Music plays in the house of Aufidius. A servant enters, looking for wine, and then exits. Another servant enters, looking for a person named Cotus, and then exits. Coriolanus enters and comments on Aufidius’s “goodly house”, saying that the feast smells good. The first servant enters again and asks what Coriolanus is doing there, telling him to leave. The servant exits, and Coriolanus feels that he doesn’t deserve any better of a greeting. The second servant enters, and he also asks Coriolanus what he is doing there. He calls Coriolanus riffraff and tells him to leave. Coriolanus refuses, and then the first and third servants enter and question who he is, what he is doing in the house, and why he will not leave. One leaves to inform Aufidius that a strange guest has entered the house.
The lower class in Antium is contrasted with the citizens of Rome. Here, these servants happily do their jobs while the nobles eat (instead of rioting for more food of their own). Coriolanus is in a disguise, so he appears to be in a lower class than even the servants. He feels he deserves no special greeting because the servants don’t know who he is, and if they did they would probably have given an even worse greeting.
Another servant asks Coriolanus where he lives, to which Coriolanus responds under the sky, and in the “city of kites and crows.” The servant asks if that means he lives with foolish birds too, but Coriolanus says no, since he doesn’t serve the servant’s master. He beats the servant away, and another reenters along with Aufidius, who asks where the strange guest is. Aufidius asks why the stranger has come, what he wants, what his name is, and why he won’t speak. Coriolanus removes his face covering, and says that if Tullus doesn’t recognize him yet, he’ll be forced to reveal his name, one that is “unmusical to the Volscians’ and harsh in sound to [Aufidius].”
Coriolanus’ explanation of where he lives means both that he is homeless (since he has been banished) and that he used to live in Rome, which he characterizes with birds of prey. This wordplay is a bit unexpected, since Coriolanus hates language, a fact reinforced by his refusal to speak to Aufidius at first. Here Coriolanus shows he at least in part understands the power of his name. Despite the fact that they have fought numerous times, Aufidius doesn’t recognize Coriolanus by his face.
Aufidius again asks Coriolanus’s name, noting that he has a grim appearance, a face fit for commanding, and a “noble vessel.” Coriolanus tells Aufidius to prepare to frown, asking if he still doesn’t recognize him. Aufidius still does not, so Coriolanus says he is Caius Martius, who has done great harm to the Volscians and to Aufidius personally, and has therefore been surnamed Coriolanus. For all of the danger he has faced and blood he has shed for his ungrateful country, his only reward is that surname, which is a memory of the hatred that Aufidius should bear him. Of his former life, Coriolanus says, “only that name remains.” The cruel people have “devoured” the rest of him, and by the “voice of slaves” he was exiled from Rome.
While Aufidius doesn’t recognize Coriolanus, he is able to recognize nobility and military prowess in Coriolanus’ bearing. Coriolanus knows that his surname is to the Volscians a reminder of all the things he has done, but since “Caius” and “Martius” connect him to Rome and to his family (and to his humanity), and since he has become disjointed from both, he is now only Coriolanus, the more-than-human soldier. Though the people were afraid of being devoured by the patricians, Coriolanus himself has been devoured by them.
These extreme circumstances have brought Coriolanus to Aufidius’s home, he says. He hasn’t come to try and save his own life, since if he was afraid of dying he would have avoided Aufidius above everyone else. Instead, he’s come out of spite for those who banished him. If Aufidius has a heart for vengeance, he should make Coriolanus’s misery serve his own purpose, using Coriolanus’s desire for revenge to aid in his own. Coriolanus will help Aufidius because he is willing to fight against his “cankered country” of Rome. If Aufidius isn’t interested in this proposition, then he should just cut Coriolanus’s throat, especially given their fierce rivalry throughout the years.
