Fig. 1. Hagesandros, Athenodoros, Polidoros. Laocoon. Vatican Museums, Belvedere.
Fig. 2. Unknown artist. Miniature of the Aeneid representing the Laocoon episode. Vat. Lat. 3223, f. 18v.
Fig. 3. Attributed to Sebastian Brandt. Aeneid woodcut from Strasbourg
(edition of Johannes Grüniger, 1502, f.162v) representing the wooden
horse and the death of Laocoon and his sons.
Fig. 4. Filippino Lippi. Drawing representing the death of Laocoon. Destroyed during the Second World War.
Fig. 5. Gian Francesco de’ Maineri (attr.). Sacrificial Scene. Chicago, Art Institute.
Fig. 6. Andrea Riccio. Sacrifice to Aesculap. Originally made for the
tomb of Girolamo della Torre and his son Marco Antonio. Presently in
Fig. 7. Lorenzo Costa. Madonna dei Bentivoglio. Bologna, San Giacomo Maggiore.
Fig. 8. Giovanni Bellini. The Redeemer. London, National Gallery.
Fig. 9. Moderno. Sacra Conversazione. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Fig. 10. Moderno. Flagellation. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Fig. 11. Michelangelo. Crucifixion (drawing). London, British Museum.
Fig. 12. Hagesandros, Athenodoros, Polidoros. Laocoon. Vatican Museums, Belvedere (detail).
Fig. 13. Hagesandros, Athenodoros, Polidoros. Laocoon. Vatican Museums, Belvedere.
Images of heroism and martyrdom: borrowings from the Vatican Laocoon during the early modern period
Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro - UERJ
Why is the Vatican Laocoon (fig. 1) sitting down? Why would a man
who is being, together with his two sons, mortally wounded, not stand
up, or, on the contrary, fall down completely? And why does this
unnatural position, after all, does not seem so strange to us?
As early as in the 1980’s, Dieter Blume noticed that the death of
Laocoon, the Trojan priest attacked by two sea monsters after having
warned the Trojans against the wooden horse the Greeks had left in
front of the city walls, could be paralleled to Christ’s sacrifice. This interpretation was later developed by Bernard Andreae in his Laocoon and the Foundation of Rome,
of 1988, in which the scholar masterly connects recent archaeological
findings to the history of the group’s reception in the 16th century in order to link Laocoon’s death not only to Christ’s sacrificial death, but also, to the topos of the renovatio Romae. In the books and papers that followed the 500th anniversary of the group’s exhumation, in 2006, this view has been mostly reaffirmed.
Let us remember how the story goes. The literary tradition related
to the myth of Laocoon, as in the case of so many mythological
characters, does not maintain a single version, but rather develops
many variations introduced by the numerous authors who have treated the
subject. The earliest known mention of the myth is in the Iliou persis
– one of the poems of the so called Epic Cycle (7th-5th centuries BC) –
composed by Arctinus and transmitted through the compilation of
Proclus, probably written in the second century AD. According to this
version, the Trojans debated about what was to be done with the wooden
horse left by the Greeks in front of the city gates; some suggested
burning it, others throwing it from the cliffs, others still dedicating
it to Minerva. The third view finally prevailed, and the Trojans,
believing that the war was over, held a high festival to celebrate the
supposed peace. At that moment, however, two serpents sent by Apollo
appeared and attacked Laocoon and one of his sons. The portent alarmed
Aeneas and his family to such an extent, that they decided to escape
immediately. The relationship between the attack of the reptiles and
Aeneas flight is, therefore, explicit; Laocoon’s and his son’s death
constitute the omen thanks to which the warrior may be saved. The
divine intervention could be thus understood as a manifestation of
Apollo’s favor towards the Trojans: the god knew that Troy was already
doomed to destruction, but at the same time wished to allow the
survival of at least a part of it – symbolized by Aeneas and the
Trojan penates. There is no hint, therefore, of any demerit on the part
of the victim.
