© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Samson Agonistes

Samson Agonistes


by John Milton

Samson Agonistes Samson with the giant, Harapha (1061—1305) Summary

  • Uh-oh. The Chorus sees a storm a-brewing, and asks if they should think about leaving.
  • Samson says that storms often come up out of nowhere, but the Chorus cryptically replies that they're talking about a different kind of storm. Oh, spit it out already, Samson says, and they answer that a giant named Harapha is approaching, looking haughty.
  • They suspect, though aren't sure, that he comes in peace. Not wearing armor is a good clue. Samson says he doesn't care why he's coming and the Chorus astutely remarks that they'll know what he wants soon enough because he's almost there.
  • Harapha arrives and says he's not there, like everyone else, to sympathize with Samson, although he wishes things hadn't they gone the way they did—but for reasons having nothing to do with Samson's well-being.
  • He introduces himself as Harapha from Gath who comes from a famous family of giants (but not this one) and says that if Samson hasn't heard of him, Samson is pretty much nobody. 
  • Harapha knows all about Samson, thoughall his strength and fighting skillsso it's too bad they never had the chance to duke it out themselves.
  • Anyway, he's here to see what's up. Samson replies that the only real way to get to know him is to experience his strength, not to see him. Harapha is surprised that Samson seems to be challenging him since, you know, forced labor usually wears people down.
  • He continues to whine about never having a chance to fight Samson on the battlefield and is sure he would have dominated Samson completely. This would have set the record straight about whether Palestine or Philistine has the better hero. Now, he can't ever gain that honor from Samson since it's never cool to fight a blind guy. Well, he's right about that.
  • Samson tells him to stop bragging about things he would have done and actually do something right now.
  • But Harapha insists that he wouldn't stoop so low as to fight someone who's blind, not to mention that Samson "hast need much washing to be toucht" (1108).
  • Samson responds that Harapha's leaders didn't seem to mind treacherously betraying Samson since they were so afraid of his strength, stooping so low as to bribe his own wife to do it. Why don't they just fight somewhere really narrow and empty so that Harapha's sight won't give him much advantage? Harapha can show up in all his fancy armor and Samson will just come with a wooden club, but he'll beat Harapha so hard Harapha will wish he'd never actually put his boasts to the test.
  • Harapha doesn't think Samson should be so cocky about not wearing armor. Lots of distinguished warriors wear armor, and it doesn't have some kind of magic in it. But Samson's strength, well, that is some kind of magical, God-given ability. Although, seriously, God, why put it in his hair, which is basically the weakest part of your body?
  • Samson responds that his strength isn't magical at all but comes from his real God who gave it to him since birth. And, here's a shocker, he says it does exist in his whole body; keeping his hair uncut was just a sign of his promise to God.
  • Why doesn't Harapha go to Dagon's temple and pray to him to make Samson's "magic" strength go away and to make Harapha Dagon's number one champion? Then, when he and Samson fight, and Samson wins, it'll be obvious whose God is stronger.
  • Harapha doesn't think Samson is really in any position to be bragging about this god of his. (He has a point.)
  • It's clear this god has completely abandoned Samson, leaving him in the hands of his enemies to be blinded and imprisoned. And it's not as if Samson's special-hair-strength has really helped him out—all it took was a good barber to defeat him. Or not even a good barber—just a dude with a pair of scissors.
  • It's cool, Samson says. He takes all of Harapha's insults as punishments from his God, who will one day forgive him. And he challenges Harapha once more to duke it out for the gods.
  • Harapha doesn't think Samson's god would be very honored to have Samson as his defender, since Samson is a murderer, a robber, and a rebel.
  • Oh yeah? Samson says. How's that? Harapha says that since Samson's leaders gave the Philistines control of their country, all of Samson's so-called brave actions were actually crimes of murder and theft against his own government. Samson says that he married a Philistine, in a Philistine ceremony, so he doesn't understand how Harapha can call him an enemy. It was the Philistine who betrayed him at his own wedding, threatening his bride if she didn't spill his secrets. His country was conquered with force to begin with, and Samson, as a heaven-sent savior of his country, had to act as he did according to his own personal sense of duty. If his leaders disagreed with his actions and disowned him, that's their problem, not his.
  • Samson then asks Harapha again to respond to his challenge. Note: the next bit is a lot of back and forth. It's basically fancy-sounding trash-talk: you come over here and say that to my face; no you come say that to my face. Rinse and repeat.
  • Harapha can't believe Samson is actually serious. Who in his right mind would fight with a condemned criminal?
  • Samson asks if this is all that Harapha came for, to just look at him and pass some judgment on him? Samson dares him to come a little closer and really experience Samson's strength.
  • Harapha can't believe that he has to stand there and take such insults without killing Samson in return.
  • Oh, Samson asks? What's stopping him? He should come over and take his best shot. Harapha says he'll find a better answer to Samson's insolence. He better go, says Samson, otherwise Samson might just tackle him to the floor and smash his brains in (yep, it gets a little graphic here).
  • Harapha leaves, promising Samson that he'll regret having been so insulting to him.
  • The Chorus remarks that Harapha leaves looking much less confident than when he first arrived.
  • Samson says he isn't afraid of Harapha, or any of his giant family, even if they are all descended from Goliath.
  • Brain bite time! Does Goliath sound familiar? Maybe a certain David and Goliath? The story of David and Goliath is from (you guess it) the Bible. Goliath is big, mean Philistine giant; David is a little Jewish boy. They battle it out, and guess who wins? Well, duh.
  • David single-handedly defeats Goliath with the help of his nifty slingshot. Check out the book of Samuel I for the full story.
  • But the Chorus is worried that Harapha is going to go straight to the Philistine officials and make life even more difficult for Samson.
  • Nah. Harapha will be too embarrassed to explain the whole story, since refusing to accept Samson's challenge will make him look bad. Besides, how could life get any worse? And anyway, anyone who helps Samson die is actually doing him a favor. 
  • The Chorus, not really responding to what Samson has just said, talks about how wonderful it is when oppressed people are given a strong and valiant defender who squash the mighty in the name of truth and gloriously conquer evildoers. Saints, on the other hand, are more patient and have their strength put to test in that way.
  • The Chorus says Samson might be either of these types of heroes, but his present situation makes him closer to the saint at the moment. They remark that this holiday hasn't been particularly relaxing for Samson because he's been doing so much mental labor.
  • Seriously. We're exhausted just reading it.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...