At least as heady as wine... Laocoön and His Sons

"With both his hands he labors at the knots;
His holy fillets the blue venom blots;
His roaring fills the flitting air around.
Thus, when an ox receives a glancing wound,
He breaks his bands, the fatal altar flies,
And with loud bellowings breaks the yielding skies." 

(Virgil, Aeneid, John Dryden's translation)

Today, 506 years ago on 14 January 1507, Felice de Fredis made quite a discovery in his vineyards on the Esquiline Hill in Rome near Nero's Domus Aurea. By order of Pope Julian II, Michelangelo and the architect Giuliano da Sangallo were sent ti survey Felice's finding and da Sangallo cried out: "This is the Laocoön, Pliny the Elder has mentioned!" - and indeed, the Roman Renaissance architect knew his classics. It was indeed a marble copy from the 1st century BCE of the sculptors Hagesandros, Polydoros and Athanadoros bronze sculpture from Rodos about 200 BCE, exhibited in the palace of the Attalids in Pergamon.

Shown is the death-struggle of the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons strangled by serpents Poseidon sent when the cleric was about to expose what's in the Trojan Horse, at least according to Sophocles' lost drama. Virgil later put a famous sentence into his mouth: "Equo ne credite, Teucri / Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes", or "Do not trust the Horse, Trojans / Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts."

Immediately after it's rediscovery, the sculpture was brought to the Belvedere Garden at the Vatican. The so-called Laocoön Group is celebrated as a masterpiece of Hellenistic art and has been subject of aesthetic debate and discourse ever since.

More on: