear from hence his body,
And mourn you for him. Let him be regarded
As the most noble corpse that ever herald
Did follow to his urn.
Second Lord
His own impatience
Takes from Aufidius a great part of blame.
Let's make the best of it.
Alcides: i.e., Hercules.
A traditional idea.
As Fabien Cavaillé proposes, Volomnie's onstage suicide at this point would accord with Hardy's theatrical practice. Hardy was not alone: the English villain Talbot stabs himself in despair, for instance, in the fantastic dramatisation of Joan of Arc's story by Jean de Virey, sieur Du Gravier: Tragedie de Jeanne-d'Arques, dite la Pucelle d'Orléans, native du village d'Emprenne, pres Voucouleurs en Lorraine (Rouen: Raphaël du Petit Val, 1600).


Richard Hillman

Publication :


Référence électronique :

Richard Hillman, « Coriolan », mis en ligne le 12/11/2009, Consulté le 24/09/2017. URL :