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Samson Agonistes

Samson Agonistes

by John Milton

Samson Agonistes Samson with Himself (1-114) Summary

  • Samson opens on a pretty dismal note. (Hey, this is a tragedy.)
  • Our main man is asking an unknown person to keep guiding him along. Although it's never stated explicitly, we figure out pretty fast that Samson is blind.
  • He asks to be led to his favorite spot where the temperature is always perfect so he can relax and get some fresh, non-prison air.
  • Today is a holiday for the sea-god Dagon, who his captors worship, and so even though he is not down with worshiping such an "idol," he's grateful for the break (13).
  • This spot is great not only because of the temperature but also because it's away from everyone else. Sometimes a guy just needs some alone time, you know?
  • But he still can't relax.
  • In fact, being alone is actually more mentally stressful, because he has nothing to do but dwell on his past.
  • It turns out that Samson was kind of a big deal. An angel prophesied his birth, there were some pretty spectacular sacrifices, and he was supposedly destined to do all kinds of good stuff for "Abraham's race" (29).
  • Brain snack! "Abraham's race" is a reference to the Jewish people, which makes sense since this story is adapted from the Old Testament. Check out the Book of Judges chapter 13 for the full story.
  • So, if he's supposed to be all great, why is he a blind prisoner in some other country?
  • Thanks, Samson; we're all wondering that.
  • He's especially bummed that his awesome strength is being wasted on menial laboring instead of saving Israel from the Philistines like he's supposed to be doing.
  • Another brain snack! (Hope you're hungry.) The Philistines are a group of people often mentioned in the Bible (not in a good way) who lived around, and intermittently conquered, Israel.
  • Samson admits that he's probably the one who messed up and derailed his whole awesome-savior destiny.
  • Speaking of that, there was this one time Samson broke a promise and told a secret to a woman he shouldn't have. (Apparently, she was crying and pleading a lot. Guys'll do that.)
  • KIDDING. No sexism here, Shmoopers; it's all Milton.
  • We don't get many more details than this. However, if you know the Biblical story (as almost all the readers in Milton's time would have) you'd know that this woman is his ex-wife Dalilah (although Milton, for unknown reasons, spells it Dalila).
  • Hindsight is 20/20, right? Samson realizes that he used to be physically strong but also mentally weak and proud. True strength is both mental and physical.
  • He suspects that God was trying to make him understand just how unreliable physical strength is by making Samson's hair the key to his strength.
  • Yes, we did just say hair. In fact, Samson's hair is his famous downfall in the Biblical story so Milton doesn't really give his readers any further details.
  • Anyway, Samson goes on, it isn't very productive to question God's will because, you know, he's God.
  • Any way you look at it, Samson's strength hasn't been the wonderful gift he thought. It's actually caused his problems.
  • The worst is going blind, since he can no longer appreciate God's creation.
  • Without sight, Samson feels lower than even the lowest animal (that would be the snake) since even though snakes creep on the floor, they can at least see.
  • Brain bite! Milton: not a snake fan. In his most famous work, Paradise Lost, Milton retells the Biblical story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, where Satan disguised himself as a snake and pretty much ruined everything.
  • Gee, thanks, Satan.
  • Samson also feels powerless without his sight. And worse—Godless.
  • Since light was the first thing God created (check out the very opening of the Book of Genesis), being blind seems like having God's presence taken away.
  • Sun? Moon? All the same to Samson, since he can't see.
  • He feels that light is a force of life itself and wonders why, since it's so important, we can only experience it through our two little eyes, which are not very sturdy. Why don't we see through every part of our body?
  • To "live" without this source of life is to practically be dead. He even describes himself as a walking, talking grave.
  • Actually, he's worse than dead, because he can't enjoy any of the peace death brings. Instead, he's stuck in prison.
  • Just then—footsteps. Samson (obviously) thinks his captors are coming to make fun of him.
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