Style and "Substance"

Laocoon Worldview

The Laocoön and His Sons sculpture has been touted as one of the finest ancient works ever excavated and is a prime example of the ontology within which it was produced in the Hellenistic period. With Aristotle’s divergence from Socratic and Platonic thought, an ontology of the world shifted similarly. Whereas previously forms were supreme, this worldview reasserts the individual. This became problematic as in order for this to be, the matter must also become part of the account of things. This can clearly be seen in the sculpture, as one cannot adequately describe Laocoon without matter, and yet it is clearly not solely matter. Another aspect of Aristotelian thought embodied in the sculpture is the absolute importance of time. The Hellenistic tradition suggested time in its sculptures more so than the preceding traditions: with the Laocoon, one can nearly feel the expression of time in the form of movement of the piece. The entire figure is twisted in motion and tension, and even beyond Laocoon himself his two sons and the serpents are all twisting, writhing and seem to capture at the pinnacle of a movement and a tension between bodies. One can undeniably see the pathos of the work, which is the result of said focus on time. With time, there is loss and resulting pathos, clearly seen here in the form of the figures straining to the limits of what is representable as a human figure. The whole body is tense and the figures are represented in an unrepeatable stance—this is sculpture captures a singular moment in a total expression of time, loss, movement, and pathos. What is in essence captured with this particular piece is the Aristotelian striving toward being a self-enclosed activity, the energeia of this piece is nearly palpable. Here we may see, however, the expression of a failure in becoming, and a failure of being-at-work. This is precisely what affirms this sculpture as an excellent marker of the Hellenistic era, the dynamism of the figures here is impeded and interfered with so as to produce the pathos of the work. Ultimately this sculpture then shows the pinnacle of striving and becoming in an Aristotelian sense, precisely at the moment prior to the unraveling and failure of the becoming into pathos.

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