Coriolanus and the Stone
An insult is more powerful in the mind of its recipient than in the mouth of its donor. An insult is merely the product of the lungs generating airflow and pressure to vibrate the vocal cords thus forming, with fine articulation, a laryngeal sound. By the time this innocent physical process is complete, however, much damage can be done. Coriolanus, one of Shakespeare’s finest tragic figures, stands as testament to the awful degradation wrought by insult when coupled with a wimpish mind. That man, virile in martial strength, completely folds in feeble infamy when the plebeians revoke their support of his consulship. Enraged at this perceived insult he sets off on a tragic path towards his own destruction at the hands of the enemy Volscians.
Contrast Coriolanus with Kutuzov. Kutuzov, as we’ve seen lately, has suffered all manner of insult. Today, presumably, these insults continue as we’re told that he passes by “an enormous suite of discontented generals who whispered among themselves behind his back.” He doesn’t respond with anger. Instead he continues on his calm, Kutuzov way. Abandoning any notion of harm generated by these insults, Kutuz rises to offer his troops a rousing speech. It works. The troops erupt in joyous, long-sustained shouts of support and the campaign against the French continues apace.
Coriolanus and Kutuzov are similar in many respects. Both are high-ranking military men. Both repel a foreign invasion. Both are presented with the opportunity to gain the adoration of their people. Coriolanus errs in allowing insult to take power over his mind. Kutuzov understands that insult leaves one free to do with it what one will.
What is it to be insulted, for instance? Stand by a stone and insult it; and what effect will you get? If you, therefore, would listen like a stone, what would your insulter gain?
Epictetus, The Discourses