Blindness in Samson Agonistes
In John Milton’s play Samson Agonistes, eyesight is a recurring motif and blindness used frequently as a metaphor to define the status of a character’s journey. Milton uses the presence or lack of clarity in vision, both physically and spiritually, to indicate characters’ direction. Although several characters experience blindness to differing degrees, Samson epitomizes the dynamic states and stages of blindness. All of these are necessary components of his pilgrimage of personal redemption, where his loss of physical eyesight becomes essential to mitigate the more serious condition of internal, spiritual blindness.Manoah’s paternal connection to his son hinders his ability to see that the blindness Samson must endure as a result of his failures is actually necessary to restore Samson’s inner eyes. Manoah attempts to convince Samson that his predicament can be reversed and that there is a way out:“But God who caus’d a fountain at thy prayerFrom the dry ground to spring, thy thirst to allayAfter the brunt of battel, can as easieCause light again within thy eies to spring.” (581-84)Manoah’s eyes are indeed veiled from reality, for he is unable to analyze the situation apart from his disposition and concepts which persuade him to believe that Samson is, in fact, ascetical. Manoah has the full assurance that the retrieval and homeward return of his son would cause the present problems to dissipate. However, Samson realizes that his escaping will not assist him along his destined path and will not accomplish the purpose of his existence.Surely God did not intend for Samson to single-handedly liberate Israel, but as the tribe’s sole recipient of the divine instruction, Samson is regarded as the man who will free Israel and her people from captivity. The awe and wonder that his strength elicits became an obstruction in the eyes of the Hebrews and of their faith. It does not occur to them that perhaps they too, as a people, have a role in fulfilling God’s plan. Their eyes are so fixed on the idea that Samson will be their savior that in a sense their faith in God is lessened. Samson’s strength is a mere manifestation of God’s strengthening him from within; the Israelites, however, regard his gift of strength as his sole qualification for the mission’s assignment. By so doing, they deny any accountability themselves. The Israelites should have learned from Solomon’s mistakes after his fall and taken the initiative to fulfill the promise. Instead, like Samson, his people lose sight of their faith and its source. It becomes apparent that Samson has become an idol to his people, and they have lost God as their focus by fixing their collective sight upon Samson’s God-like figure, which his strength and pride afford. Therefore, Samson is not the only one who has lost sight of his calling, but the Hebrews have fallen to the point where they “love bondage more than liberty, / Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty” (270-1). Samson, as well as his people, initially fail to see that his strength lies not within the seven locks of unshaven hair, but that his hair is a mere symbol of his heritage and of his vow to God. A footnote in Numbers, explaining the significance of the Nazarite vow, says, “Not shaving the head signifies not rejecting but being absolutely subject to the headship of the Lord as well as to all deputy authorities appointed by God.” The Nazarite vow was not developed solely for Samson, but it was a voluntary time of consecration where the Israelites declared their separation unto God: “All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself from Jehovah; he shall let the locks on his head grow long.” (Numbers 6:5) This general custom proves that, contrary to the belief of Samson and Dalila, that his hair is not the source of his super natural strength.Samson’s “heav’n- gifted strength” (36) is accompanied by a mission whose accomplishment relies entirely on his faithfulness to the vow. Gradually Samson becomes distracted by the fame and admiration that his strength elicits. A purpose that initially originated from a divinely assigned mission slowly digresses into a self-glorifying talent which makes Samson “fearless of danger, like made a petty God, walk’d about admir’d of all” (529-30). Samson himself admits that he had reached a point where he was “swollen with pride” and fell “into the snare” (532). As this egotistical outlook begins to take precedence in Samson’s life, he simultaneously begins to lose sight of the goals in and purpose of his life, leaving him inwardly blind, prior to the dramatic gouging out of his eyes.During the first three temptations of Dalila, Samson’s faith still remains true as he maintains his loyalty and covenant with God, just as he sustains the portion of his vow which requires him to abstain from “all delicious drinks… [to] repress” (541-43). However, upon Dalila’s fourth attempt to trick her husband, “this high gift of strength…how easily [bereaves] [him], / Under the seal of Silence could not