SAMSON: This day a solemn feast the people hold to Dagon thir Sea-Idol, and forbid laborious works, unwillingly this rest their superstition yields me (12-15)
Even though Samson is relieved to have a rest, he makes it very clear that he distinguishes himself completely from their "superstitious" religion. Sure, he'll take a break if they make him—but he's not going to like it.
SAMSON: Promise was that I should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver (38-39)
Samson's divine promise is also connected to a military war between Israel and Philistine, a war that is itself about the different religious beliefs of each. But how much is this really about religious belief, and how much is it actually just about, oh, land? or power? or money?
CHORUS: Just are the ways of God, and justifiable to men; unless there be who think not God at all, if any be, they walk obscure; for of such doctrine never was there school (294-298)
A false religion is bad, but people who have no religion at all are just the worst. Don't show Milton this poll.
MANOA: So Dagon shall be magnifi'd, and God, besides whom is no God, compar'd with idols, disglorifi'd, blasphem'd.... (440-442)
In the political conflict between Hebrews vs. Philistines, there seems to be an even bigger religious conflict between God vs. Dagon.
SAMSON: Father, I do acknowledge and confess that I this honor, I this pomp have brought to Dagon (449-450)
Not only is Samson responsible for the oppression of his people, but he also feels responsible for bringing honor to this false god, Dagon. This is totally like feeding the trolls.
SAMSON: [God], be sure, will not connive or linger thus provok'd, but will arise and his great name assert: Dagon must stoop (465-468)
Can't all these Gods just get along? (Nope). What's a little funny here is that Samson never denies that Dagon exists, exactly, but that his God is stronger. (This is actually a big point of debate—whether the early Israelites believed that there was only one God, or whether they thought that other gods existed. And it was probably the latter.)
DALILA: And the priest was... ever at my ear, preaching how meritorious with the gods it would be to ensnare an irreligious dishonorer of Dagon (857-861)
Samson isn't the only one who feels pressured by his religious belief. And this raises the question: how do we know that Dalila is wrong and Samson right? Does Samson Agonistes actually prove that either religion is truer?
SAMSON: I to be the power of Israel's God avow, and challenge Dagon to the test, offering to combat thee [Harapha] his Champion bold (1150-1152).
We're really getting the feeling that contests of strength are actually about a lot more then just who's stronger. Like maybe they're pitting two entire civilizations and belief structures against each other.
SAMSON: Thou knowst I am an Ebrew, therefore tell [your lords], our law forbids at their religious rites my presence (1319-1321).
Just because Samson is a prisoner doesn't mean he's about to violate religious law. He takes this stuff very seriously. In fact, we're thinking that he might be better off if he lightened up a little.
MANOA: Some [Philistine lords] much averse I found and wondrous harsh, contemptuous, proud, set on revenge and spite; that part most reverenc'd Dagon and his priests (1461-1464)
Manoa is making a connection between being devout to a false religion and being a bad person. So it's not just enough to be religious: you have to be the right kind of religious. Hm. It's not looking too good for Dalila.
SAMSON: I seek this unfrequented place to find some ease, ease to the body some, none to the mind from restless thoughts, that like a deadly swarm of hornets arm'd, no sooner found alone, but rush upon me thronging (15-20)
Talk about suffering! The very thing that makes Samson's body comfortable makes his mind suffer more. Poor guy just can't get a break.
SAMSON: Suffice that to me strength is my bane, and proves the source of all my miseries; so many and so huge, that each apart would ask a life to wail (64-67)
This almost makes "suffering" sound like an understatement. Samson is saying that it would take him lifetimes to complain properly about his life—but, little does he know, he actually only has a few more hours.
SAMSON: O loss of sight, of thee I most complain! Blind among enemies, O worse than chains, Dungeon, or beggery, or decrepit age! (68-69).
According to Samson, blindness doesn't have any competition for Worst Suffering EVAR. And you can kind of see why, since he implicitly compares it to all the other kinds of suffering: it's like a prison he always carries; he has to ask for everything; it makes him weaker than an old man. (Maybe he should get one of these things.)
CHORUS: Which shall I first bewail, thy bondage or lost sight...? (152)
Gee, thanks, Chorus. They're so bummed out by Samson's condition that they can't even decide which horrible thing to start with. We bet this is really cheering Samson up.
