Laocoon

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Laocoön

Nationality/Culture

Greek/Roman

Pronunciation

lay-OK-oh-ahn

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

Virgil's Aeneid, Hyginus's Fabulae

Lineage

Son of Acoetes

Character Overview

In Greek and Roman mythology , Laocoon was a seer—a person who could foretell the future—and a priest of the god Apollo (pronounced uh-POL-oh) in the ancient city of Troy. He played a notable role in the last days of the Trojan War and met a violent death with his twin sons, Antiphantes (pronounced an-tuh-FAN-teez) and Thymbraeus (pronounced thim-BRAY-uhs).

Toward the end of the Trojan War, the Greeks placed a large wooden horse before the gates of Troy. Laocoon hurled a spear at it and warned the Trojans not to bring the horse into the city. He said, “I fear the Greeks even when they offer gifts.” Soon afterward, the Trojans ordered Laocoon to sacrifice a bull to the god Poseidon (pronounced poh-SYE-dun). While he was making the sacrifice near the sea, two great serpents emerged from the water and crushed Laocoon and his sons to death. The Trojans interpreted this event as a sign of the gods' disapproval of Laocoon's prediction, and they brought the horse into the city—an action that led to their downfall. Hiding inside the horse were Greek soldiers, who sneaked out of the horse and opened the gates of Troy at night, allowing the Greek army to enter and destroy the city.

Some stories say that the death of Laocoon and his sons was punishment from Athena (pronounced uh-THEE-nuh) or Poseidon for warning the Trojans against the wooden horse. This is the reason given in the Aeneid , an epic by the Roman poet Virgil. According to other legends, however, Apollo sent the serpents to kill Laocoon as punishment for an earlier wrong—breaking his vow to the god that he would never marry or have children.

Laocoön in Context

In ancient Greece, many people believed in the power of seers and oracles, because it was believed they could communicate with the gods. The tale of Laocoön may have served as a reminder that seers and oracles should be obeyed rather than ignored. This tale also affirms the special powers of those who communicate with the gods; the other citizens of Troy, who come up with their own ideas to explain why Laocoön was killed, end up not listening to Laocoön's prediction and ultimately lose the Trojan War because of it.

Key Themes and Symbols

The myth of Laocoön centers on the themes of misinterpretation and the vengeance of the gods. The Trojans misinterpret the intentions of the Greeks who offer them the horse; later, when Laocoön is killed by sea serpents, the Trojans misinterpret his death as a sign to ignore his warning about the Greeks. Laocoön is killed by one of the gods out of vengeance, either for revealing the Greeks' plan or for disrespecting the gods in another way. The death of Laocoön foreshadows, or hints at, the coming fall of Troy.

Laocoön in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Although a minor character in stories of the Trojan War, Laocoön and his sons were immortalized in a famous marble monument attributed to three different sculptors from the island of Rhodes. The sculpture is currently on display in the Vatican Museums in Rome. Laocoön was also the subject of a play by Sophocles, but the play—like many other Greek works—has been lost.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

During presidential election years, opinion pollsters constantly run surveys to gauge the popularity of the various candidates. Nearly every day, the results of a new poll are released showing which candidate is ahead. These polls serve as a sort of modern prophecy of the future. But, like the prophecy of Laocoön, the polls can have unexpected consequences. Do you think opinion polls are useful to potential voters? Are they useful to candidates? Why or why not?

SEE ALSO Animals in Mythology; Greek Mythology; Roman Mythology; Seers; Serpents and Snakes

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Laocoön

In Greek and Roman mythology, Laocoön was a seer and priest of the god Apollo* in the ancient city of Troy*. He played a notable role in the last days of the Trojan Warf and met a violent death with his twin sons, Antiphas and Thymbraeus.

Toward the end of the Trojan War, the Greeks placed a large wooden horse before the gates of Troy. Laocoön hurled a spear at it and warned the Trojans not to bring the horse into the city. He said, "I fear the Greeks even when they offer gifts." Soon afterward, the Trojans ordered Laocoön to sacrifice a bull to the god Poseidon*. While he was making the sacrifice near the sea, two great serpents emerged from the water and crushed Laocoön and his sons to death. The Trojans interpreted this event as a sign of the gods' disapproval of Laocoön's prophecy, and they brought the horse into the city, an action that led to their downfall. Hiding inside the horse were Greek soldiers, who opened the gates of Troy at night, allowing the Greek army to enter and destroy the city.

seer one who can predict the future

prophecy foretelling of what is to come; also something that is predicted

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

Some stories say that the death of Laocoön and his sons was punishment from Athena* or Poseidon for warning the Trojans against the wooden horse. This is the reason given in the Aeneid, an epic by the Roman poet Virgil. According to other legends, however, Apollo sent the serpents to kill Laocoön as punishment for an earlier wrongbreaking his vow to the god that he would never marry or have children.

See also Animals in Mythology; Greek Mythology; Roman Mythology; Seers; Serpents and Snakes; Trojan War.

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

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Laocoön (lāŏk´ōŏn), in Greek mythology, priest of Apollo who warned the Trojans not to touch the wooden horse made by the Greeks during the Trojan War. While he and his two sons were sacrificing to Poseidon at the seashore, two serpents came from the water and crushed them. The Trojans interpreted this event as a sign of the gods' disapproval of Laocoön's prophecy, and they brought the wooden horse into the city. Subsequent events vindicated Laocoön's judgment, however, since the horse was filled with Greeks, who waited until night and then sacked Troy. A magnificent Greek statue by Agesander, Athenodorus, and Polydorus, unearthed in Rome in 1508 and now in the Vatican, shows Laocoön and his sons in their death struggle. This Hellenistic sculpture had an important influence on the artists of the Renaissance.

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Laocoon in Greek mythology, a Trojan priest who, with his two sons, was crushed to death by two great sea serpents as a penalty for warning the Trojans against the Trojan Horse. A marble sculpture in the Vatican Museum, attributed by Pliny to Agesander, Athenodorus, and Polydurus of Rhodes, depicts the death of Laocoon and his sons, and in allusive use his name often reflects the idea of someone struggling within enveloping coils.