keep, / But weakly to a woman [does] reveal it” (47-50). Once Samson recognizes his weakness, despite his outward strength, he begins the journey of ascent towards self- reconstruction, where Samson comes to realize how he came to be in such a predicament:“God sent her to debase me, And aggravate my folly who committedTo such a viper his most sacred trustOf secresie, my safety, and my life” (999-1002) Samson realizes too late that he was “impoten[t] of mind, in body strong!” (52). Before his upward journey, Samson is required to be completely broken, blinded and chained, “inferior to… worm” (73-74). The man that was once admired and worshipped is now “dark in light expos’d / to daily fraud, contempt, abuse and wrong” (75-76), made powerless, in order for him to begin the long, dark journey into his self and back to his calling.Milton repeatedly utilizes the metaphor of blindness to take his characters on a progression from a point of darkness into light, to illustrate the growth and dynamic development of each character on their own, specific path to destiny. Milton’s entire tragedy depicts the treacherous journey of the hero whose “breeding [is] ordered and prescrib’d / As of a person separated to God” (30-31). In order for Samson’s purpose to be fulfilled and for God’s plan to be carried out, Samson’s physical strength has to be reduced to nothing. It is only possible in this moment of desperation following complete failure that the hero is able to prove his true strength, as he re-climbs from the heap of collapse. Not only does this journey entail the reconstruction of his strength, but Samson is forced to endure this journey in complete darkness in order to redefine his view of the world and to relinquish his confidence in his own ability, and to ultimately refine and strengthen his faith in God. The Hebrews, like Samson, are also in need of restoration of sight to see again who their God is. Their faith falters simultaneously with the breaking of Samson’s vow; not one of them takes any form of action in attempt to accomplish God’s plan. Their sole concern is the preservation of Samson’s sight and strength, for this is where their faith resides. Manoah also fails to see that the restoration of Samson’s sight is not of utmost importance, but that much more, his inward eyes would be reopened to realize his purpose, to see why God twice appeared to his parents to announce the importance of his birth. Samson is both weakened and inwardly blinded by his wife’s beauty and temptations, but it is not until his eyes are gouged out that he acknowledges that he has been “entangled with a poysnous bosom snake.” When Samson’s faith is lost, he is in “double darkness”, both outwardly and inwardly blind. It is not until his final moments that his inward eyes are opened; he regains his lost faith, and truly realizes and accomplishes his purpose in his very last breath.
Comparing Female Figures in Samson Agonistes and The Aeneid
In the political hierarchy depicted by Milton and Virgil, power rightly belongs in the hands of a man, not a woman. During the times when men are the sole leaders of the nation, a woman’s possession of power and influence is viewed as unnatural and dangerous to the well-being of a nation. Women, as portrayed in Milton’s Samson Agonistes and Virgil’s The Aeneid are regarded as temptresses, deceitful creatures cunning in their ways to beguile men. Milton’s text quotes, “Therefore God’s universal Law / Gave to the man despotic power / Over his female in due awe” (SA 1053-5). By exposing women’s vulnerability to their whims and irrational passions, Milton and Virgil represent their female figures as a source of man’s destruction and as wicked temptations that man must resist in order to build an uncorrupt and great nation.Dalila is the epitome of the deceitful woman in Samson Agonistes, as she abets the downfall of the text’s hero, her husband Samson. Samson introduces her asA deceitful Concubine who shore meLike a tame Wether, all my precious fleece,Then turn’d me out ridiculous, despoil’d,Shav’n, and disarm’d among my enemies. (537-40)In this metaphor, Samson is a helpless lamb subject to the mercilessness of Dalila, who strips Samson of his strength and feeds him to his enemies once she learns his secret. As a consequence, Israel remains oppressed by the Philistines while Samson is captive under the Philistines because of Dalila. For this betrayal, Dalila earns the vindictive epithets, “specious monster” and “pois’nous bosom snake.” A woman’s abuse of her power over a man in his hour of weakness is mirrored in Dalila as she is shown taking advantage of Samson’s loss of his strength. Once a woman makes a man succumb to her, she feels empowered to try her tricks again. Evidence to this claim is Dalila’s cunning strategies to once again bewitch Samson. Dalila appeals to Samson as she persistently tempts him with different excuses. First, she attempts to neutralize her sins by highlighting Samson’s weakness as the main cause for his current abject state. As a rhetorical question, she