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visit of Valeria is from Plutarch, who tells us that Virgilia was found with her children in her lap; and the language of the ladies is unquestionably characteristic; but the proof afforded of young Marcius inheriting the spirit of his father, in his cruelty to a butterfly, is not, I venture to suggest, a pleasing, or graceful, addition by the poet.
It has been often, and correctly, observed, that Volumnia’s earnest and finally successful address to her son,* is taken from Plutarch. And the murder of the Roman general by the Volscians, at the instigation of the jealous Tullus Aufidius, is equally conformable to the old book.
Such is the use which Shakspeare has made of that which is now called The Legend of Coriolanus. Certainly, the story must be founded upon legends or traditions, and these passing over a great number of years; for its date is given at the 260th, or, according to some, the 290th year of Rome, being nearly five hundred years before the Christian era. Plutarch flou. rished in the time of the Emperor Claudius; nor have we any historian earlier than Livy, who preceded Plutarch by little more than a century.* The story in Livyt is not materially different from Plutarch's, and includes the enmity between Coriolanus and the commons, the successful embassy of the women, and various other particulars. But the Greek has improved upon the Roman, almost as much as the Englishman has improved upon the Greek: the hero's peculiar devotion to his mother, and all the nicer traits of his character, are worked out by Plutarch. Of those who preceded, Dionysius Halicarnessensis comes nearest to him, who describes Coriolanus as one of the “ oligarchical patricians,” who spoke openly and boldly against the plebeians and their tribunes. I
* Act v. Sc.3.
Plutarch's work is more evidently wrought up for effect; otherwise, Livy is hardly better authority for what passed in the third century of Rome. He is said to have founded his history, in great part, upon the writings of older authors, of which extracts have been given; but none of these go farther back than the sixth century ;
* Livy was born in 695, or fifty-eight years before Christ.
+ Book ii. c. 23. I See Spelman's Dionysius, ii. b. vi, sect. 92, and b. viii. sect. 19 and 21.
f Fabius Pictor, the first of these, was cotemporary with the second Punic war, about 529. On all this, see the History of Rome, published by the Useful Knowledge Society, p. 43.
indeed, if any written annals of the early Roman history existed, it is not probable that they survived the burning of Rome by the Gauls, in the year of Rome 372. If any less perishable records of brass or stone survived the conflagration, they can be depended upon for nothing beyond a name or a date.
Without underrating the critical labours of Niebuhr, I would observe, that in respect of the very early history, they are necessarily confined to the destruction of the fabric of history which he found in existence; re-construction was inpossible, for want of materials. His ingenuity may have been displayed in estimating probabilities, but it was not possible for him to establish facts. It is not even known what legends or traditions existed in the time of Livy, still less how far they were true, Niebuhr himself, though he makes out a story from the histories, ends by saying that “ the legend of Coriolanus has stifled the historical tradition in its whole extent.”*
Antiquaries do not even quite agree, as to the political character of “ the people,” to whom, in this story, Coriolanus was opposed. Shakspeare styles them citizens, but this, according to some recent authorities, t is precisely what they were not. On the contrary, they were those inhabitants of Rome who were not citizens. Dr. Arnold uses patricians and burghers as synonimous terms.
* ii. 242. + Especially Dr. Arnold, see his eleventh chapter.
Yet Livy apparently speaks of the plebeians as being, or as capable of being, citizens; but Livy is not a good authority. His words are :
“Civitas, secum ipsa discors, intestino inter patres, plebemque, flagrabat odio, maximè proptu nexos obæs alienum. Fremabant, se, foris pro libertate et imperio dimicantes, domi à civibus captis et oppressos esse, latinemque in bello quam in pace, inter hostes quam inter cives, libertatem plebis esse."*
In Baker's translation,
“ The state itself was torn in pieces by intestine animosities between the patricians and commons, on account, principally, of persons confined for debt ; they complained that after fighting abroad for freedom and empire, they were made prisoners, and oppressed by their countrymen at home, and that the liberty of the commons was more secure in war than in peace, amongst their foes than amongst their own countrymen.”
It appears to me that Baker is right, in translating cives, countrymen, or fellow-citizens:
and this chiefly because, when the patricians and plebeians came soon afterwards to terms,-the services of the latter being required as the infantry of the army,—the principal concession was, an edict that no Roman citizen should be bound or confined so as to prevent his giving in his name (for military service); and hereupon the nexi (plebeians confined for debt) were set at liberty.*
If I understand the theory of those who hold that none were citizens of Rome but the patricians, it is that these were descended from the ancient inhabitants, at the time of Servius Tullus, and that although the number of inhabitants was greatly increased by conquests and other means, none of the new Romans (who were chiefly employed in agriculture) were admitted to the privilege of citizenship: and that populus included the patricians only, being contrasted with plebs, not synonimous, as we sometimes use it.
*“ Concioni deinde edicto addidit fidem, quo edixit, ne quis civem Romanum vinctum aut clausum teneret, quo minus ei nominis edendi apud consules potestas fieret. . . . Hoc proposito edicto, et qui aderant, nexi profiteri exemplo nomina; et undique ex totâ urbe procipientium se ex privato quem retinendi jus creditori non esset; concursus in forum, ut sacramento dicerent, fieri.” Ib., sect. 24.