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Apollo Belvedere. Vatican Museums.

In the fifth century BCE, Sophocles made Laocoön a hero in his own right.[note 1] Sophocles' Laokoon exists only as a tiny fragment but is referenced by others, including Dionysius of Halicamassus in his Ῥωμαϊκή Άρχαιολογία (Rhōmaїkḕ Arkhaiologĺa, Roman Antiquities, first century BCE).

In Sophocles' play, Laocoön is a priest of Apollo who breaks his vow of celibacy by marrying and having two sons. Following the version of the story found in Bacchylides' ode, the serpents came from the Calydnian isles, but in Sophocles' tragedy they were sent by Apollo in punishment. As the eponymous hero of a tragedy, the ultimate responsibility for Laocoön's fate is his own.

Dionysius's account of Sophocles' tragedy tells of an explicit connection between the fates of Laocoön, Aeneas, and Troy:

Sophocles . . . represents Aeneas . . . removing his household to Mount Ida . . . and from the omens that had lately happened in the case of Laocoön's family conjectured the approaching destruction of the city.[note 2]

Sophocles' other developments of the story included giving names to the serpents—Porces and Chariboea.

Note 1. Sophocles, Fragments, ed. and trans. Hugh Lloyd-Jones (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 198–199. [back to text]

Note 2. J. M. Edmonds (ed. and trans.), Lyra Graeca, Vol. 3 (London: William Heineman, 1927), p. 119. [back to text]

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