If Arctinus, however, does not attribute any guilt to Laocoon, in the 5th century BC a hubris
is introduced at the root of the events which would result in his
death: in a poem originally composed by Bacchylides and recorded by
Servius (ad.Aen., 2,201), Laocoon, a priest of Apollo, has
sexual intercourse with his wife before the image of the god, who for
this reason punishes him by sending two serpents to kill his sons;
after the attack, the reptiles are transformed into men. The idea of
guilt seems to have been retained in a tragedy by Sophocles on the
Laocoon subject, from which, unfortunately, only a few fragments have
Servius also quotes the Alexandrian poet Euphorion (end of the 3rd
century and beginning of the 2nd century BC), a very important model
for Vergil. As in the Aeneid,
Euphorion’s Laocoon is chosen priest to Neptune by lot, since the
original priest of the god, whose sacrifices failed to prevent the
Greeks from landing, had been stoned to death by his countrymen. Also
as in Vergil, Laocoon is immolated together with his two sons.
In this version, one still encounters the idea of the priest’s guilt
for having had intercourse with his wife before an image of Apollo (“ante simulacrum numinis cum Antiopa uxore sua coeundo“).
Let us briefly cite, finally, the references to the Laocoon myth in the Posthomerica of Quintus Smyrnaeus; the Bibliotheca of Apollodorus; the Fabulae of Hyginus, and Petronius’ Satiricon.
The main reference to the Laocoon myth, however, the one which has made
it so familiar to modern and contemporary people and by which it is
normally identified, is undoubtedly in the second book of the Aeneid.
The passage related to the Trojan priest’s terrible fate is included in
the painful narration Aeneas makes to Queen Dido about the Greek
deceits and the Trojan misfortune, which begins at the end of the first
book. The hero tells how the Achaean sailed to the island Tenedos so
that the Trojans would believe that they were returning to Greece, but
instead deposited before the city gates the insidious wooden horse,
whose internal cavity bore armed warriors. The Trojans were unsure
about what to do with the simulacrum when Laocoon, a priest of Neptune,
rushing inflamed before a crowd, exhorted his countrymen not to trust
the Greeks and their gifts.
After this powerful speech, Laocoon throws his spear at the horse’s
side, evoking a loud prophetic reverberation. As pointed out by
Vergil’s Laocoon is presented as a well-known character of great
authority and strong temper: while the other leaders waver, he knows
his own mind, and his fiery words, which immediately draw the attention
of the crowd, for a moment seem to be able to ward off Troy’s ruin. His
action of flinging his spear at the horse, characteristic of a strong
man in his prime, reinforces the impression of a firm and decided
personality. In this same moment, however, Sinon suddenly appears with
his hands tied, and with a deceitful speech, seeks to convince the
Trojans to introduce the wooden horse inside the city walls: he states
that the Greeks had left the simulacrum as an offering to placate
Minerva, offended by the theft of the Paladium; if they destroyed it,
their city would be ruined; if, however, they brought it within their
walls, Troy would attain the most glorious future. Sinon had
practically convinced the crowd, when a terrible event occurred to give
credence to his tale in the eyes of the Trojans: while Laocoon
immolated a bull before the sacred altars, two monstrous serpents
appeared on the sea, coming from Tenedos. When they gained the shore,
the reptiles attacked both of Laocoon’s sons; the father came rushing
with a weapon to help them, but was himself destroyed by the dragons.
His death is compared by the poet to the sacrifice of a bull:
“Ille simul manibus tendit divellere nodos,
Perfusus sanie vittas atroque veneno,
Clamores simul horrendos ad sidera tollit,
Quales mugitus, fugit quum saucius aram
Taurus et incertam excussit cervice securim.”