asks him, “Was it not weakness also to make known…Wherein consisted all thy strength and safety?” (778-80), and follows with, “To what I did thou show’dst me first the way” (781) as an indirect accusation of Samson. On this ground, Dalila tries to equalize herself with Samson, showing that they both acted on their own weaknesses. Playing different roles also allows Dalila to weave her tricks into Samson. She plays the vulnerable wife needy for her husband when she explains that her reason for stripping Samson of his strength was to prevent him from leaving her as he left his first wife at Timna. When that excuse fails, Dalila then plays the virtuous woman doing her duty to her people and to Dagon. She justifies her betrayal as a rescue mission to save her people from the “dishonourer of Dagon” (861), for Samson slaughtered thousands of Philistine men. An attempted role reversal occurs as Dalila makes Samson the oppressor and attempts to act as the liberator, for she preaches, “to the public good / Private respects must yield” (867-8). Finally, she plays the caring wife, whose “conjugal affection” (739) prompts her to call him again to her. This final temptation, however, Samson resists, for he is more perceptive now than before of her tactics: “How cunningly the sorceress displays / Her own transgressions, to upbraid me mine!” (819-20). Despite the numerous temptations that a woman like Dalila presents, it is the duty of a man like Samson to obstinately see through the multiplicity of her guiles and avoid her traps.Through Samson’s constant resistance of Dalila, Milton proves that man gains true freedom once he thwarts woman’s spell-binding oppressions. To be ruled by a woman, as represented in the text, is a sign of weakness and a result of woman’s tricks. To support this claim, the chorus tells Samson, “Tax not divine disposal, wisest Men / Have err’d, and by bad Women been deceived; / And shall again, pretend they ne’er so wise” (210-3). The text further emphasizes the degraded state of man under a woman’s power by comparing Samson’s previous glory with his current bondage. Referring to the days before Samson’s marriage to Dalila, the chorus describes Samson as “That heroic, that Renown’d / Irresistible Samson? whom unarm’d / No strength of man, or fiercest wild beast could withstand” (125-7). Now, Samson resides in an extremely opposite state; he is the slave of his enemies, the Philistines, Dalila’s people, for he previously could not escape Dalila’s spells: “But foul effeminacy held me yoked / Her bond-slave” (410-1). Samson admits this as a weakness when he accepts responsibility for the outcome of his actions. He concedes, Of what I now sufferShe was not the prime cause, but I myself,Who vanquish’d with a peal of words (O weakness!)Gave up my fort of silence to a Woman. (233-6)But when the chorus blames Dalila instead and calls this “her stain not his” (325), the text broaches the concept of original sin. Because Eve’s consumption of the forbidden fruit consequently cursed women to bear the original sin, the blame is wholly bestowed upon Dalila. The text uses Dalila to symbolize women as tools of destruction. Upon Dalila’s entrance, the chorus exclaims, “But who is this, what thing of Sea or Land? / Female of sex it seems” (710-1). By describing Dalila as an excessively adorned ship, this metaphor presents the landing ship as a symbol of the state’s destruction. She is dressed ornately as if for war, “With all her bravery on, and tackle trim” (717), and her “Amber scent of odorous perfume” (720) conceal the stench of her crime-ridden trail. Characterizing this ship as female implies woman’s natural tendency to bear destruction like she does children. Pronouns in the metaphor calling Dalila a “thing” and “it” are derogatory and convey the text’s negative view of the female sex. Samson also categorizes Dalila with all women as untrue when he snaps, “Out, out Hyaena; these are thy wonted arts, / And arts of every woman false like thee, / To break all faith, all vows, deceive, betray” (738-50). Samson further attests to the claim that woman’s purpose on earth is to destroy man by stating, “God sent her to debase me” (999). This defies the Biblical teaching, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands” (King James Bible, 1 Pet. 3.1), which stresses that a good wife is gentle, submissive, and respectful to her husband. The Bible also teaches husbands to give “honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel” (King James Bible, 1 Pet. 3.7), and thus acknowledges women as the weaker sex. Women who strive to defy this hierarchy are thus portrayed as created to naturally deceive and to destroy.The Aeneid exhibits a similar view by demonstrating the tendency of its female characters to hinder the male protagonist, Aeneas, from reaching Latium to establish the destined future walls of Rome. Juno is one of Aeneas’s main obstacles in his path to follow his fate. Her hatred towards the Trojans combined with her powers as a goddess allow her to continually delay