Laocoön, the priest of Apollo, and his two sons are locked in the coils of two serpents, on the steps of an altar. Laocoön’s chest rises and swells as he vainly attempts to tear away the head of the serpent that is about to bite him on the hip. The other serpent has already sunk its fangs into the side of the younger son, who collapses in agony, while the elder son attempts to free himself from its coils. Virgil describes the episode in detail (Aeneid II, 199—233): the Trojan priest Laocoön had warned his compatriots against the wooden horse, left by the Greeks as “an offering to Athene”, and had hurled his lance at it. This angered Athene, who sent serpents to kill Laocoön. Misinterpreting the omen, the Trojans ignored Laocoön’s warning, and dragged the wooden horse into the city. Only Aeneas understood the true significance of the omen, and he and his family saved themselves by fleeing to Italy where Aeneas founded Lavinium, and his son Alba Longa. As far back as Caesar’s time the legendary Trojan ancestry of the gens Julia had been used as a political argument. Augustus made the legend the keystone of his empire, using it to legitimize his claim to the throne. The Laocoön group, which Pliny saw in the imperial palace, was probably commissioned by the emperor in the first half of the first century A.D., and made by the Rhodes sculptors after a bronze original of the 2nd century B.C. The flexed right arm was discovered by Ludwig Pollak in 1905; it proved to belong to the figure of Laocoön, and was placed on the statue during the last restoration, in 1957—60. Since the significance of this sculpture is not limited to its merits as a work of art, but also includes its history, Montorsoli’s old reconstruction has been preserved in a plaster cast, which can be seen from one of the windows of the Gregorian Profane Museum.