With Laocoon and his children dead, the snakes hide in Minerva’s
temple, under the goddess’ feet. The Trojans were then convinced that
Laocoon was killed because he had offended Minerva by throwing his
spear against the sacred simulacrum, and at last brought it into the
city walls. Believing that the war was over, they celebrated the
supposed peace. When night fell and the Trojans were asleep, Sinon
opened the horse and liberated the warriors hidden inside it, while the
Greek fleet returned from its hiding place in Tenedos. In this moment,
Aeneas is visited in dreams by Hector, who, crying, exhorts him to
escape: the ruin of Priam’s citadel was unavoidable – says the ghost –
but he himself could still be saved, and take with him the penates of
Troy. Meanwhile, the battle begins; Aeneas, awakened by the cries of
the people and the sound of the weapons, prepared to fight and join his
countrymen. Many Trojans were killed; Priam’s palace was assaulted, and
the king murdered by Pirros. The hero then sees Helen, who, frightened,
tries to hide; furious, he wants to kill her, when his mother appears
to him in a second vision, again exhorting him to abandon Troy – doomed
to destruction – and escape. Aeneas rushes home, and, taking on his
shoulders his father Anchises – who holds in his hands, not stained
with blood, the penates – begins his flight accompanied by his wife
Creusa and his son Iulus. While proceeding to the city gates,
nonetheless, Aeneas realised that his wife was no longer with them;
leaving his father and son in a safe place, he returned to look for
her, when her specter suddenly appeared to him in a third vision: the
gods would not allow her to accompany him – she says – but he should
escape to the distant land where the calm Tiber flows, where he would
found a new reign and deserve a royal wife. Returning to the place
where he had left his family, Aeneas finds many other countrymen, who
were ready to follow him. They all set off, then, on the long journey
which would take them to Italy.
As indicated by Bernard Andreae,
Laocoon’s and his sons’ death constitute the first of a series of signs
– followed by the apparition of Hector, Venus and Creusa – which
gradually revealed to Aeneas his high mission: to save the penates of
Troy, renewing it in the Roman people. Although the cause-effect
relationship between the attack of the serpents and Aeneas flight
(consequently the foundation of Rome) is not, therefore, explicit, the
attentive reading of the second book shows that the Vergilian passage
maintains this link established by the archaic tradition and, very
likely, followed by Sophocles. The high relief given to the laocoontian
episode in comparison to the previous texts, on the other hand, may be
explained by the fact that Vergil was writing a poem to celebrate Rome,
and therefore trying to accentuate every element that concerned its
Through a metaphor of maximum density and poetic value, i.e., the
comparison between the priest and a victim before the altar of
sacrifices – quales mugitus, fugit quum saucius aram / Taurus et incertam excussit cervice securim – Laocoon, who not by chance was making a sacrifice when the serpents appeared, becomes himself the sacrificial victim.
The priest’s death is the decisive element which gives credibility to
Sinon’s tale, making the Trojans believe that they should bring the
horse into the city; concomitantly, it also constitutes the first of a
succession of signs which would reveal to Aeneas the unavoidability of
Troy’s destruction and at the same time his own destiny, which would
lead him to renew Troy in Rome. Inserted in this magnificent poem which
glorified the Roman people and their origins, therefore, Laocoon’s
death constitutes the necessary sacrifice to the foundation of Rome. If
Laocoon’s sacrifice in Vergil announces the ruin of Troy, at the same
time it also allows the salvation of the one who could perpetuate it in
the Roman people.
So far, it is not difficult to understand why this political
interpretation of the myth found such a fertile ground when, in January
1506, the statuary group was exhumed up on a Roman hill, the Colle
Oppio. According to a letter written in 1567 by Francesco da Sangallo,
at the time only eleven years old, Michelangelo himself went to the
site of the excavations; Francesco also tells us that his father,
Giuliano, immediately recognized the group: questo è Laocoonte, di cui fa menzione Plinio, This is the Laocoon mentioned by Pliny, he would have stated. Pliny the Elder, indeed, in a famous passage of his Naturalis Historia
mentions “the Laocoon, which is in the palace of the emperor Titus,
[as] a work to be preferred to all others, either in painting or
sculpture”. He also names the artists who carved it: the Rhodians
Agesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus. Those names would re-emerge
when, in 1957, a spectacular group of sculptures, signed by those same
artists, were found in Sperlonga.
Both in the times of Vergil and in 1506, therefore, the Laocoon
could symbolize the rebirth of Rome; its political potential was
certainly noticed by Giuliano della Rovere, then Pope Julius II, who
promptly acquired the sculptures, to the detriment of many illustrious
gentlemen – including the Cardinal of S.Pietro in Vincoli, the Cardinal
of S.Giorgio and the Conservatori themselves, who intended to place
them up in the Capitolio. The first letters written about the
exhumation of the group invariably mention Vergil, Pliny, and the fact
that Laocoon was performing a sacrifice. So does Bonsignore Bonsignori,
Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti and Filippo Casavecchia, for example,
in letters written less than a month after the discovery of the group.
