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Samson Agonistes

Samson Agonistes


by John Milton

Samson Agonistes Samson with his Father, Manoa (330—709) Summary

  • Samson doesn't want to see his father (not that he can actually see him, of course), because it'll just bring up more sad memories.
  • Manoa apparently can't see Samson at first, or doesn't recognize him, or, um, pretends not to be able to in order to further the drama, and asks the Chorus if they are here to comfort his son too. Obviously they got there first, since they're young and spry, while he's old and slow.
  • The Chorus points Samson out to his dad, remarking on how different and sad he looks.
  • Sure enough, Manoa can't believe how altered his son appears. Could this possibly be the same person who was so famous for his strength and valor in battle? Who now couldn't even defend himself against one dinky guy with a spear?
  • Just goes to show you that physical strength is incredibly unreliable and how human life can go so terribly wrong.
  • How's this for irony: Manoa and his wife, who were unable to have children, prayed and prayed for a boy.
  • And then, when they finally had one, he was like the best son ever. But not now.
  • Maybe Samson was too good to be true and God made him seem to be so awesome because he actually wasn't.
  • Manoa can't believe all this divine hoopla over someone who was blinded and captured so easily.
  • Maybe God is particularly harsh in punishing those who were given particularly impressive advantages.
  • Samson jumps in and tells his dad to stop blaming God. Samson is the one who betrayed God for a woman, which is particularly embarrassing since Samson had already had one bad experience with his first wife, Timna.
  • In fact, it was pretty much the exact same situation: Timna revealed a secret to his enemies that he had told her in the intimacy of their bedroom.
  • And Dalila, wife number two, also betrayed him after being offered lots of money.
  • She tried three times, with all kinds of flattering, to get Samson to reveal the secret key to his strength.
  • He avoided telling her, but only by accident: he had no idea what she was trying to do.
  • However, try number four, which featured some extra-specially persistent Dalila temptations, eventually got to him.
  • He explains that he was totally exhausted, although if he'd been more of man, he could have resisted.
    Yay for misogyny!
  • Alas, he says, he was already slave-like in his mental capacities so it's fair that he's now literally a slave.
  • In fact his literal slavery and blindness as a captive are better than his metaphorical slavery and blindness when he gave into Dalila and didn't see her obvious treachery.
  • Too right, says his dad: "I cannot praise thy Marriage choices, Son" (420).
  • Dad then goes in for a little extra dig, reminding Samson that he and his mama were both none-too-keen on these women Samson brought home while insisting that this was all part of some Big Divine Plan to ruin the enemy.
  • Manoa doesn't know anything about a Big Divine Plan, but he certainly does know that what's happened is that the enemy just captured him and made a fool out of him.
  • What also happened is that Samson totally gave in to these seductive ladies and revealed a secret that he never should have.
  • However, it's also clear that Samson has paid bigtime for those mistakes.
  • And now for some bad news. In honor of their holiday today, the Philistines are not only going to have a big party, but are also going to publicly announce how they captured Samson.
  • By doing this, they are worshiping their idol Dagon instead of God—all thanks to Samson. Manoa suspects this will be the most painful thing for Samson to hear.
  • Samson replies that he takes full responsibility and blames himself for creating a situation in which Dagon, the Philistine idol, is being worshiped instead of God.
  • In fact, it's his fault that idolatry and atheism are now gaining strength, that Israel has been shamed, and that some people are so desperate and sad they are turning to these false religions for comfort.
  • It's these kinds of thoughts, Samson explains, that keep him up at night. His only consolation is that he's out of the picture. Now, it's between God and Dagon, and Samson is certain that God will win.
  • Manoa agrees with Samson and thinks Samson is right in finding comfort in that fact.
  • But there's still the question of poor Samson's whole situation. Manoa explains to Samson that he's spoken with some Philistine big shots about the possibility of a ransom, since Samson is no longer a threat.
  • No way, Samson says. He deserves this punishment and doesn't think it should be alleviated in any way.
  • It's already really, really bad to have revealed the secrets of friends and family, but Samson revealed a secret of God, which is so much worse.
  • His dad agrees that Samson should be very sorry for what he's done, but it doesn't make sense for Samson to so drastically punish himself. God wants people to fight for life and to listen to their pleading fathers, not to just give up and accept death.
  • In fact, maybe God intended for this opportunity to come up, so Samson should definitely take it. He can be as sorry and penitent to God at home on the couch as he can in prison.
  • No way, says Samson again. What is there to live for, anyway? Think about it: he was strong, famous, divinely blessed, destined for greatness, had performed amazing deeds, completely fearless... almost like a little God.
