The existence of a flourishing school of sculpture at Rhodes during the Hellenistic period is attested by our literary sources, as well as by artists' inscriptions found on the spot. Of the actual productions of that school we possess only the group of Laocoon and his sons. This was found in Rome in 1506, on the site of the palace of Titus. The principal modern parts are: the right arm of Laocoon with the adjacent parts of the snake, the right arm of the younger son with the coil of the snake around it, and the right hand and wrist of the older son. These restorations are bad. The right arm of Laocoon should be bent so as to bring the hand behind the head, and the right hand of the younger son should fall limply backward.
Laocoon was a Trojan priest who, having committed grievous sin, was visited with a fearful punishment. On a certain occasion when he was engaged with his two sons in performing sacrifice, they were attacked by a pair of huge serpents, miraculously sent, and died a miserable death. The sculptors – for the group, according to Pliny, was the joint work of three Rhodian artists – have put before us the moving spectacle of this doom. Laocoon, his body convulsed and his face distorted by the torture of poison, his mouth open for a groan or a cry, has sunk upon the altar and struggles in the agony of death.
The younger son is already past resistance; his left hand lies feebly on the head of the snake that bites him and the last breath escapes his lips. The older son, not yet bitten, but probably not destined to escape, strives to free himself from the coil about his ankle and at the same time looks with sympathetic horror upon his father's sufferings.
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