The representations of the Laocoon group prior to its exhumation in
1506, similarly, seem to always have maintained the Virgilian link
between Laocoon’s death, the sacrificial altar and the bull. In a
miniature from a IV century manuscript of the Aeneid presently kept in
the Vatican Library (fig. 2), for example, the episode is presented to
us in two different moments: in our left, we see Laocoon about to
sacrifice the white bull; in the left, he is being attacked by the
serpents together with his two children on the very same altar which he
intended to use to sacrifice the bull. The rhyming of both altars
almost literary suggests the parallelism between the bull’s sacrifice
and Laocoon’s death. Centuries later, a woodcut attributed to Sebastian
Brandt from a famous edition of the Aeneid published by
Johannes Grüniger in Strasbourg (1502; fig. 3) depicts, in the
foreground, the wooden horse, and in the background a crowd before the
gates of Troy. On the left Laocoon appears being attacked by the
serpents, having next to him an altar on which a calf is burning. His
two sons, still encircled by the reptiles, lie lifeless on the ground.
The connection between the story of the Trojan priest and the
representation of a sacrificial ritual is, again, the keynote of a work
which probably constitutes the most famous modern representation of the
Laocoon myth produced before 1506: the unfinished fresco of Filippino
Lippi in the Medicean villa of Poggio a Caiano, which not by chance Vasari refers to as “un sacrifizio”
(fig. 4: here we see one of the two known preparatory drawings – the
fresco itself is presently in poor conditions). The fresco, produced
sometime in the 1490’s, probably uses as prototype ancient images of
the Suovetaurilia, representations – normally in reliefs – in
which a bull, a pig and a lamb are taken to the altar of sacrifice in
front of which a priest is preparing the sacred ritual. Lippi’s fresco
demonstrates, in fact, a true interest not only in citing, but also in
recreating the ancient world.
In his seminal article of 1938 – Pagan Sacrifice in the Italian Renaissance
– Fritz Saxl points out the high interest Italian artists took in the
representation of Pagan sacrifices, which were not conceived as
incompatible with Christian beliefs.
The fundamental importance of the sacrificial ritual – and its
representation – has been amply recognised in diverse fields of
investigation, be it theological or anthropological, historical or
artistic, philosophical or sociological. A moment of maximum unity
between men and divinity, it is placed at the epicentre of every
religious ritual, and contains in itself the elements essentially
necessary to the comprehension of a given theological system.
Christianity inherited, both from Paganism and Judaism, the fundamental
concept of sacrifice, and many different characteristics belonging both
to sacrificial ceremonies and conceptions from the Graeco-Roman and
Jewish world are preserved in Christian tradition.
Especially towards the end of the 15th century, not only
Pagan sacrificial representations started to be recreated as
independent works of art – such as for instance by Gian Francesco de’
Maineri in a drawing, or Andrea Riccio in the relief of the Della Torre
Tomb (fig. 5 and fig. 6) – but also Pagan sacrificial elements begun to
infiltrate in Christian representations. In such images Pagan sacrifice
was in general introduced sotto voce in the composition, more
frequently under the guise of some decorative feature in the
architectonic structure simulating either painting or sculpture. Warburg referred many times to the generic insertion of ancient scenes en grisaille, usually simulating reliefs, in works representing Christian scenes.
This method allowed the artist to establish a relation of conciliation
with the classical past on the one hand, and on the other to keep a
safe distance between the Pagan universe – confined in a fictitious
space and treated as an explicit metaphor – and the Christian “real”
scene. In the particular case of sacrificial representations, this
scheme began to appear quite frequently from the last decades of the Quattrocento on; in Lorenzo Costa’s Madonna dei Bentivoglio
(fig. 7), for example, a scene of Pagan sacrifice is figured on the
Virgin’s throne, functioning as a clear allusion to the future
sacrifice of Christ; the same detail is repeated in Bellini’s Redeemer in the National Gallery (fig. 8) and in Moderno’s bronze plaquette depicting a Sacra Conversazione (fig. 9).
