The Big Mouth of Coriolanus


Gaius Marcius Coriolanus was a general of Rome in the 5th Century BCE. His story has been retold in classic works by Plutarch and Livy, although he is best remembered as the tragic hero in Shakespeare's play, an excellent rendition of which is available through the BBC here. The story also engendered great paintings, an often-performed dramatic overture by Beethoven, and several modern Hollywood movies, including this most recent rendition starring Gerard Butler, Ralph Fiennes, and Vanessa Redgrave in the eponymous role of Coriolanus' mother.

The historical Coriolanus came to fame for his heroic deeds on the battlefield, especially for his role in crushing Rome's enemy, the neighboring Volsci. The modern renditions of his story then focus on his exile and the events that followed. Banished from Rome, he appeared before the leader of the Volsci and offered to lead them to victory against Rome. Indeed, he succeeded in destroying most of Rome's allies and then proceeded to lay siege to his former city. He was intent on complete revenge and no embassy could sway his will, until a dramatic plea made by his wife, sons, and most of all, his mother finally convinced him to abandon the campaign. He later died in disgrace in exile. Obviously this makes for great drama on the stage and hence, the story of Coriolanus is well known.

What is not as well known is how he ended up in exile. As a war hero, he was well respected. He decided to then run for office for the powerful position of consul. As he demonstrated to the people his many scars from battle, and spoke boastfully of his exploits, the people initially rallied around him and his election was going to be a shoe-in. Unfortunately, he was not as great an orator and as he made more speeches, his prejudices and his military rigidity began to show through. The more he spoke, the more he was loathed, to the point that he was eventually put on trial for his narrow views. Rather than suffer that fate, he fled the city to the Volsci and disgraced himself completely.

The lesson here is that leaders should know when to speak and when not to speak. This is especially true when the leader's views are unpopular - every leader sometimes has to share bad news but the key is to know how to say it and when. Coriolanus cared little for conventions, for proper speech, or for any view but his own. When he spoke and it displeased people, he dug in and stuck to his views despite the growing opposition. He would utterly dismiss opposing views as irrelevant and boorishly forge ahead with his own ideas no matter the consequences (...not unlike a modern leader with similar traits).

For Collegiate Gigsters, however, it is important not to lead with a big mouth. Know the limits of a situation and speak less rather than more, especially when the mood in the room starts to veer from the desired path. The way of Coriolanus is one that leads to disgrace and eventually betrayal, but it also generates much misery for everyone else along the way, thus creating more resentment and anger.

In short: don't be a Coriolanus!

This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.
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