Coriolanus reveals his desire for revenge against Rome, hoping that a common enemy will make Aufidius accept him and end their rivalry. His willingness to turn on his home so quickly is surprising, but it also makes sense given that the city he loved more than himself rejected him. He is now only a soldier, and he sees violent revenge as his only option. Calling Rome a “cankered country” brings back the imagery of disease, suggesting that Rome is still fragile and divided, and therefore vulnerable to attack.
Aufidius cries out “O Martius, Martius,” and says that each word that his enemy speaks has removed more and more of his former hatred. Aufidius would not believe the god Jupiter any more than he believes the “all-noble Martius.” He asks to wrap his arms around Coriolanus’s body, which he has usually fought against. They embrace, and Aufidius grabs his sword and claims that he now loves Coriolanus as “hotly and as nobly” as he used to battle him. Aufidius says that though he loves his wife, he is more enraptured to see Coriolanus now than when he first carried his wife across the threshold.
Though Aufidius calls him “Martius” instead of “Coriolanus,” the Volscian general is extremely pleased to see his Roman rival. This reunion shows the intense bond between soldiers, which Aufidius says is even more strong than the marriage bond with his wife. Saying that he loves Coriolanus “hotly” suggests a possible sexual connotation to their masculine bond. This reunion also echoes some of the imagery used when Coriolanus and Cominius met on the battlefield earlier in the play.
Aufidius tells Coriolanus that he has amassed an army, and he originally intended to fight Coriolanus or die trying. Coriolanus has beaten him a dozen times, and since then Aufidius has dreamed nightly about fighting him. He claims that even if they had no other quarrel with Rome than Coriolanus’s banishment, they would still be willing to attack the city. Excitedly, Aufidius tells Coriolanus that he must meet the Volscian senators who are here for dinner and to discuss Aufidius’s plan to attack Roman territories. What’s more, he tells Coriolanus that he can lead half of the army against Rome to enact his own revenge, since he knows best his country’s weaknesses and strengths. Before they’ll plan their attack, though, Coriolanus must meet the Volscian nobles. The two men exit together.
That Aufidius dreams nightly of Coriolanus adds more intensity and sexual undertones to their relationship. Aufidius emphasizes that Coriolanus needs approval from the Volscian nobles, showing that like Coriolanus, he values the class structure. As quick as Coriolanus is to turn on Rome, Aufidius seems to immediately trust Coriolanus, even offering to provide him with half of the Volscian army. This comfort and trust might stem from the fact that Coriolanus is so inept at concealing his true intentions.
Two servants comment on what a strange altercation just took place. One says that he intended to beat Coriolanus, but he suspected that Coriolanus’s ragged clothing didn’t accurately indicate his character. The other comments how strong Coriolanus is, and they both claim they knew by his face that there was something more to Coriolanus than just a poor wanderer. They say that Coriolanus is the “rarest man in the world,” but debate if he is actually the greatest soldier.
Upon learning that the strange, disguised intruder was Coriolanus, the servants all claim they knew him to be of a higher class. There is no evidence of class struggle in Antium, and it could be argued that the servants are common people looking for reasons to believe that the patricians truly are superior to them.
The third servant enters, bearing news. The servants all discuss Coriolanus’s history with Aufidius, and how Aufidius has been outmatched. Outside of Corioles, Coriolanus bested Aufidius and could even have eaten him if he were “cannibally” inclined. The third servant continues with his news, saying that the Volscian senators instantly accepted Coriolanus, and that Aufidius treating him like a “mistress,” touching his hand like it was a sacred relic. Half of Aufidius’s troops have been reassigned to Coriolanus, who plans to attack Rome the following day. They wonder how Coriolanus’s friends in Rome will react, and they are excited for war, which they think is better than peace.
Coriolanus’ military skills are so great that a servant thinks he could have literally devoured Aufidius. That Aufidius treats Coriolanus like a “mistress” continues to add sexual tones to their homosocial bond. Another difference between Roman plebeians and Volscians is that the Volscians can easily make up their mind: they think war is better than peace. Coriolanus and Volumnia both criticize the Roman citizens for not knowing if they want war or peace.