Moderno’s plaquette, as well as its pendant, the Flagellation of Christ,
was studied in depth by Dieter Blume, whom we mentioned at the
beginning of this paper. The scholar indicates several iconographical
correspondences between the saints represented in Moderno’s plaquette
and Graeco-Roman divinities. For example, Saint Sebastian, at our right
hand side, wears a vine garland in his hair, in a clear allusion to the
ancient Bacchic rituals. Saint George, on our left hand side, offers,
with his left hand, three fruits – probably pomegranates – to the
Virgin. Although these fruits constitute, in Christian iconography, a
symbol of the Resurrection, they are not traditionally related to St
George, but rather to another dragon-killer, i.e. to Hercules, who had
to kill a dragon in order to steal the golden apples from the
Hesperides garden. The analogy is confirmed by the clear quotation of
the celebrated bronze statue of Hercules, also holding the Hesperides
fruits, which since the end of the 15th century had stood in the
Conservatori Palace, in Rome. Moderno’s second plaquette (fig. 10)
represents the flagellation in ancient-like scenery:
Christ is bound to a column which stands symmetrically at the centre of
a construction structured by eight pillars forming four arches partly
in ruins; his torturers, archaeologically dressed in the Roman manner
(except for the soldier in the foreground, at the right, who is naked),
completely fill the space around the victim. Diverse figures relate
directly back to classical models: the two soldiers who flank Christ
are probably inspired by the horse-breakers of Monte Cavallo, while the remaining torturers were probably taken from battle scenes of ancient Roman sarcophagi. Crowning this real pasticcio
of ancient quotations – to use the expression employed by Blume – the
engraver chose, for the figure of Christ, nothing less than the central
figure of the famous Vatican Laocoon, almost exactly copied by the artist from the group.
The utilisation of the laocoontian model goes beyond the pure wish of
formal quotation from the Antique. What makes the identification
between Christ and Laocoon possible is the sacrificial nature of their
death. Just like other traditional Hebrew types such as Isaac or
Melchisedek, Laocoon here functions as a Pagan typological allusion to
Christ and his sacrifice. Laocoon’s sacrifice, moreover, assumed, as
said above, a particular meaning in the context of the renovatio Romae,
the idea according to which Rome, founded as a consequence of the
sacrifice of Laocoon and converted into the Holy See through the
sacrifice of Christ, would again become caput mundi.
Some years after the making of Moderno’s plaquettes, Michelangelo
would again draw inspiration from the Vatican group to create a new
type of representation of Christ in the Cross (fig. 11). In Italy, from
the second quarter of the 13th century onwards – namely with the
Crucifixions of Giunta Pisano and Cimabue – the model of the dead
Christ on the cross was practically omnipresent. Michelangelo breaks
this tradition by representing him alive, twisted and suffering.
According to Condivi, Michelangelo wished to represent the passage of
St Matthew’s Gospel in which Christ, just before dying, cries: “My God,
my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ’s upraised head, the eyes
turned upwards, the violent torsion of the body, the sense of
imprisoned strength, the expression of suffering, are all elements
which unmistakably point out the borrowing of the Vatican group, which
inspired Michelangelo to create a new, heroic type of Christ on the
As far as the general interpretation of the Laocoon group
is concerned, it would not be impossible that the priest’s death
alludes to ancient literary traditions according to which he did have a
hubris to atone, as well as to other forms of political
connotation, such as, for instance, the fate of Mark Anthony, as it has
been recently suggested.
The interpretation according to which Laocoon’s death is sacrificial,
though, is evident in the Virgilian passage, which happens to be the
most widely known literary source of the episode and, as such, the most
important reference to artists, who have not failed in representing the
episode according to the verses of the Mantuan poet. The presence of
the sacrificial altar in engravings, paintings and miniatures made
before 1506 corroborates the idea according to which Laocoon’s death
was sacrificial. This is also the answer to the question formulated at
the beginning of this paper, i.e., why is the Vatican Laocoon sitting
down while being so aggressively attacked. If one looks closely enough,
there can be no doubt that the rectangular object on which the priest
is sitting down is, in fact, a sacrificial altar (fig. 12).