CHORUS: Deject not then so overmuch thy self, who hast of sorrow thy full load besides (213-214).
Suffering is definitely becoming a vicious cycle here: the more Samson pities himself, the worse he feels. We're getting the feeling that something dramatic is going to happen.
SAMSON: O that torment should not be confin'd to the bodies wounds and sores with maladies innumerable... but must secret passage find to th' inmost mind (606-611)
Samson's torment sounds even worse when he gives it the qualities of a sneaky person. It's like a little gnome that worms itself into his brain. Actually, that sounds like a pretty accurate description of depression.
SAMSON: Thoughts my Tormentors arm'd with deadly stings mangle my apprehensive tenderest parts (624-625)
Samson comes up with another way of personifying his suffering: now it's not a spy, it's an actual armed enemy. Either way, it's attacking an essential, important part of himself.
DALILA: If aught in my ability may serve to light'n what thou suffer'st and appease thy mind with what ammends is in my power (744-746)
Dalila might be the only character who actually asks Samson how she can help him. Isn't that weird? Is this just another feminine trick, or is there some part of Dalila that really loves Samson and regrets her actions?
SAMSON: Can [the Philistine lords] think me so broken, so debas'd with corporal servitude, that my mind ever will condescend to such absurd commands? (1335-1338).
Samson may be suffering, but it's not enough to make him give in. We're kind of wondering if there's anything that would break Samson—and we're thinking not. He may be weak, but he looks pretty strong to us.
CHORUS: Noise call you it or universal groan as if the whole inhabitation perished, blood, death, and deathful deeds are in that noise, ruin, destruction at the utmost point (1511-1514)
We've spent most of the poem hearing about Samson's suffering, but this description of the suffering of those Samson killed is pretty haunting. Are we supposed to feel sorry for them? Or are we supposed to be feeling pretty good about all this destruction?
SAMSON: Let me not rashly call in doubt Divine Prediction; what if all foretold had been fulfilled but through mine own default, whom have I to complain of but my self? (44-46).
Nice save, Samson. You almost blamed God there. Wonder how that would have gone over? Remember: when you point a finger, there are four pointing back at you.
SAMSON: [Dalila] was not the prime cause, but I my self (234)
A nice example of Samson blaming himself instead of others. Are we supposed to agree? Can we blame Dalila at all, or is she just a victim like everyone else.
SAMSON: That fault I take not on me, but transfer on Israel's governors, and heads of tribes... (241-242)
Scratch that: Samson is blaming other people, instead. Notice how he uses the word "transfer"—he seems to think of "fault" as something that's tangible and movable. It exists, and someone has to have it.
SAMSON: Appoint not heavenly disposition, Father, nothing of all these evils hath befall'n me but justly; I my self have brought them on. Sole author I, sole cause (374-376).
Samson seems pretty keen on making it clear to Dad that God isn't to blame—even though he almost seems willing to blame God at other points. But if God is the one who gave him strength, then couldn't it be God who arranged to have it taken away?
SAMSON: [Dalila] purposed to betray me and (which was worse then undissembl'd hate) with what contempt she sought to make me Traytor to my self (399-401)
A real example of how complex this whole blame thing can be. How exactly can someone else make you a traitor to yourself? Does that make the other person a traitor?
SAMSON: Spare that proposal, Father... let me here, as I deserve, pay on my punishment; and expiate, if possible, my crime (488-490)
Samson doesn't only take responsibility for what's happened, he wants to continue to be punished for it. This is actually approaching epically messed-up levels. Is there any good in wallowing in your own guilt?
SAMSON: But I Gods counsel have not kept, his holy secret presumptuously have publish'd, impiously... a sin that Gentiles in thir parables condemn (498-501)
Samson thinks his fault is so bad that even non-Jews (that would be "Gentiles") punish it as a terrible thing. And you know you've really messed up in the Biblical world when Gentiles think you've done something wrong.
MANOA: Be penitent and for thy fault contrite, but act not in thy own affliction, Son, repent the sin but if the punishment thou canst avoid, self-preservation bids (503-505)
Do you agree with Manoa's distinction between guilt and punishment? He's basically saying that you can feel guilty and repent without taking the punishment—but Samson doesn't agree. To him, guilt and punishment go together. In other words, if do the crime, you have to do the time.
