Slightly later in date is the Hellenistic Laocoon, c. 0 BC/AD. The father, at center, was a priest in ancient Troy. As a priest, he was able to see into the future by observing the flight of bird or tides. When the Greeks delivered a wooden horse (large enough to house several Greek soldiers) to the gates of Troy, Laocoon “saw” the future destruction of his city. In order to silence him, the gods favorable to Greece devised a plan for his destruction. When Laocoon and his sons went to the seashore the following morning, the gods sent large sea serpents to kill/silence the three.


In the sculpture, are the figures athletes or heroes? First in respect to the father, as a serpent constricts and prepares to bite his body, the father’s body language and muscular definition are dramatically expressed. His hair is on end, his eyes distorted in agony, his mouth open as if expressing a howl, his arms properly poised to wrestle free of the serpent, the torso heaving, his legs kicking in and out, and his toes tensed. It seems as if the artist responded to the dramatic tone of the narrative and did not shirk from representing the man’s heroic physique distorted, sweaty, and wracked in pain. What of the sons? They are evidently the weakest part of the composition. The son on the left displays a graceful S-curve in his body that seems too delicate for the narrative. Where is his survival instinct? The son on the right looks more as if he is taking off his socks, than loosening his leg from the coil of the serpent. The sons have not been activated appropriate to the narrative. While they are biologically and proportionally correct, they are not in the moment and are therefore, heroes. Compositionally, the father is the focal point and the sons are balancing accessories, small in scale and relative importance.