After the appearance of the book by Bernard Andreae, in 1989 – certainly the most important text written on the Laocoon in the second half of the 20th century – two major works have been written on the group: Salvatore Settis’ Laocoonte, Fame e Stile and Richard Brilliant’s My Laocoon,
both originally published in 2000. The two texts emphasize the fact
that the Laocoon group is so deeply rooted both in our visual
collective memory and cultural repertoire that it takes a scholarly
work to actually rescue its original meaning and connotations. Settis
opens his book by quoting the letter in which the Italian poet Cesare
Pavese compares himself to Laocoon: Io sono come Laocoonte, he writes only six days before committing suicide. Settis points out that even though the Laocoon group constitutes a Pathosformel,
it remains suspended between the crystallization of art and the very
authentic pains of life. However, Settis’ efforts all go in the sense
of understanding the Laocoon sculpted by the Rhodian masters, instead
of inventing our Laocoon, i.e. one that could be adapted to our vision
of Greek art.
One of the strongest merits of Richard Brilliant’s My Laocoon,
on the other hand, is to clearly demonstrate that the traditional
academic views according to which historical interpretation is
progressive and will eventually lead us to a final, undisputed truth,
cannot possibly embrace the complexity of the many layers of meaning
added to the Laocoon throughout the centuries. The group’s
interpretations are kaleidoscopic, sometimes contradictory, and
certainly ever changing. What Brilliant’s book reaffirms, perhaps most
importantly, is the inexhaustibility of the Laocoon group as an
intellectual subject; as stated by Bernard Andreae in his review of the
book, every time period has the Laocoon it deserves. Which one is ours?
Certainly it is the expression of suffering which seems to captivate
most of viewers nowadays, as well as the nature of this expression in
the footsteps of the debate generated by Winckelmann, Lessing and
Goethe in the XVIII century. Maybe one of the main elements we have
inherited from the conception according to which Laocoon is an innocent
sacrificial victim is the fact that, for most contemporary observers,
he looks like an essentially good man suffering the arbitrarity of
fate. For us, the idea according to which Laocoon’s death symbolize the
destruction and renewal of empires is historically too distant, but
Laocoon’s heroism, here understood as his capacity to accept and endure
his destiny, seems to be immediately perceived. Moreover, his visual
identification with the image of Christ on the cross seems to have
forever transformed him into a kind of saint, just like in the 20th
century the atheist Ernesto Che Guevara would be sanctified by the –
maybe unintentional, or maybe not – click of a local photographer when
he was killed in the Bolivian jungles.
(This article is an expanded version of the paper presented during
the 33rd Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art
(CIHA) in Nuremberg, in July 2012).
Figura - Studi sull'Immagine nella Tradizione Classica, nº 1, 2013.
 BLUME, D. “Antike und Christentum”. In: Natur und Antike in der Renaissance, Cat. exhib. in Liebieghaus. Frankfurt am Main: 1985, p.88 ff., cat. n.64.
 For a reproduction of the fragments and a brief introductory study, see PEARSON, A.C. The Fragments of Sophocles.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1917 (3 vols.) v.2, pp. 38-47.
According to the reconstruction made by C. Robert in 1881 (“Bild und
Lied”. Berlim: Philologische Untersuchungen, v.5, 1881,
p.192-212) and admitted in its general features by most scholars,
Sophocles seems to have inherited elements from both the archaic
tradition and from Bacchylides: as in the latter, the two children
perish, while the priest himself survives; on the other hand, the most
characteristic aspect of Arctinus’ version, i.e., the relation between
the attack of the serpents and Aeneas’ flight, is kept. Dionysius of
Halicarnassus states that, according to the tragedy of Sophocles,
Aeneas abandons Troy on the advice of his father, Anchises, who had
inferred the destruction of Troy from the warnings of Aphrodite and of
those recently given “peri tous Laocoontidas”. Based on these last
words, Robert concludes that in this version both sons die (Robert,
1881, p.197). Förster impugned Robert’s theory in Verhandlungen der 40 Versammlung deutscher Philologen in Gorlitz, 1889, p.432 f., arguing that the word “Laocoontidas” could include the father as well as the children.