SAMSON: All these indignities... these evils I deserve and more, acknowledge them from God inflicted on me justly (1169-1171).
Samson admits that his God might be responsible for his suffering, but he isn't to blame. Another interesting distinction: blame implies something bad, but "responsible" implies that we're going to see some good come of this whole situation.
Chorus: Now ly'st victorious among thy [Samson's] slain, self-kill'd not willingly, but tangl'd in dire necessity (1664-1666)
This is a pretty slippery little definition of "necessity." Background: suicide was a big no-no. But the question here is, was Samson's death just collateral damage? Or was it part of his goal?
SAMSON: O glorious strength put to the labour of a Beast, debas't lower than bondslave! (36-38)
SAMSON: This high gift of strength committed to me... how easily bereft me... weakly to a woman to reveal it. (48-50)
This won't be the last time Samson thinks about the irony of how weakly he handled his gift of strength. We promise.
SAMSON: But what is strength without a double share of wisdom... (54-55)
We hear that! Super strength without brains just gives you this guy. (No offense to that guy.)
SAMSON: God, when he gave me strength, to shew withal how slight the gift was, hung it in my Hair" (58-60)
Does the explanation for the hair-strength connection make sense to you? And could Samson have buffed it up a little with some of this stuff?
CHORUS: Can this be he, that heroic, that renown'd, irresistible Samson? whom unarm'd no strength of man, or fiercest wild beast could withstand; who tore the lion, as the lion tears the kid...? (124-128)
Wow, maybe Samson really was like a superhero. The Chorus makes him sound not only amazingly strong, but famous too.
MANOA: O ever failing trust in mortal strength! and oh what not in man deceivable and vain! (349-350)
What would immortal strength then be? (We're betting it starts with a "G" and ends with a "D.")
SAMSON: In strength all mortals I excell'd, and great in hopes with youthful courage and magnanimous thoughts (522-524)
And he's modest, too! Well, at least he's making up for his former boastfulness by talking endlessly about how much he messed up. Or is that just another form of bragging? ("Look how bad I am. I am so bad.")
CHORUS: Many are the sayings of the wise in ancient and in modern books enroll'd extolling patience has the truest fortitude (652-654).
The Chorus offers another definition of strength that Samson also might need to work on: patience. And reading.
SAMSON: I know no spells, use no forbidden arts; my trust is in the living God who gave me at my nativity this strength (1139-1141)
Samson's strength might be superhuman, but it's totally not cheating because he was born with it.
CHORUS: Yet with this strength thou serv'st the Philistines, idolatrous, uncircumcis'd, unclean (1364-1365)
Okay, so Samson is using his strength to help the Philistines in their labor camp—but it's not like it's his fault. Or is it?
SAMSON: O wherefore was my birth from Heaven foretold twice by an angel, who at last in sight of both my parents all in flames ascended...? (23-25)
First big hint that Samson isn't just your ordinary kid. If we were Samson's parents, we might start considering hiring an exorcist.
SAMSON: Why was my breeding order'd and prescrib'd as of a person separate to God, design'd for great exploits; if I must dye Betray'd, Captiv'd, and both my eyes out...?
By "separate" Samson just means "special," and it's not a bad question. Being blinded and imprisoned certainly does seem like a strange fate for God's number one guy.
SAMSON: I sought to wed the daughter of an infidel: [my parents] knew not that what I motion'd was of God (220-223)
Samson's special destiny with God can be tricky if he's the only one who knows it's going on. We're not exactly saying that Samson reminds us of the guy standing on the corner with the tinfoil hat and the placard, but it's pretty close.
CHORUS: [God] made our laws to bind us, not himself, and hath full right to exempt whom so it pleases him by choice (309-311).
Maybe we should just give up this whole free will/ divine fate thing, right? God doesn't need to explain himself to us. In fact, God seems to be the only one who's outside of fate.
MANOA: Reject not then what offer'd means, who knows but God hath set before us, to return thee home to thy countrey (516-517)
God works in mysterious ways—and they're extra mysterious to Manoa, who seems to literally have no idea how these things work. It's obvious to everyone except him that Samson's never going home.
