Coriolanus

Coriolanus Act 1, Scene 9 Summary & Analysis

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Summary
Analysis
Cominius and the Roman soldiers are met by Martius, whose arm is tied in a sling. Cominius says the deeds Martius has done that day are so spectacular that if recited, Martius himself would not believe them. Cominius plans to report the deeds to the Roman senators and patricians, which will cause even the “dull tribunes” and their rotten plebeians to thank the gods that Rome has a soldier like Martius. Cominius is still awed that Martius went back into battle after fighting alone within the city gates, comparing it to coming to a feast having fully dined before.
Cominius shows that he thinks of the common people much in the same way that Martius does, indicating that this anti-plebian position is a symptom of the class divide in Rome, not just Martius’ personal bias. Again, Martius’ heroism is tied to his aloneness. While words like “devouring” have been used to describe dying in war, here Cominius compares enacting violence to eating. Like Martius’ comment that his wounds are curative, Cominius’ comparison suggests that warfare is nourishing as opposed to devastating.
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Titus Lartius then enters with some more Roman soldiers. He also begins to praise Martius, but Martius cuts him off, saying that he doesn’t even like it when his mother praises him. He only did what everyone else did, which is the best he could. His motives were the same as well: he did it for Rome.
Martius appears to be genuine in his heroic ideals, suggesting that he truly fights for Rome and not for his own fame like the tribunes suggest, especially given that he hates to hear his valiant deeds expressed with language.
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Cominius insists that Martius not hide his accomplishment and merit, since Rome must know what a valuable soldier it has in Martius. Concealing these deeds would be slander and worse than stealing, and accepting praise here is modest. Cominius wants to reward Martius for what he is, not for what he has done, and Martius says that he has “wounds” that “smart to hear themselves remembered.” Cominius says that if they are not, they’ll become infected on account of ingratitude, and heal themselves.
Cominius is cleverly able to refigure praising Martius as patriotism, so that Martius is forced to listen to his own heroism recounted or else be a traitor. “Smart” means hurt, so Martius is saying once again that it pains him to hear his actions spoken of. It’s also of note that Martius personifies his own wounds here, as if the wounds are the ones who will be praised, not Martius himself.
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Cominius then offers Martius his choice of all of the horses they have taken in the war, but Martius refuses, saying he cannot consent to take a bribe for his sword. He refuses the gift and asks for no more spoils than every other soldier who did his part. The Roman soldiers chant Martius’s name, and Martius continues with a small speech, saying that flattery should never be involved in war. The day trumpets and war drums and weapons are flatterers, he says, cities will be filled with hypocrites. The day steel receives an ovation for a battle is the day it turns soft as silk. Fighting while injured and defeating many (weak) enemies is something that many soldiers have done unnoticed. Praising him with hyperbolic accolades, Martius claims, is like lying.
Martius remains stubborn in his adherence to the ideals of Roman heroism, believing that accepting any payment for his violent services would make him a mercenary. Martius’ speech, ironically, argues that speech, language, and flattery have no place in war, which is the sphere of action, not words. Martius wants to separate language and war – in part – because he hates dishonesty. Flattery, hyperbole, and undeserving praise all offend his sensibilities as a classic Roman hero, and they are all expressed through language.
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Cominius believes that Martius is being much too modest and cruel to himself. If Caius Martius is intent on harming himself, they’ll figuratively treat him like someone they’d have to put in straight jacket and continue praising him anyway. Cominius proclaims that Martius is this war’s hero, for which he will present Martius with his noble steed. What’s more, from this time forward, for what Martius did in the war at Corioles, he will be given an additional name and be known as Martius Caius Coriolanus. The trumpets flourish and the Roman soldiers shout out Coriolanus’s new name.
The Roman naming system used three types of names: praenomen, nomen, and cognomen (familiar names, family names, and extra surnames). There were very few options for first names in ancient Rome, so a cognomen was often the best way to identify people. This naming convention lends even more importance to Martius’ new cognomen Coriolanus. Conquering, warfare, and violence become (even more formally than before) his defining characteristics. The new name pushes him further in the transition (already hinted at) from human to more-than-human hero.
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Coriolanus says he’ll go wash off the blood, after which Cominius will be able to tell if he is blushing. Coriolanus thanks the general, and says he’ll ride the horse and do his best to use and justify his new name. Cominius will write to Rome of their success, while Lartius will stay in and oversee Corioles.
Coriolanus’ playful remark that blood obscures any red blush from his cheeks emphasizes his belief that soldiers should be modest, and that flattery and praise have no place in warfare.
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Coriolanus, after refusing most gifts from his general, asks Cominius for a favor. Once Coriolanus stayed in the city at a poor man’s house, where he was treated well. During the battle, this man was taken prisoner and cried out to Coriolanus, but Coriolanus saw Aufidius, and his wrath against his enemy overcame his pity for the poor man. Coriolanus asks Cominius if he will free the man, and Cominius says he’d let the man go even if he had killed Cominius’s own son. Cominius instructs Lartius to free the man, and Lartius asks Coriolanus for the man’s name, but Coriolanus has forgotten it. He is weary, and his memory is tired, so he asks for wine. They retire to Cominius’s tent, since the blood covering Coriolanus is drying and his wounds need to be cared for.
It’s left unsaid in the play, but it’s probably the case that this man remains imprisoned and dies because Coriolanus forgot his name. Just after he receives his heroic new name, Coriolanus shows he doesn’t understand or value the power of names, including his own. He seems unaware of the dehumanizing effect his name and heroism have on him, and later he’ll fatally forget that this new name is an extreme insult to the people of Volces. This lack of appreciation for names is reflective of his general preference for action (mostly violence) in favor of language.
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