  • Or, so he thought. Actually, maybe it's this kind of thinking that spelled his downfall.
  • He was too proud and allowed himself to be swayed by his desire for lots of attention and became a little too into the whole partying scene. You know, expensive drugs, nightlife, models, the whole thing. It wasn't pretty.
  • The downward spiral ended with Samson confiding in this untrustworthy "Concubine," i.e. his wife, revealing the secret of his all-powerful hair.
  • Once she knew that, she had power over him and, gasp, cut his hair.
  • Samson also compares this whole scenario to being castrated, in case that wasn't kind of obvious already.
  • Feeling hungry? Time for a brain snack. Milton's readers would have known this Biblical story up and down, so he drops some pretty major plot events without any explanation—like that God made Samson's hair the key to his strength. (Nice move, God.)
  • Now, what about castration? Castration is a term that comes to us primarily from psychoanalysis, courtesy of one Sigmund Freud. It's the pervasive male fear of having one's penis cut off, usually by an aggressive and powerful woman, and is linked to images of impotence and sexual inability. Sound nutty? Yeah. Take it down a notch, Sig.
  • But still, castration is an image that often appears in literature. Like, Samson's "hair"-cutting-no-more-strength situation is a classic example. Or, pretty much any time anyone breaks a sword. Okay, 'nuff said.
  • The Chorus chimes in here to point out that Samson had actually many good habits and was never once tempted to drink alcohol.
  • Samson agrees with this and said that he got so much pleasure from drinking delicious, fresh spring water and getting high on life that wine was never very appealing.
  • The Chorus quickly interjects to wonder why anyone thinks wine is good for health since God forbade Samson from drinking and look how strong he turned out.
  • Samson keeps it real: all this praise of his moderation with alcohol is pointless, since he didn't have any when it came to women. In fact, he undid all that his self-discipline with alcohol accomplished by having none in this other area.
  • Lack of moderation with the ladies is why he's so miserable and unable to help his country, essentially just a useless "pitied object" waiting around for old age, disease, and death (568). Cheerful.
  • Manoa then jumps in and asks why Samson would stick around then , especially since, by being the Philistines' slave, he's using his strength for their benefit, which is basically the opposite of The Plan.
  • If Samson's going to just sit around being useless and waiting for death, he should do that at home.
  • Besides, what about all those times God performed miracles to help Samson out? Maybe God still has something in mind for Samson, and maybe he'll even give Samson back his sight.
  • One thing's for sure: Samson isn't meant to just sit there being useless.
  • Nuh-uh, says Samson. He doesn't think he'll ever see again, he's lost all hope, and he doesn't even want to live anymore.
  • Manoa urges Samson not to listen to these pessimistic thoughts that are only coming from his grief. He's his dad, and he's going to do everything in his power to make sure Samson can at least be safe.
  • Samson just keeps on lamenting. He hates how his pain isn't just physical but also mental. Since mental pain isn't specifically located anywhere in the body, you just end up feeling it everywhere.
  • And mental anguish actually gets worse as more time passes, like an infected wound.
  • These bad thoughts are like tormentors in his mind, targeting the areas where he's weakest and saddest. They never provide any comfort or relief. Plus, he doesn't actually believe it's possible to feel better about being deserted by God, except by dying.
  • He really does feel deserted, because God used to watched over him and Samson became particularly obedient, strong, and powerful against the enemies of Israel.
  • But now God has totally dumped him: unfriended him on Facebook, won't return his texts, and basically acts as if they never knew each other.
  • He didn't even offer Samson any comfort when he lost his eyes and has abandoned Samson to be mocked and scorned by everyone.
    So, really the only thing worth praying for now is a quick death.
  • The Chorus responds by saying that patience has long been considered the most meaningful kind of bravery and that many people write essays on how to deal with grief, pain and loss.
  • Gee, thanks, Chorus.
  • However, it doesn't seem to them that these kinds of comforts would be helpful to Samson, since he's so depressed and seems only to want direct comfort from God.
  • So, God, the Chorus says—let's talk about that. Why do you treat humanity so randomly—sometimes wonderfully, sometimes terribly—when you rule the angels and the animals with such order?
  • And what's up with the fact that God doesn't seem to be fair even to his special, chosen people? In fact, God seems to be less fair to those who are extra special, because these special ones seem to end up even worse than your average Joe.
  • They're left with enemies to die unburied, or horribly captured, or if they somehow manage to avoid those ends, still die in poverty, deformed with terrible diseases and pain.
  • Honestly, the Chorus concludes, it doesn't seem to make a difference whether you live a just life or an unjust one—you end up the same if not worse.

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