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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book II Chapter 40: Third war of Rome and Volscians. Veturia and Volumnia[489-7 BC]
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Then the matrons went in a body to Veturia, the mother of Coriolanus, and Volumnia his wife [Note 1]. Whether this was in consequence of a decree of the senate, or simply the prompting of womanly fear, I am unable to ascertain, but at all events they succeeded in inducing the aged Veturia to go with Volumnia and her two little sons to the enemies' camp. As men were powerless to protect the City by their arms, the women sought to do so by their tears and prayers. |
On their arrival at the camp a message was sent to Coriolanus that a large body of women were present. He had remained unmoved by the majesty of the State in the persons of its ambassadors, and by the appeal made to his eyes and mind in the persons of its priests; he was still more obdurate to the tears of the women. Then one of his friends, who had recognised Veturia, standing between her daughter-in-law and her grandsons, and conspicuous amongst them all in the greatness of her grief, said to him. "Unless my eyes deceive me, your mother and wife and children are here." Coriolanus, almost like one demented, sprung from his seat to embrace his mother. She, changing her tone from entreaty to anger, said, "Before I admit your embrace suffer me to know whether it is to an enemy or a son that I have come, whether it is as your prisoner or as your mother that I am in your camp. Has a long life and an unhappy old age brought me to this, that I have to see you an exile and from that an enemy? Had you the heart to ravage this land, which has borne and nourished you? However hostile and menacing the spirit in which you came, did not your anger subside as you entered its borders? Did you not say to yourself when your eye rested on Rome, "Within those walls are my home, my household gods, my mother, my wife, my children"? Must it then be that, had I remained childless, no attack would have been made on Rome; had I never had a son, I should have ended my days a free woman in a free country? But there is nothing which I can suffer now that will not bring more disgrace to you than wretchedness to me; whatever unhappiness awaits me it will not be for long. Look to these, whom, if you persist me your present course, an untimely death awaits, or a long life of bondage." When she ceased, his wife and children embraced him, and all the women wept and bewailed their own and their country's fate. At last his resolution gave way. He embraced his family and dismissed them, and moved his camp away from the City. After withdrawing his legions from the Roman territory, he is said to have fallen a victim to the resentment which his action aroused, but as to the time and circumstances of his death the traditions vary. I find in Fabius, who is by far the oldest authority, that he lived to be an old man; he relates a saying of his, which he often uttered in his later years, that it is not till a man is old that he feels the full misery of exile. The Roman husbands did not grudge their wives the glory they had won, so completely were their lives free from the spirit of detraction and envy. A temple was built and dedicated to Fortuna Muliebris, to serve as a memorial of their deed.
Subsequently the combined forces of the Volscians and Aequi re-entered the Roman territory. The Aequi, however, refused any longer to accept the generalship of Attius Tullius, a quarrel arose as to which nation should furnish the commander of the combined army, and this resulted in a bloody battle. Here the good fortune of Rome destroyed the two armies of her enemies in a conflict no less ruinous than obstinate.
Note 1: Plutarchus uses the names Volumnia and Vergilia for mother and wife.