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Greek Parallel – Alcibiades

Important People

Volumnia – Coriolanus’s mother and, because his father died young, the woman on whom Coriolanus will pour all his filial piety.

Tullus Aufidius – The leader of the Volscians against the Romans. When Coriolanus switches sides, it is Tullus who is eclipsed.

The Senate – Yes, the Senate acts as a character in this Life, so much so that they represent those with all the power and control, even though they don’t do all the fighting. Coriolanus represents their interests primarily, even over Rome’s. 

The People or Plebs – Also a character seen as a body, with no one to represent them. They fight and die in Rome’s wars but often do not see the political fruits of their sacrifices. As such, they secede from Rome and refuse to fight in wars the Senate votes for. This enrages Coriolanus and is one of the major turning points in his life.

Important Places

Corioli – The town which Marcius takes nearly single-handedly after a risky choice, earning him the agnomen Coriolanus.

Rome – Really just a city-state at this time. As a young Republic, the people are probably more sensitive to attitudes of hubris and condescension in their leaders. Coriolanus will be put on trial for tyranny, though the charges morph as the trial progresses. 

The Sacred Mount – The plebes are many generations away from full political involvement in this fledgling Republic. As such, they have to force the patricians to notice them. One tactic available to them is secession, and they flee to the Sacred Mount to show the Roman Senators that they will not just be dictated to about what wars they will and will not fight in. They demand justice and the sacred mount shows how closely woven were military, religious, and political interests of the Roman people. 

Key Virtues and Vices

Gravity – ἐμβριθής – We might call this virtue steadiness since it implies the ability to see a task through even as everyone around you changes his mind or runs around like an electrocuted chicken. Coriolanus is too reactionary, and gravity allows a leader to stick with the good plan even in the moments when everyone else thinks its a bad one.

Mildness – πραότης – This virtue, coupled with the previous one, were what Plutarch (and Thucydides for that matter) admired so much about Pericles.

Anger – ὀργή – What seems more to us like an emotion, and Plutarch, when pressed would call a passion (παθή) he often treats as a vice, particularly in this Life. One interesting thing to note, though, is that the words for anger and indignation are used more often in the English translations where the Greek has a word with much greater semantic range: θυμός – listen to the podcast to find out more about this fascinating word.

Ambition – φιλοτιμία – Plutarch examines this from many angles, but Coriolanus’s appetite for glory is unquenchable. It also seems only to be tempered by his love for his mother… almost.

Love of Strife – In Greek, the difference between the love of victory (φιλονικία) and the love of strife (φιλονεικία) is one letter, an epsilon. That slippery little letter has caused a lot of strife among Plutarch scholars, but I think we can safely say here that Coriolanus had a love of strife that sat deeper in his soul than a love of victory, particularly when he disregards Rome’s victories as he fought for them and chooses to fight for her defeat.

Justice (δικαιοσύνη) – When the Senate and People disagree, Rome is brought to a standstill. When Coriolanus thinks he receives less than he deserves, he storms off to fight for someone who will appreciate him.

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