Aeneid Book 2, lines 199-227

Laocoon and the snakes

by Virgil

As Aeneas tells the story of Troy to Queen Dido, the city is soon to fall. Laocoon has already rightly warned the Trojans to have nothing to do with the wooden horse: now the Goddess Minerva takes a horrifying revenge. Mistakenly thinking that the portent shows that Laocoon’s warning was wrong, the Trojans will soon seal their fate by bringing the horse inside the city walls.

See the illustrated blog post here.

You can now also hear the German poet Friedrich Schiller’s fine version, with a translation, here.

To follow the story of Aeneas in sequence, use this link to the full Pantheon Poets selection of extracts from the Aeneid. See the next episode here.

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Hic aliud maius miseris multoque tremendum
obicitur magis atque improvida pectora turbat.
Laocoon, ductus Neptuno sorte sacerdos,
sollemnis taurum ingentem mactabat ad aras.
ecce autem gemini a Tenedo tranquilla per alta
(horresco referens) immensis orbibus angues
incumbunt pelago pariterque ad litora tendunt;
pectora quorum inter fluctus arrecta iubaeque
sanguineae superant undas, pars cetera pontum
pone legit sinuatque immensa volumine terga.
fit sonitus spumante salo; iamque arva tenebant
ardentisque oculos suffecti sanguine et igni
sibila lambebant linguis vibrantibus ora.
diffugimus visu exsangues. illi agmine certo
Laocoonta petunt; et primum parva duorum
corpora natorum serpens amplexus uterque
implicat et miseros morsu depascitur artus;
post ipsum auxilio subeuntem ac tela ferentem
corripiunt spirisque ligant ingentibus; et iam
bis medium amplexi, bis collo squamea circum
terga dati superant capite et cervicibus altis.
ille simul manibus tendit divellere nodos
perfusus sanie vittas atroque veneno,
clamores simul horrendos ad sidera tollit:
qualis mugitus, fugit cum saucius aram
taurus et incertam excussit cervice securim.
at gemini lapsu delubra ad summa dracones
effugiunt saevaeque petunt Tritonidis arcem,
sub pedibusque deae clipeique sub orbe teguntur.

Then, to our sorrow, something new and far more fearful
faced us, shocked our unsuspecting hearts.
Laocoon, chosen by lot as the priest of Neptune,
was sacrificing an enormous bull at the hallowed altars.
But see! From Tenedos over the calm waves, a pair –
I shudder to say it – of snakes with huge coils
ride the sea and head together for the shore;
held aloft among the swell, the breast and blood-red
mane of each tops the waves, the rest of them skims
the sea behind and twists their huge backs into a coil.
The sea crackled and foamed; now on solid ground,
their burning eyes suffused with blood and fire, they licked
their hissing mouths with their flickering tongues.
We made way, our faces blanched. In a concerted rush,
they make for Laocoon; first each snake seizes
and traps one of the little bodies of his two
poor sons and feeds on it with its biting maw.
Next, as Laocoon comes to their aid with his weapons,
they seize and bind him in their huge coils; and now,
a double grip on his waist, twice passing their scaly
coils round his throat, they tower high, neck and head
above him. Then he reaches to tear apart the knots
with his hands, headband soaked in gore and black venom,
as he raises horrendous cries to the heavens:
like the bellowing when a wounded bull, fleeing the altar,
has knocked away a weak axe-stroke from his neck.
But the two serpents, slithering off towards the city’s
topmost temples, make for the shrine of fierce Minerva,
passing from view under her feet and the orb of her shield.


More Poems by Virgil

  1. Dido and Aeneas: Hell hath no fury …
  2. Aeneas comes to the Hell of Tartarus
  3. The Fury Allecto blows the alarm
  4. Signs of bad weather
  5. Fire strikes Aeneas’s fleet
  6. The infant Camilla
  7. Rumour
  8. Aeneas sees Marcellus, Augustus’s tragic heir
  9. Aeneas learns the way to the underworld
  10. Aeneas arrives in Italy
  11. King Latinus grants the Trojans’ request
  12. Virgil’s poetic temple to Caesar
  13. Omens for Princess Lavinia
  14. The Trojans prepare to set sail from Carthage
  15. The death of Dido.
  16. Dido’s release
  17. Turnus the wolf
  18. The journey to Hades begins
  19. Juno is reconciled
  20. A Fury rouses Turnus to war
  21. Aeneas’s vision of Augustus
  22. Virgil predicts a forthcoming birth and a new golden age
  23. The Syrian hostess
  24. Catastrophe for Rome?
  25. Jupiter’s prophecy
  26. Anchises’s ghost invites Aeneas to visit the underworld
  27. Laocoon warns against the Trojan horse
  28. Turnus is lured away from battle
  29. The farmer’s starry calendar
  30. Aeneas joins the fray
  31. The Harpy’s prophecy
  32. The death of Pallas
  33. The farmer’s happy lot
  34. The Trojan Horse enters the city
  35. Mourning for Pallas
  36. Aeneas tours the site of Rome
  37. Sea-nymphs
  38. Aeneas’s oath
  39. King Mezentius meets his match
  40. Love is the same for all
  41. Palinurus the helmsman is lost
  42. Souls awaiting punishment in Tartarus, and the crimes that brought them there.
  43. Turnus at bay
  44. More from Virgil’s farming Utopia
  45. Storm at sea!
  46. The death of Priam
  47. The portals of sleep
  48. Dido falls in love
  49. Rites for the allies’ dead
  50. Charon, the ferryman
  51. Aristaeus’s bees
  52. Aeneas is wounded
  53. New allies for Aeneas
  54. Aeneas saves his son and father, but at a cost
  55. Aeneas finds Dido among the shades
  56. How Aeneas will know the site of his city
  57. Dido and Aeneas: royal hunt and royal affair
  58. Vulcan’s forge
  59. Hector visits Aeneas in a dream
  60. The death of Euryalus and Nisus
  61. The natural history of bees
  62. Help for Father Aeneas from Father Tiber
  63. The Trojans reach Carthage
  64. Juno throws open the gates of war
  65. Aeneas rescues his Father Anchises
  66. Aeneas’s ships are transformed
  67. Virgil begins the Georgics
  68. In King Latinus’s hall
  69. Aeneas reaches the Elysian Fields
  70. Virgil’s perils on the sea
  71. Mercury’s journey to Carthage
  72. Aeneas prepares to tell Dido his story
  73. The Aeneid begins