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Trojan Whistleblower

Trojan Whistleblower

A detail of the marble statue depicting Lacoon and his sons as they are attacked by snakes
The caves at Sperlonga
The marble statue depicting Lacoon and his sons as they are attacked by snakes
Comparing the face of Laocoon to a similar sculpture of Odysseus
The Octagonal Courtyard where the statue of Laocoon sits
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Why are snakes attacking these men?

Hint: One of them blew the whistle on the Trojan Horse

Most everyone has heard the legend of the fall of Troy, and of the Greeks' clever plan to conceal their soldiers within a "gift horse."

But not everyone has heard of the one Trojan who wasn't fooled – a whistleblower who did his best to warn his fellow Trojans of the danger. His name is Laocoon.

Even though his fellow Trojans failed to heed his warning, one might expect a statue of Laocoon to depict him as a wise man, or at least an independent minded one. But no. Laocoon is depicted at the moment he and his two sons are about to be killed by snakes.

Why is Laocoon sculpted this way?

And who was the sculptor?

The secrets are revealed in the premiere broadcast of Museum Secrets: Inside the Vatican Musuems.

The Laocoon marble was found in a cave in the seaside town of Sperlonga, 120 kilometers south of Rome.  To explore this cave we invite you to watch this Web Exclusive Video: Sperlonga.

Who sculpted Laocoon?

One might think that an ancient Greek marble must have been created by an ancient Greek sculptor.  But the history of art is also the history of forgery.

Art Historian Lynn Catterson has proposed that Laocoon is a forgery created by a master sculptor of the Renaissance.  Discover her evidence and the name of the alleged forger in this Web Exclusive video: Laocoon Forgery?

Though we're happy to entertain Catterson's theory, we have a good reason to believe she's wrong.  The true sculptor of Laocoon was... no... we won't reveal that here.  We invite you to discover the answer by watching Museums Secrets: Inside the Vatican Museums.

As to the question of why Laocoon and his sons are depicted at the moment they are beset by snakes... we will answer that one: It's all about fate.

According to prophesies, Greece was destined to defeat Troy.  And so when Laocoon tried to warn his Trojan comrades that a gift from the Greeks was a trick, he was acting against fate.

So instead of becoming a hero of Troy, Laocoon and his sons ended up as dinner for sea snakes.

Laocoon was punished even though he had no idea that the fates had decreed victory for Greece.

It may seem unfair but in the mythic ancient world, ignorance of the fates is no excuse.


The sculpture of Laocoon is far from the only sculpture in the Vatican Museums that depicts a frightening scene.  We invite you to see more of them in our Web Exclusive Video: Scary Statues.

Laocoon was only one of several sculptures discovered in the cave at Sperlonga.  Their secrets are revealed in our interactive feature: The Sculptures of Sperlonga.


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