Laocoön warned his fellow Trojans against the wooden horse presented to the city by the Greeks. In the Aeneid, Virgil gives Laocoön the famous line Equo ne credite, Teucri / Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, or "Do not trust the Horse, Trojans / Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts." This line is the source of the saying: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts."
The most detailed description of Laocoön's grisly fate was provided by Quintus Smyrnaeus in Posthomerica, a later, literary version of events following the Iliad. Virgil employed the motif in the Aeneid; the Trojans, according to Virgil, disregarded his advice, however, and were taken in by the deceitful testimony of Sinon; in his resulting anger Laocoön threw his spear at the Horse. Minerva, who was supporting the Greeks, at this moment sent sea-serpents to strangle Laocoön and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus. "Laocoön, ostensibly sacrificing a bull to Neptune on behalf of the city (lines 201ff.), becomes himself the tragic victim, as the simile (lines 223-24) makes clear. In some sense, his death must be symbolic of the city as a whole," S.V. Tracy notes. According to the Hellenistic poet Euphorion of Chalcis, Laocoon is in fact punished for procreating upon holy ground sacred to Poseidon; only unlucky timing caused the Trojans to misinterpret his death as punishment for striking the Horse, which they bring into the city with disastrous consequences. The episode furnished the subject of Sophocles' lost tragedy, Laocoön.
In Aeneid Virgil describes the circumstances of Laocoön's death:
The death of Laocoön was famously depicted in a much-admired marble Lacoön and His Sons, attributed by Pliny the Elder to the Rhodian sculptors Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus), which stands in the Vatican Museums, Rome. Copies have been executed by various artists, notably Baccio Bandinelli. These show the complete sculpture (with conjectural reconstructions of the missing pieces) and can be seen in Rome, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and in front of the Archaeological Museum, Odessa, Ukraine, amongst others.
The marble Laocoön provided the central image for Lessing's Laocoön, 1766, an aesthetic polemic directed again Winckelmann and the comte de Caylus. Daniel Albright reengages the role of the figure of Laocoön in aesthetic thought in his book Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Literature, Music, and Other Arts.
In addition to other literary references, John Barth employs a bust of Laocoön in his novella, The End of the Road. Laocoön "and her two sons" appear in the R.E.M. song, "Laughing," on "Murmur." The marble's pose is parodied in Asterix and the Laurel Wreath.