Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: Laokoon oder über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie [Laokoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry]

(1646 words)
  • Friederike von Schwerin-High

Why is Laocoon, the serpent-beleaguered Trojan priest who, along with his two sons, is dying in great agony, only permitted to sigh in the famous statue that depicts him, whereas Virgil allows Laocoon to scream in his poetic account of the priest's death in Book 2 of the Aeneid? Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's innovative answer to this question provides the thesis informing many of the twenty-nine chapters of his treatise Laokoon. While Lessing's contemporary, the celebrated art historian Johann Jacob Winckelmann, had attributed Laocoon's subdued expression of suffering depicted by the statue to the presumed dignity and grandeur of Laocoon's character, Lessing argued that rather than being character traits, these …

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von Schwerin-High, Friederike. "Laokoon oder über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 21 September 2006
[, accessed 30 June 2015.]