Near the Roman camp, Cominius enters with Roman soldiers. He commends his troops on a battle well fought, but warns them that the Volscians are likely to charge again. He believes that the Roman gods are causing their success, and he thanks the troops for their service. A messenger enters reporting that Volscian soldiers drove Lartius and Martius to their trenches over an hour ago. Even though the camp is only a mile away, the messenger was chased by Volscian spies on his way and forced to take a longer route. The messenger exits.
Cominius believes that the Roman gods support Rome (and that other gods might support other cities), so he attributes his military victory to a divine victory, all done in the service of Rome. The messenger reinforces the fact that there is a network of spies on either side of the battle, explaining how the Romans knew the Volscians were forming their army and how the Volscians knew exactly who was in command of the Roman forces.
Caius Martius then enters the camp in a bloodied state that Cominius has seen many times before. Martius repeatedly asks if he has come too late, and Cominius responds that he’s only too late if he has come covered in his own blood rather than the blood of Volscians. Martius then embraces his general “in arms as sound as when [he] wooed, as merry as when [his] nuptial day was done.”
Cominius has just heard that Martius was driven back to his trenches (essentially defeated), so when Martius enters bloody and victorious, there is a moment of dramatic irony mirroring the moment when Lartius thought Martius was dead and then saw him reemerge from the gates. While the connection between Martius and his enemy has been well established, here Martius shows the strong homosocial connection between fellow soldiers by comparing reuniting with his general with his wedding day. This connection is reinforced by the military pun on “arms.”
Cominius asks how Titus Lartius is, and Martius reports that he is busy running the city of Corioles, handing out punishments, and securing the city that has just been captured for Rome. Cominius first wants to beat the messenger who told him that the Romans had been beat back to the trenches, but Martius confirms that this really happened. The common soldiers, though, have infuriated Martius. He calls them a plague, still furious that they have won tribunes back in Rome, and says they are rascals. Cominius wants to know how Martius survived, but Martius says there is no time, preferring to be updated on the status of the battle.
Here Martius explicitly connects his frustrations with the common soldiers with his fury at the common people and the political landscape back in Rome. Just as he called the soldiers a “herd of boils,” he compares the common people to a plague. Martius always prefers fighting to talking, as he doesn’t want to recount his victory, instead preferring to reenter battle as soon as possible.
Cominius believes the nearing army is made up of soldiers from Antium, including Aufidius. Martius asks his general to ensure that he is the one to face Aufidius, evoking all of the battles Martius and Cominius have fought and the blood they have shed together, all the vows they’ve made, and their long friendship in his request. Cominius wishes that Martius would care for his wounds, but the general knows better than to deny Martius the opportunity to fight Aufidius.
Martius evokes the homosocial bond with his general – one formed with violence – to ensure that he’s able to continue in his other violent, homosocial bond with his rival. All of Martius’ male relationships are formed through and defined by warfare, and his passion for Aufidius is so strong that it overrides any physical need for his body to heal.
Martius tells the Roman camp that if there is anyone there who loves to be painted in blood, if anyone is unafraid and thinks a brave death is better than a bad life, if anyone loves Rome more than himself, then they should follow him into battle. He waves his sword to see who is willing, and the whole camp erupts in response. Martius says if this response isn’t just an outward show, then each Roman is worth four Volscians. Though all of them are brave and able to fight against Aufidius himself, Martius selects only a few of them, leaving the rest to some other battle. Cominius commands Martius and his group to march on and live up to the bravery they have just promised.
Martius outlines the ideals of a Roman hero: obsessed with violence, bold, and favoring honor over life and Rome above all else. This speech contrasts the view of him held by the tribunes, namely that he fights for himself, for pride, and for fame instead of these ideals. Ironically, when the soldiers respond with resounding willingness, even Martius questions if they are genuine, suggesting it might not be Martius under question, but the notion of fighting for these heroic Roman ideals itself.