Aeneas. She requests Aeolus to send the winds to scatter the crew of Aeneas along the sea and she sends Allecto to incite war between the Trojans and the Latins. Allecto also exemplifies the destructive female; she is a creature from Hell hated by her father and her sisters, for she is associated with malice. Juno summons her for this main reason, “You have the power: when brothers love each other / You know the way to arm them, set them fighting” (Book VII, 352-3). Queen Amata’s infection by Allecto spurs her to a mad frenzy, in which she rounds the Latin women against Lavinia’s fated betrothal to Aeneas. Here, Queen Amata transforms into a wild beast, “her eyes are stained and bloodshot” (Book VII, 426), and now the women praise Mars instead of Bacchus. These actions, all involving female figures, prevent Aeneas from attaining his destiny with ease.Throughout The Aeneid, there lies the motif in which a woman is the cause of war. In addition to the supernatural aids of war by such figures as Juno, The Aeneid mentions women who, although they did not actively assist in fanning the flames of war, are fated to cause destruction. Lavinia, for example, “would be glorious, / They said, in fame and fortune, but the people / were doomed, on her account, to war” (Book VII, 75-7). This likens Lavinia to Helen, who was the cause of the Trojan War. Though Lavinia and Helen can be considered as innocent bystanders, they symbolize the traps that man can fall into when he is not careful in his involvement with a woman.A key female figure is Dido, who represents the temptress, the female threat to Aeneas’s destiny, and the unfortunate leader overcome by a dangerous irrational passion. Book I introduces Dido as a powerful, strong woman through the Homeric simile that compares her to the goddess Diana. “She came to the temple / With a great train, all majesty, all beauty, / As . . . Diana leads her bands of dancers” (521-5). The Aeneid begins its depiction of Dido as a just leader: “She took her throne, a giver of law and justice, / A fair partitioner of toil and duty” (Book I, 523-4). Yet through a close inspection of the line narrating when the Tyrians “Went sailing, with a woman for a captain” (Book I, 380), we sense a condescending voice. The addition of “with a woman for a captain” to the statement adds a sense of uneasiness, as if it is unusual for a woman to lead, and therefore this is a detail which must not be omitted. This reveals the doubts that people held against women in power. Book IV then transforms Dido into one consumed by the fire of irrational passion for Aeneas, the fire that is synonymous with the fire of war and destruction. The beginning of Book IV is rife with images of fire, such as Dido’s “burning heart” and the “flame” of passion. Fire destroys Dido’s rationale and her ability to think clearly, just as the fires of war ravage towns, causing great nations to crumble to ashes. Similarly, Dido poses a threat to the building of the Roman Empire as she tempts and begs Aeneas to stay with her. The wounded deer and Maenad similes convey Dido’s vulnerability, as a woman, to these dangerous passions, for “Dido is unconcerned with fame, with reputation. / With how it [marriage] seems to others” (Book IV, 165-6). Mercury must appear to Aeneas twice to remind him to leave. He warns, “Shove off, be gone! A shifty, fickle object / is woman, always” (601-2). Unlike Dido, Aeneas is made to yield not to his whims, but to Fate. “Pius Aeneas,” the fundamental epithet in the Latin text of The Aeneid, portrays loyalty, beauty, duty, and obedience to destiny. This is evident in Aeneas’s yielding to fate at the end of Book II where he declares, “I gave it up” (816). Aeneas must be obstinate in his path, no matter what the cost, in order to build a great empire. When Dido appeals to him, Jupiter deliberately implants adamancy in the will of Aeneas. “And still – the gods give orders, he obeys them” (Book IV, 423). Aeneas and King Latinus are described by the similes of a deep-rooted tree and a steadfast sea-rock, respectively, for both must be unmoving amidst the crisis and madness that overcomes the women. The gods make the kingly figures in the text hard, contrary to the fickleness and susceptibility intended for the female figures.Although women are portrayed as the inferior sex, they play key roles in the development of the plots and of the heroes of the texts. They serve as obstacles to the success of the male protagonists through their use of any power allotted to them. The disorder that arises when women attempt dominion is evident in the actions of Dalila, Juno, and Dido; they exemplify the cause of a disrupted hierarchy of male dominance. Dalila’s exposure of Samson’s weakness, Juno’s fate-delaying tactics, and Dido’s tempting offers all test the strengths and values of men. By creating a victory out of resisting woman’s temptations for the male protagonists, Samson Agonistes and The Aeneid depict women as forces that must not be in control, but rather forces that must be controlled.
