No work of sculpture of ancient or modern times has
given rise to such an extensive literature as the
Laocoon. None has been more lauded and more blamed.
Hawthorne "felt the Laocoon very powerfully, though very
quietly; an immortal agony, with a strange calmness
diffused through it, so that it resembles the vast rage
of the sea, calm on account of its immensity."
Ruskin, on the other hand, thinks "that no group has
exercised so pernicious an influence on art as this; a
subject ill chosen, meanly conceived, and unnaturally
treated, recommended to imitation by subtleties of
execution and accumulation of technical knowledge,"
Of the two verdicts the latter is surely much nearer the
The calmness which Hawthorne thought he saw in
the Laocoon is not there; there is only a terrible
torment. Battle, wounds, and death were staple themes of
Greek sculpture from first to last; but nowhere else is
the representation of physical suffering, pure and
simple, so forced upon us, so made the "be-all and
end-all" of a Greek work. As for the date of the group,
opinion still varies considerably. The probabilities
seem to point to a date not far removed from that of the
Pergamene altar; i.e., to the first half of the second
"Italian Note-books," under date of March
"Modern Painters," Part II, Section II, Chap.