 As pointed out by D’Alfonso (Il Ritrovamento del Laocoonte vaticano e due umanisti di quel tempo.
Gubbio: Gubbio Scuola Tipografica, 1929, pp. 4-5, note 2), Vergil
demonstrated his knowledge of Euphorion from Calcides when Cornelius
Gallus, in the Bucolics, alludes to the elegies which he had composed in the “calcidic verse” (i.e. Euphorion’s verse): “Ibo et Chalcidico quae sunt mihi condita versu / carmina, pastoris Siculi modulabor avena” (Bucolics, X, 50). The “Sicilian shepherd” would be, of course, Theocritus.
 “(…) et ob hoc inmissis draconibus cum suis filiis interemptus est.”
Lessing thought that in Vergil alone the reptiles kill both the father
and the sons, a belief which led him to suppose that the sculptors of
the Vatican Laocoon would have used the model of the Aeneid – where the three characters are attacked by the serpents.
 For a wider discussion on the text of Quintus Smyrnaeus and the Bibliotheca cf., FUNAIOLI,G. “Sul mito di Laocoonte in Virgilio”; Atti del I congresso di studi romani, v.2, 1929, p.300 segg, and PARATORE, E. “Sull’episodio di Laocoonte in Virgilio”. In: -. Studi di poesia latina in onore di Antonio Traglia. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, v.1, 1979, pp.405-430, p.407 f.. For Hyginus’ Fabulae see GRANT, M. The Myths of Hyginus. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1960, p.112.
 “Vergil and the Wooden Horse”; Journal of the Roman Studies, v.49, 1959, p.18.
 ANDREAE, B. Laokoon und die Gründung Roms. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern,1988, part 1.
 “Pagan Sacrifice in the Italian Renaissance”; Warburg Journal, v.2, 1938, pp.346-67
 According to E. Panofsky in Early Netherlandish Painting.
Cambridge-Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1953 (2 vols.)
p.137f., Jan Van Eyck was the first one to express this relation of
continuity between the ancient and the modern faith, in works such as
for instance the Annunciation in the National Gallery of
Washington; in this case, however, one has again a proposal of
harmonisation exclusively with Judaism, and not with Paganism.
 Cf. GOMBRICH, E. Aby Warburg. An intellectual Biography. London: The Warburg Institute, 1970, p.176, 247 and 296.
 Costa’s work, from 1488, is
presently in the Church of San Giacomo Maggiore in Bologna, and
Moderno’s plaquette, executed in the first half of the 16th century,
belongs to the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna.
 For a list of copies and variants
made after the plaquette, as well as for a vast bibliography on them,
cf. LEITHE-JASPER, M. Renaissance master bronzes from the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Scala Books & Smithsonian Institution, 1986, pp.125-126. For an
hypothesis according to which it was commissioned to Moderno by the
Cardinal Grimani, cf. LEWIS, D. “The plaquettes of Moderno and his
followers”; Studies in the History of Art, National Gallery of Washington, n.22, 1989, p.129 f..
 PLANISCIG, L. Die Bronzeplastiken. Statueten, Reliefs und Plaketten. Vienna: Anton Shroll, 1924, p.247, n.408, compared the naked warrior to the Tyrannicide
which was at the courtyard of the Medici-Madama palace in the
beginnings of the 16th century, being presently kept in the
Archaeological Museum of Naples.
 The dating of Moderno’s work could not be exactly established; the terminus post quem would be obviously determined by the exhumation of the Laocoon in 1506, but the terminus ante quem
is more difficult to determine. Similarities with the version given to
the right arm of the Trojan priest by the Montorsolian restoration of
1532 may suggest a later date, although that could be by no means later
than 1540, the year in which the north-Italian engraver supposedly ends
his artistic activity.
 R.R.R.Smith, review of Bernard Andreae’s Laocoon un die Gründung Roms. Gnomon, 63, 4 (1991), pp. 351-58.