Samson Agonistes is Milton’s attempt to bring together the seemingly opposing worldviews of Christianity and tragedy. While some would contest that tragedy has no place in Christianity, Milton observed the tragedy in Judges 12-16, and, as an astute student of human nature, imagined the emotions Samson must have felt and the verbal exchanges that could have occurred between him and others. The result of Milton’s conjectures is Samson Agonistes. If, as Chaucer writes, “Tragedy is to say a certain storie, As olde bookes maken us memorie, Of him that stood in great prosperitee And is yfallen out of high degree Into misery and endeth wretchedly” (http://www.dictionary.com), then Samson is indeed a tragic hero in the literary sense. Samson has clearly fallen from “high degree”, as his friends remember a great man, a “Herioc…Renown’d…Irresistable Samson” (S.A. 125-126), the “glory late of Israel, now the grief”(179). Manoa recalls an “invincible Samson” (341), and the even the mighty Harapha admits: “Much I have heard/Of thy prodigious might and feats perform’d/Incredible to me” (1082-1084). No one would dispute that at one time the Philistines feared Samson and the Israelites revered him. However, Samson’s life changed dramatically when he suddenly metamorphosed from a glorious hero to an “Ensnar’d, assaulted, overcome…/ Poor, and Blind” (365-366) prisoner. Samson languishes in a “double darkness”, lacking temporal and spiritual sight. To him, physical blindness is more bearable than the isolation he feels from God. Samson has tumbled headlong “from the top of wondrous glory,/ …To [the] lowest pitch of abject fortune” (167-169).A character must have one fatal flaw before he or she can become a tragic hero; Samson’s weakness was pride. Biblically, pride is one of the “seven deadly sins” that surely bring about one’s ultimate downfall. Samson was endowed with superhuman strength, but by his own admission, lacked proportional wisdom (53-57). As his ego grew, his relationship with God diminished, until “Swoll’n with pride into the snare [he] fell” (532). Samson would have never been captured, blinded, and humiliated were it not for his burgeoning pride. In order for God to show Samson that He was really the one in control, He was forced, by Samson’s own arrogance, to reduce Israel’s vainglorious son to nothing before he could be restored.A true “tragic hero,” Samson refuses to solicit help from outside forces. Samson vehemently refuses Manoa’s offer to pay a ransom for his release, and urges him to “Spare the trouble/ Of that solicitation; let me here,/ As I deserve” (487-489). Samson believes that he brought all his misery upon himself; therefore, he cannot accept help from another person (374-376). At the outset, Samson is immersed in self-pity, and has no desire to exact revenge upon the Philistines. Samson’s meeting with Dalila (Delilah) jolts him from his Laodicean state. Up until this point, Samson refuses to show anger, and instead accepts his fate with abject resignation. Dalila, however, kindles a fire inside of him, a fire that once ignited, consumes his despair and fuels his desire for retribution. Samson’s first utterance to her, “Out, out Hyaena,” (748) displays that he has instantaneously broken free from his apathetic mindset. As Marjorie Hope Nicolson aptly observes, “Samson’s vigor is returning…more than he knows” (362). In truth, Dalila’s visit to Samson was the catalyst needed in order for Samson to bring down the Philistine’s temple. Samson grows increasingly confident during his discourse with Dalila, and, more importantly, feels God returning to him. Samson is now able to forgive Dalila, although it is “at a distance” (954). This act of forgiveness symbolizes that Samson has finally yielded to God’s authority, for his carnal desire is to “tear [Dalila] joint by joint” (953). Samson’s forgiveness also releases him from any bonds he once had to Dalila and the Philistines, freeing him psychologically to do what he must in the temple in the final scene.Samson’s interaction with Harapha is evidence of the inward change that occurred in his conversation with Dalila. Harapha expected to find a dejected has-been hero, a former champion reduced to nothing more than reams of pale skin haphazardly slung over brittle, mortal bones. The Samson he encounters has been invigorated with renewed self-confidence and the assurance that God is with him again. Minutes earlier, Samson complaines God has “cast me off as never known,/ And to those cruel enemies,/ Whom I by his appointment had provok’t,/ Left me all helpless with th’ irreparable loss” (641-644). Now, however, Samson boldly proclaims that God’s “ear is ever open; and his eye/ Gracious to re-admit the suppliant;/ In confidence whereof I once again/ Defie thee to the trial of