SAMSON: Of birth from Heav'n foretold and high exploits, full of divine instinct (525-526)
This idea of "divine instinct" suggests that Samson isn't just special, but that he and God are on the same wavelength. Sort of like Voldemort and Harry Potter.
CHORUS: God of our Fathers, what is man! That thou towards him with hand so various, or might I say contrarious, temperest thy providence through his short course, not evenly (668-670)
Sometimes, God just doesn't seem to have a plan at all. Key word, "seem": of course he has a plan. He's God. He is the plan.
HARAPHA: Presume not on thy God, what e're he be, thee he regards not, owns not, hath cut off quite from his people (1156-1158)
We have to (grudgingly) agree with Harapha that God's master plan for Samson is rather murky.
SAMSON: I was no private [person] but a person rais'd with strength sufficient and command from Heaven to free my countrey (1211-1213).
Can you be a private person if you believe God has commanded you to save your people? Probably not.
CHORUS: O dearly bought revenge, yet glorious! Living or dying thou [Samson] hast fulfill'd the work for which thou wast foretold to Israel (1660-1663)
The Chorus seems pretty sure that Samson's death demonstrates he was following God's plan all along. Do we, though? Is any part of this Samson's plan?
SAMSON: To live a life half dead, a living death, and buried; but O yet more miserable! My self, my Sepulcher, a moving Grave, buried, yet not exempt by privilege of death and burial from worst other evils, pains, and wrongs (100-105)
Samson has the worst of both worlds: the darkness of death from being blind yet with all the pain that comes from being alive.
SAMSON: These dark orbs no more shall treat with light, nor th'other light of life continue long, but yield to double darkness night at hand (592-594).
Samson seems pretty sure his days are numbered. (He's right.) But our question is, does he do anything to hurry it along? Or has God already numbered the days?
SAMSON: Sleep hath forsook and giv'n me o're to death benumming Opium as my only cure (629-630)
Death as a form of pain relief does not sound healthy. We're pretty sure there are support lines for that sort of thing.
SAMSON: This one prayer yet remains, might I be heard, no long petition, speedy death, the close of all my miseries and the balm (649-651).
We're a little uneasy about Samson praying for death, but at least we know that he's comfortable with his own mortality. Or something. Is it right to pray for death?
SAMSON: Not for thy life, lest fierce remembrance wake my sudden rage to tear thee joint by joint (953-954)
Samson usually directs his thoughts of death towards himself, but here they get pretty violent towards Dalila. No wonder she's been so reluctant to come visit.
SAMSON: But come what will, my deadliest foe will prove my speediest friend, by death to rid me hence (1263-1265)
When death is something you actually value, language itself gets all topsy-turvy. Friends and foes are all mixed up.
SAMSON: This day will be remarkable in my life by some great act, or of my days the last (1388-1389)
Samson seems pretty eager to compare greatness and death. Is it an act of courage to go out in a blaze—or does he see death as a way to avoid having to deal with the consequences of his actions?
CHORUS: What if [Samson's] eye-sight... by miracle restored, he now be dealing dole among his foes and over heaps of slaughter'd walk his way? (1528-1530)
A rather gruesome image of Samson as killer, not victim. Does this change our reading of his character?
MESSENGER: Inevitable cause at once both to destroy and be destroyed (1585-1586)
Samson's death is particularly morbid because he both kills himself and other people too. But what good would it do for Samson to die alone?
MANOA: There will I build him a monument, and plant it round with shade of laurel ever green and branching palm, with all his trophies hung and acts enroll'd in copious legend (1734-1736)
Does Manoa's plan seem like it's going to bring Samson the peace and glory he wants? Or are we supposed to be a little suspicious of this—considering that Manoa doesn't seem like the most trustworthy dude?
CHORUS: Yet truth to say, I oft have heard men wonder why thou shouldst wed Philistian women rather that of thine own tribe (215-216)
Marriage choices don't have only personal consequences: they have public and political consequences too. Think about that next time you log into OKCupid.
MANOA: I pray'd for children, and thought barrenness in wedlock a reproach (353)
Sounds like marriage carries a lot of expectations. Way stressful—no wonder it didn't work out for Samson.
