Dragons of Troy
THE DRAKONES TROIADES (Trojan Dragons) were two huge sea-serpents summoned from the deep by the goddess Athena to slay the Trojan seer Laokoon (Laocoon) when he tried to warn the Trojans of the ruse of the Wooden Horse.
TYPHOEUS (Quintus Smyrnaeus 12.444)
TROJAN DRAGONS. As the Greeks were unable to take Troy by force, they pretended to sail home, leaving behind the wooden horse. While the Trojans were assembled around the horse, deliberating whether they should draw it into their city or destroy it, Laocoon hastened to them from the city, and loudly cautioned them against the danger which it might bring upon them. While saying this he thrust his lance into the side of the horse. (Virg. Aen. ii. 40, &c.) When Laocoon was preparing to sacrifice a bull to Poseidon, suddenly two fearful serpents were seen swimming towards the Trojan coast from Tenedos. They rushed towards Laocoon, who, while all the people took to flight, remained with his two sons standing by the altar of the god. (Virg. l. c. 229; Hygin. Fab. 135.) The serpents first entwined the two boys, and then the father, who went to the assistance of his children, and all three were killed. (Virg. Aen. ii. 199-227; comp. Q. Smyrn. xii. 398, &c.; Lycoph. 347.) The serpents then hastened to the acropolis of Troy, and disappeared behind the shield of Tritonis. The reason why Laocoon suffered this fearful death is differently stated. According to Virgil, the Trojans thought that it was because he had run his lance into the side of the horse, but according to others because, contrary to the will of Apollo, he had married and begotten children (Hygin. l. c.), or because Poseidon, being hostile to the Trojans, wanted to show to the Trojans in the person of Laocoon what fate all of them deserved.
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Arctinus of Miltetus, The Sack of Ilium Fragment 1 (from Proclus Chrestomathia 2) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th to 7th B.C.) :
"The Sack of Ilium, by Arktinos (Arctinus) of Miletos with the following contents. The Trojans were suspicious of the wooden horse and standing round it debated what they ought to do. Some thought they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others to burn it up, while others said they ought to dedicate it to Athena. At last this third opinion prevailed. Then they turned to mirth and feasting believing the war was at an end. But at this very time two Serpents appeared and destroyed Laokoon (Laocoon) and one of his two sons, a portent which so alarmed the followers of Aeneas that they withdrew to Ida."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E5. 17 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Kassandra (Cassandra) told them [the Trojans] there was an armed force inside [the Wooden Horse], as did the soothsayer Laokoon (Laocoon). Some wanted to burn it up, others to throw it over a cliff. But most agreed that it should be preserved as a divine offering, and so they turned their attention to sacrifices and banquets. Apollon sent them a sign, in the form of two Serpents who swam through the sea from the islands nearby and devoured the sons of Laokoon."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 12. 444 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Laokoon (Laocoon) [priest of Troy] ceased not to exhort his countrymen to burn the [Trojan] Horse with fire : they would not hear, for dread of the Gods' wrath. But then a yet more hideous punishment Athena visited on his hapless sons. A cave there was, beneath a rugged cliff exceeding high, unscalable, wherein dwelt fearful monsters (pheres) of the deadly brood of Typhon [Typhoeus], in the rock-clefts of the isle Kalydna (Calydna) that looks Troyward from the sea. Thence stirred she up the strength of Drakones (Dragon-Serpents) twain, and summoned them to Troy. By her uproused they shook the island as with earthquake : roared the sea; the waves disparted as they came. Onward they swept with fearful-flickering tongues : shuddered the very Monsters of the Deep (Ketea Pontios) : Xanthos' and Simois' daughters moaned aloud, the River-nymphs: the Kyprian Queen [Aphrodite] looked down in anguish from Olympos.
Swiftly they came whither the Goddess sped them : with grim jaws whetting their deadly fangs, on his hapless sons sprang they. All Trojans panic-stricken fled, seeing those fearsome Drakones in their town. No man, though ne'er so dauntless theretofore, dared tarry; ghastly dread laid hold on all shrinking in horror from the monsters. Screamed the women; yea, the mother forgat her child, fear-frenzied as she fled: all Troy became one shriek of fleers, one huddle of jostling limbs : the streets were choked with cowering fugitives. Alone was left Laokoon (Laocoon) with his sons, for death's doom and the Goddess chained their feet. Then, even as from destruction shrank the lads, those deadly fangs had seized and ravined up the twain, outstretching to their sightless sire agonized hands: no power to help had he. Trojans far off looked on from every side weeping, all dazed. and, having now fulfilled upon the Trojans Pallas' awful hest, those monsters vanished 'neath the earth; and still stands their memorial, where into the fane they entered of Apollon in Pergamos the hallowed. Therebefore the sons of Troy gathered, and reared a cenotaph for those who miserably had perished. Over it their father from his blind eyes rained the tears."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 135 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
“Laocoon, son of Acoetes, brother of Anchises, and priest of Apollo, against the will of Apollo had married and had children. By by lot was appointed to sacrifice to Neptunus [Poseidon] on the shore. Opprutnity presenting itself, Apollon sent two Serpents from Tenedos over the waves of the sea to kill his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus. When Laocoon tried to bring aid to them, the Serpents killed him, too, in their folds. The Phrygians thought this happened because Laocoon had thrown his spear against the Trojan Horse."
Virgil, Aeneid 2. 214 (trans. Day-Lewis) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"Laocoon, whom we'd [the Trojans] elected by lot as Neptunus' [Poseidon's] priest, was sacrificing a great bull at the official altar, when over the tranquil deep, from Tenedos, we saw--telling it makes me shudder--twin Serpents with immense coils thrusting the sea and together streaking towards the shore : rampant they were among the waves, their blood-red crests reared up over the water; the rest of them slithered along the surface, coil after coil sinuously trailing behind them. We heard a hiss of salt spray. Next, they were on dry land, in the same field--a glare and blaze of bloodshot eyes, tongues flickering like flame from their mouths, and the mouths hissing. Our blood drained away at the sight; we broke and ran.
The Serpents went straight for Laocoon. First, each snake knotted itself round the body of one of Laocoon's small sons, hugging him tight in its coils, and cropped the piteous flesh with its fangs. Next thing, they fastened upon Laocoon, as he hurried weapon in hand, to help the boys. And lashed him up in their giant whorls. With a double grip round his waist and his neck, the scaly creatures embrace him, their heads and throats powerfully poised above him. All the while his hands are struggling to break their knots, his priestly headband is spattered with blood and pitchy venom; all the while, his appalling cries go up to heaven--a bellowing, such as you hear when a wounded bull escapes from the altar, after it's shrugged off an ill-aimed blow at its neck. But now the twin Monsters are gliding away and escaping towards the shrine of relentless Minerva [Athene], high up on our citadel, disappearing behind the round of the goddess' shield, at her feet there. Then, my god! A strange panic crept into our people's fluttering hearts : they argued Laocoon had got what he deserved for the crime, the sacrilege of throwing his spear that the wooden horse and so profaning its holiness with the stroke. Bring the horse to Minerva's [Athene's] shrine! Pray for her goodwill all of our people shouted."
- Epic Cycle, The Sack of Ilium Fragments - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Virgil, Aeneid - Latin Epic C1st B.C.
Other references not currently quoted here: Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.48.2.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.