VII. HOW THE HEROES FOUGHT FOR A HUNDRED YEARS.
There is a long story connected with the young stripling who, at the battle of Lake Regillus received the oaken crown for saving the life of a Roman citizen. The century after that event was filled with wars with the neighboring peoples, and in one of them this same Caius Marcius fought so bravely at the taking of the Latin town of Corioli that he was ever after known as Coriolanus (B.C. 493). He was a proud patrician, and on one occasion when he was candidate for the office of consul, behaved with so much unnecessary haughtiness toward the plebeians that they refused him their votes. [Footnote: The whole interesting story is found in Plutarch's Lives, and in Shakespeare's play which bears the hero's name.] After a while a famine came to Rome, - famines often came there, - and though in a former emergency of the kind Coriolanus had himself obtained corn and beef for the people, he was now so irritated by his defeat that when a contribution of grain arrived from Syracuse, in Sicily (B.C. 491), he actually advocated that it should not be distributed among the people unless they would consent to give up their tribunes which had been assured to them by the laws of the Sacred Mount! This enraged the plebeians very much, and they caused Coriolanus to be summoned for trial before the comitia of the tribes, which body, in spite of his acknowledged services to the state, condemned him to exile. When he heard this sentence, Coriolanus angrily determined to cast in his lot with his old enemies the Volscians, and raised an army for them with which he marched victoriously towards Rome. As he went, he destroyed the property of the plebeians, but preserved that of the patricians. The people were in the direst state of anxious fear, and some of the senators were sent out to plead with the dreaded warrior for the safety of the city. These venerable ambassadors were repelled with scorn. Again, the sacred priests and augurs were deputed to make the petition, this time in the name of the gods of the people; but, alas, they too entreated in vain. Then it was remembered that the stern man had always reverenced his mother, and she with an array of matrons, accompanied by the little ones of Coriolanus, went out to add their efforts to those which had failed. As they appeared, Coriolanus exclaimed, as Shakespeare put it:
"I melt, and am not
Of stronger earth than others. - My mother bows;
As if Olympus to a molehill should
In supplication nod; and my young boy
Hath an aspect of intercession, which,
Great Nature cries: 'Deny not.' Let the Volsces
Plow Rome and harrow Italy; I'll never
Be such a gosling to obey instinct; but stand,
As if a man were author of himself,
And knew no other kin!"*
The strong man is finally melted, however, by the soft influences of the women, and as he yields, says to them:
"Ladies, you deserve
To have a temple built you; all the swords
In Italy, and her confederate arms,
Could not have made this peace!"
A temple was accordingly built in memory of this event, and in honor of Feminine Fortune, at the request of the women of Rome, for the senate had decreed that any wish they might express should be gratified. As for Coriolanus, he is said to have lived long in banishment, bewailing his misfortune, and saying that exile bore heavily on an old man. The entire story, heroic and tragic as it is related to us, is not substantiated, and we do not really know whether if true it should be assigned to the year 488 B.C., or to a date a score of years later.
During all the century we are now considering, the plebeians were slowly gaining ground in their attempts to improve their political condition, though they did not fail to meet rebuffs, and though they were many times unjustly treated by their proud opponents. These efforts at home were complicated, too, by the fact that nearly all the time there was war with one or another of the adjoining nations. Treaties were made at this period with some of the neighboring peoples, by a good friend of the plebeians, Spurius Cassius, who was consul in the year 486, and these to a certain extent repaired the losses that had followed the war with Porsena after the fall of the Tarquins. Cassius tried to strengthen the state internally, too, by dividing certain lands among the people, and by requiring rents to be paid for other tracts, and setting the receipts aside to pay the commons when they should be called out as soldiers. This is known as the first of the many Agrarian Laws (ager, a meadow, a field) that are recorded in Roman history, though something of the same nature is said to have existed in the days of Servius Tullius.