Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 153

The wooden horse.

Men and chiefs, impatient of further delay, now joyfully hailed Ulysses’ proposal to take the city by stratagem. They therefore secretly built a colossal wooden horse, within whose hollow sides a number of brave warriors might lie concealed. The main army feigned weariness of the endless enterprise, and embarked, leaving the horse as a pretended offering to Minerva; while Sinon, a shrewd slave, remained to persuade the Trojans to drag the horse within their gates and keep him there, a lasting monument of their hard-won triumph.

To the unbounded joy of the long-besieged Trojans, the Greek fleet then sailed away, until the Island of Tenedos hid the ships from view. All the inhabitants of Troy poured out of the city to view the wooden horse, and question Sinon, who pretended to have great cause of complaint against the Greeks, and strongly advised them to secure their last offering to Minerva.

[333] The Trojans hailed this idea with rapture; but Laocoon, a Trojan priest, implored them to leave the horse alone, lest they should bring untold evil upon their heads.

“‘Wretched countrymen,’ he cries,
‘What monstrous madness blinds your eyes?
* * *
Perchance—who knows?—these planks of deal
A Grecian ambuscade conceal,
Or ’tis a pile to o’erlook the town,
And pour from high invaders down,
Or fraud lurks somewhere to destroy:
Mistrust, mistrust it, men of Troy!’”
Virgil (Conington’s tr.).
Death of Laocoon.

Deaf to all warnings and entreaties, they dragged the colossal image into the very heart of their city, tearing down a portion of their ramparts to allow its passage, while Laocoon hastened down to the shore to offer sacrifice to the gods. As he stood there by the improvised altar, with one of his sons on either side to assist him in his office, two huge serpents came out of the sea, coiled themselves around him and his sons, and crushed and bit them to death.

“Unswerving they
Toward Laocoon hold their way;
First round his two young sons they wreathe,
And grind their limbs with savage teeth:
Then, as with arms he comes to aid,
The wretched father they invade
And twine in giant folds: twice round
His stalwart waist their spires are wound,
Twice round his neck, while over all
Their heads and crests tower high and tall.
He strains his strength their knots to tear,
While gore and slime his fillets smear,
And to the unregardful skies
Sends up his agonizing cries.”
Virgil (Conington’s tr.).


Refer to caption

LAOCOON. (Vatican, Rome.)

[335] The awestruck witnesses of this terrible scene, of course, declared that the gods resented his interference concerning the wooden horse, and had justly punished the sacrilegious hand which had dared strike it with a spear, merely to demonstrate, that, being hollow, it might contain an armed band. Ever since then, Laocoon and his sons’ struggle with the serpents has been a favorite subject for poets and artists.