Study Guide

Samson Agonistes Fate and Free Will

By John Milton

Fate and Free Will

If we could only take one fact about tragedies to our desert island (don't ask), it would probably be—you can't escape fate. In Greek mythology, the concept of fate was personified by a trio of goddesses, and suggested that all people have a certain destiny that must be fulfilled. Essentially: no free will. Now, this whole fate/free will thing gets very (very) complicated for Christianity. Was Eve fated to eat that apple? If so, what does that say about God? Can we do anything to help our salvation, or are we just born saved or damned? For Samson Agonistes, the important thing is that Samson can't decide whether everything he does is fulfilling God's destiny for him (a kind of Christian version of fate) or whether he has total control over himself. So we're left wondering—where does his self-sacrifice fit in to all this?

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. Where does the idea that God has special destiny for Samson come from? Who attests to this and what is it based on?
  2. What, if anything, seems to be the connection between destiny, free will, and heroism? Are they all compatible? Why or why not?
  3. Does everyone believe that Samson is specially destined? Who doesn't?

Chew on This

Samson's belief that he might be fulfilling God's destiny isn't heroic or pious at all; it's totally narcissistic. Even in prison, he needs to believe he's special.

Samson has to be specially destined by God. Otherwise, how can you explain his whole hair-strength power?