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Samson Agonistes

Samson Agonistes

by John Milton

Samson Agonistes Samson's Death and The End (1509—1759) Summary

  • Manoa begins to thank the Chorus for their sympathy, but is interrupted by a louder, even more horrible noise.
  • The Chorus thinks calling it "noise" is an understatement: it sounds more like utter destruction and death.
  • Yep, Manoa says, it pretty much sounds like death. He thinks his son has been killed. What's weird is that it was such a big noise. It would have had to have been Samson killing many people, since one person alone couldn't have made such an outcry. Well, whatever happened it must have been terrible.
  • Manoa asks whether they should stay or go and see.
  • The Chorus wants to avoid getting caught up in anything dangerous. They think they're safest where they are and wonder if Samson's eyesight has been returned and if he's doing some serious damage to their enemies. The Chorus reminds Manoa that God has worked these kinds of miracles before—so why not again?
  • Manoa still doesn't think such a miracle has happened. Hope can often overpower rational thought, but he thinks they should probably just wait to hear.
  • The Chorus says that bad news typically travels fast... and speaking of which, here comes a messenger who seems to be Hebrew. The messenger is really worked up, saying that he's just seen something so horrible he can't get the image out of his mind. Everyone wants to know what happened, but the messenger needs to catch his breath.
  • Manoa tells him to get right to it, skipping any unnecessary details, so the messenger says that the Philistine population has been destroyed all at once. Okay, that's sad, but really not very sad for the Israelites, actually.
  • So what's the sad part? The messenger urges Manoa to focus on this good news for the moment since he's about to hear something upsetting. More good news is that it's Samson who accomplished this feat. The messenger, however, does not sound happy. He actually doesn't want to tell Manoa the rest of the story, since he's worried it'll be too upsetting.
  • But Manoa can't deal with this suspense, so the messenger spits it out: Samson is dead. Manoa cries out in sadness, particularly upset since he was just hoping to have Samson released. Death is Samson's release now. How ironic that Samson has died on the very day he was actually able to live free.
  • So how exactly did this happen? The messenger cryptically states that Samson wasn't killed by any of his enemies. Was it from exhaustion out of killing so many people? No: Samson killed himself.
  • Manoa wants to know why Samson would do such a thing, especially with all his enemies around.
  • The messenger says that Samson killed himself in order to kill his enemies: he pulled down the entire building.
  • So, Manoa says, Samson's strength really did work against him. And then he asks for more details.
  • So, the messenger launches into a (warning: rather long) story. He came to the city early, which was already buzzing not only with plans for the holiday but with news that the one and only Samson would be making a special appearance at the festival. Although the messenger feels bad for Samson, he still totally wanted to see him at this spectacle.
  • The venue for the festivities was a theater, half of which was covered by a roof and pillars for the rich and famous while the other half, for the humble plebes, was open air. This is where the messenger planted himself. (Turns out to have been a good move.)
  • After lunch time, when everyone was well fed, liquored up, and in general good spirits, they decided it was time for some entertainment. Samson was led into the theater in great pomp, not only with soldiers to guard him but also all kinds of instruments and other performers.
  • When the crowd saw Samson they went nuts, praising their god for making Samson their prisoner. Samson remains totally unfazed and performs various tricks of strength perfectly, despite his blindness.
  • Since no one volunteers to fight Samson in combat, they take a little break and Samson asks if he can rest himself against two pillars before he goes out again. His guards don't have a problem with this, so Samson stands for a while between these two columns, which, P.S., happen to hold the entire building up. He bows his head as if he's praying or thinking over something very important.
  • Then, he speaks to the Philistine lords. He tells them that he's cooperated so far in their little performance and now it's his turn to enact his own performance of strength, promising it will be something pretty amazing. He presses the two pillars surrounding him, almost like the wind making a mountain tremble, until they shake and shake and then finally collapse, bringing down the entire roof that they held up with them.
  • Everyone under the roof was crushed: literally all the Philistine nobles from both near and far, and, of course, poor Samson. Only the common people in the cheap seats survived. Done with his story, the messenger stops.
  • The Chorus begins praising Samson's glorious revenge, while lamenting the cost at which it came. Samson did indeed finally fulfill his destiny, and killed even more Philistines than in the total of his whole life before. It's just too bad that fulfilling his destiny meant ending his own life.
  • Then, for some reason, the Chorus splits in two.
  • Half (called a Semi-Chorus) begins to describe how God must have planned this all out so that the Philistines would be all distracted with wine and the worship of their false god Dagon and make the mistake of inviting Samson to perform. They go on to say how often people end up being responsible for their own destruction, and how foolish these Philistines were to only care about partying.
  • The other half of the Chorus describes Samson, saying how even though he thought his light was gone with his eyesight, he must have found an inner light to lead him. They offer a confusing image of the god Dagon as an attacking bird suddenly surprised by the might of Samson, who they compare to a phoenix.
  • Brain snack! It's always good to be compared to a phoenix. The phoenix is an old and powerful mythological bird believed to burst into flames at the end of its life only to rise from the ashes again. For this reason, it's often symbol of resurrection and perseverance. It can be connected to images of Jesus as the resurrected God (which Milton is surely channeling here) but also appears in numerous magical stories.
  • Manoa tells the Chorus to stop whining—uh, lamenting—since Samson has ended his life heroically and on his own terms, getting revenge on the Philistines and bringing honor to Israel. Plus, the whole thing proves that God never abandoned Samson after all. Really, there isn't anything to be upset about since Samson died so nobly.
  • Manoa tells the Chorus that they should all go find Samson's body and clean off the blood of his enemies. He, Manoa, will gather up all his friends and family to organize a proper funeral procession for Samson to take him back to his home.
  • There, Manoa says he plans to build a beautiful monument covered with shady trees and adorned with all his other honors and a list of all his accomplishments. Samson's deed will go down in song and poetry and be an example to inspire future generations. Virgins will come on festival days to honor his tomb (but not non-virgins?), and will lament only the fact that he made some poor choices in marriage and ended up losing his eyesight.
  • The Chorus concludes by saying while all ended well, they couldn't help but doubt that things would turn out the way they did. God often seems to have been absent only to make his presence known unexpectedly. Gaza is left to mourn their situation and hopefully have now left the land more peaceful and calm than before.

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