Characters in the Aeneid >Laocoon
Laocoon and Cassandra, the doomed to be disbelieved prophetess, try to persuade their fellow Trojans not to bring the Trojan Horse within the gates of their city. Laocoon suspects there might be men piled inside -- as indeed there are. He even hurls a javelin at its belly. He is responsible for the saying "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," or rather Vergil (Virgil) is when he makes Laocoon say it in Book II of the Aeneid. Following Laocoon's dire warning, while Laocoon is about to sacrifice a bull to the sea god Poseidon, twin serpents emerge from the sea, strangle him and his two sons, then slither to the temple of Athena. The Trojans take this as an omen that Laocoon was wrong and the gods displeased. Instead of trusting Laocoon, they believed a stranger, the treacherous Sinon, who was sent by his fellow Greeks to convince the Trojans of the benign motives of the Greeks. Sinon tells them he was selected to be a human sacrifice for the Greeks, and so he, a coward, fled. He adds that the horse would regain for the Trojans the goodwill of Athena. So, the Trojans let the fatal horse inside the city walls. The rest, as they say, is history... or at least legend.
Here's the passage from a 1910 public domain translation of the Aeneid, by Theodore C. Williams:
But now a vaster spectacle of fear
burst over us, to vex our startled souls.
Laocoon, that day by cast of lot
priest unto Neptune, was in act to slay
a huge bull at the god's appointed fane.
Lo! o'er the tranquil deep from Tenedos
appeared a pair (I shudder as I tell)
of vastly coiling serpents, side by side,
stretching along the waves, and to the shore
taking swift course; their necks were lifted high,
their gory dragon-crests o'ertopped the waves;
all else, half seen, trailed low along the sea;
while with loud cleavage of the foaming brine
their monstrous backs wound forward fold on fold.
Soon they made land; the furious bright eyes
glowed with ensanguined fire; their quivering tongues
lapped hungrily the hissing, gruesome jaws.
All terror-pale we fled. Unswerving then
the monsters to Laocoon made way.
First round the tender limbs of his two sons
each dragon coiled, and on the shrinking flesh
fixed fast and fed. Then seized they on the sire,
who flew to aid, a javelin in his hand,
embracing close in bondage serpentine
twice round the waist; and twice in scaly grasp
around his neck, and o'er him grimly peered
with lifted head and crest; he, all the while,
his holy fillet fouled with venomous blood,
tore at his fetters with a desperate hand,
and lifted up such agonizing voice,
as when a bull, death-wounded, seeks to flee
the sacrificial altar, and thrusts back
from his doomed head the ill-aimed, glancing blade.
then swiftly writhed the dragon-pair away
unto the templed height, and in the shrine
of cruel Pallas sure asylum found
beneath the goddess' feet and orbed shield.
Such trembling horror as we ne'er had known
seized now on every heart. " Of his vast guilt
Laocoon," they say, "receives reward;
for he with most abominable spear
did strike and violate that blessed wood.
Yon statue to the temple! Ask the grace
of glorious Pallas!" So the people cried
in general acclaim.
Picture: CC Flickr User sethschoen