SAMSON: In [Dalila's] prime of love, spousal embraces [were] vitiated with gold (389-390)
This is just a fancy way of saying that Dalila corrupted their marriage with a love of money. Samson is really trying to contrast the physical affection of marriage with Dalila's economic treatment of it.
MANOA: I cannot praise thy marriage choises, Son (420).
Okay, Dad. Understatement of the year.
SAMSON: At length to lay my head and hallow'd pledge of all my strength in the lascivious lap of a deceitful concubine (535-538)
When you call your wife a "concubine," things are not good on the marriage front.
DALILA: But conjugal affection prevailing over fear, and timerous doubt hath led me desirous to behold once more that face and know of thy estate (739-743).
Even though their marriage hasn't gone so well, Dalila still says its bond has an influence over her feelings. Does she really love him? She's making a good case for it.
SAMSON: Out, out, Hyeana, these are thy wonted arts and arts every woman false like thee (748-749)
We're not fans of Samson's misogynistic language here, both comparing his wife to an animal (hyena) and suggesting all women behave a certain way. Maybe if he treated his wife a little better, she'd have treated him a little better. We're just saying.
SAMSON: But had thy [Dalila's] love... bin, as it ought, sincere, it would have taught thee far other reasonings, brought forth other deeds (873-875)
Real love isn't just about feelings; it can actually help you learn and make you a better person. If you're thinking that Milton had high expectations about marriage, you're right. No wonder he found himself itching for a divorce.
SAMSON: No, no, of my condition take no care; it fits not; thou and I long since are twain (929-930)
Samson believes that when a marriage is over, expectations of care and concern must end as well. He would totally unfriend Dalila on Facebook.
SAMSON: Love-quarrels oft in pleasing concord end, not wedlock-treachery endangering life (1009-1010).
Samson and Dalila: not your average love story. There's not makeup sex here—just betrayal and death. Major bummer.
SAMSON: Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves, himself in bonds under Philistine yoke (40-42)
We have to admit that this does sound like quiet the downgrade. This is like going from the quarterback of the all-star high school football team to making license plates in an Alabama prison.
CHORUS: O change beyond report, thought, or belief! (118)
Changed beyond thought? Ouch. Bet Samson isn't going to show up to his 10-year reunion.
MANOA: O miserable change! is this the man, the invincible Samson, far renown'd, the dread of Israel's foes... (340-343)
Echoing the Chorus, even Samson's own dad can't get over Samson's alteration. And this is the guy who changed his diapers! Double ouch.
SAMSON: Now blind, disheartn'd, sham'd dishonor'd, quell'd, to what can I be useful, wherein serve my nation? (564-565)
Samson used to be The Hope for his people... that's a hard act to follow. Or sustain. Just ask this guy.
CHORUS: Toward these thus dignifi'd, thou [God] oft amidst thir higheth of noon, changest thy countenance and thy hand with no regard of highest favors past (683-685)
It isn't just Samson who has changed; God seems to change his mind a lot too. But how is that possible? Can God be God if he changes his mind?
CHORUS: She's [Dalila's] gone, a manifest Serpent by her sting discovr'd in the end, til now concel'd (998-999)
It might seem like Dalila's changed, but she hasn't. She's always been a serpent—just good at hiding it.
SAMSON: Fair days have oft contracted wind and rain (1063)
Life can change at any moment... just like the weather. Too bad they don't have sophisticated modern forecasting technology.
SAMSON: Be of good courage, I begin to feel some rouzing motions in me which dispose to something extraordinary my thoughts (1381-1383)
Probably one of the least dramatic descriptions of a very dramatic change in all of English literature. Dramatic.
MANOA: The worst indeed, O all my hope's defeated to free [Samson] hence! but death who sets all free hath paid his ransom now and full discharge (1571-1572)
Here's another, sadder, realization of how quickly, and drastically, life can change: Samson was two seconds away from walking out the door, and now he's dead. (And so is the door.)
CHORUS: Oft [God] seems to hide his face, but unexpectedly returns and to his faithful Champion hath in place bore witness gloriously (1749-1753)
So maybe, in the end, things have changed even less than we thought. Samson is a hero again, just like he used to be; God is back and better than ever. All right! Well, except Samson's dead—so, thanks for nothing, God?