What is the Laoco÷n?

The Laoco÷n is an ancient marble statue (n.d.; Cortile del Belvedere, Vatican) depicting Laoco÷n, the Trojan priest of Apollo, and his two sons being attacked by serpents. The Trojans saw the death of Laoco÷n not only as a portent for their city but also as Athena's punishment for the priest, who had hurled a spear at the wooden horse (the famous Trojan Horse) left behind by the Greeks on their feigned departure from Troy.

The Laoco÷n statue, which stands 2.42 m (8 ft) tall, was rediscovered in Rome in 1506 and was much admired and copied. In the late 16th century it was exalted as an example of unrestrained emotion; Titian, El Greco, and Peter Paul Rubens used it as a model; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about it; and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing named his treatise (1766) on aesthetics for it. Pliny the Elder, in his Historia Naturalis (1st century AD), attributed the statue to the Rhodian sculptors Agesander, Athenodorus, and Polydorus. Its date is uncertain: if it is Hellenistic, it dates from the 2d or 1st century BC; if Roman (based on a Hellenistic prototype), from the first century of the Christian era.

Anastasia Dinsmoor

Bibliography: Bieber, Margarete, Laocoon, the Influence of the Group since its Discovery, 2d ed. (1967) and The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, 2d ed. (1961); Richter, Simon, Laoco÷n's Body and the Aesthetics of Pain: Winckelmann, Lessing, Herder, Mortiz, Goethe (1992).

ę 1996 Grolier, Inc.

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