mortal fight,/ by combat to decide whose god is God” (1172-1176) and is able to confidently back down the giant. If it were not for Dalila’s intervention, the outcome of Harapha’s visit would have been quite different.Milton portrays Samson’s fall from grace as a tragedy, yet from a Christian perspective, the tragedy is not Samson’s present condition, but Samson’s disobedience to God. Samson was able to abstain from wine, but not the solace of Philistine women. Herein lies the Christian tragedy. Were it not for Samson’s flagrant disregard for God’s laws, he would not be in his current predicament. Samson himself acknowledges that God “justly” inflicted the evils he is suffering upon him as punishment for foolish behaviour (S.A. 1169-1171). From the Christian viewpoint, God’s discipline is to be celebrated; it is a sign of his love. A tragedy only occurs if an individual refuses to heed divine correction. Samson chose to accept his punishment and determined to use his remarkable gift for God’s glory once more. Even his death is not a tragedy, as Samson has regained favour with God.Samson’s untimely demise at the conclusion of the play could be seen as a tragedy, a triumph of Christianity, or a combination of the two. In a literary sense, Samson Agonistes is a tragedy in every sense. The flawed hero fights alone and dies alone. A Christian perspective sees the play as a beautiful illustration of God’s love: though he strayed from God’s laws, Samson’s heavenly father welcomes him back and allows him to become a legend again in death. Here though, is the conflict. In order for Samson to be restored to God, he needed to relinquish his pride. God would not have returned Samson’s strength any other way. For the play to be a literary tragedy, however, Samson’s pride must cause his downfall. In reality, the tale, as it was intended, must be seen as two distinct stories. The first is a tragedy: Samson’s pride brings his spiritual demise and is the cause of his suffering. The second is anything but tragedy: Samson restores his relationship with God and dies bringing glory to His name, justifying himself and his God in death. Thus, the two seemingly antithetical worldviews become one.Works CitedMilton, John. Samson Agonistes, and Other Shorter Poems. Ed. A.E. Barker. Harlan Davidson, Inc: Wheeling, Illinois, 1950. 65-111.Nicolson, Marjorie Hope. John Milton: A Reader’s Guide to His Poetry. Octagon Books: New York, 1963. 348-373.
Samson as a Heroic Figure
In Milton’s drama, Samson Agonistes, the reader is shown the Biblical figure of Samson portrayed as a martyr of sorts. In the beginning of his life, though he was a great warrior, who fought not only against his enemies but those of God, he was also a promiscuous and arrogant person. By the end of his life, though, he has been humbled through the treachery of a woman, and in an effort to take revenge on his oppressors, commits an act of self-sacrifice that ends not only the lives of his enemies but also his own. Samson’s heroic actions appealed to Milton because of their similarities with those of the Christian martyrs of Roman times. Samson not only suffered for his people, but was also given the chance of redemption through the grace of God, and through his final act of heroism, sacrifices himself for the betterment of his people. These correlation’s between Samson and the saintly figures of Christianity, are the most likely reason as to why Milton decided to portray Samson as a heroic figure in his work. Though Samson had his faults in the beginning, by the end he has recognized his mistakes and repents, proving him to be the hero that he is.At the beginning of the work, the reader is shown Samson giving a monologue in which he laments his error. In his speech, Samson questions his destiny of being the one to save his people:ìWhy was my breeding ordered and prescribed…designed for great exploits if I must die betrayed, captived, with both my eyes put outî (1614 lines 30-33). Samson is questioning his gift, wondering why he was destined to be a savior of sorts, yet is put into a seemingly hopeless situation. A major part of his woe is concentrated on his loss of sight, as he believes that it is what makes his situation all the more hopeless (ìBut chief of all, O loss of sight, of thee I most complain! Blind among enemies! O worse than chains…î 1615 lines 64-66). Soon Samson is visited by a group of citizens of his homeland, who already regard Samson as a hero. They describe him as ìThat heroic, that renowned, irresistible Samson…who tears the lion as the lion tears the kid?î (1616, lines 125-128) and as ìmatchless in might, the glory late of Israelî (1617, lines 178-179). From these quotes, the reader sees Milton portrayed people of this time as having a preoccupation with one’s personal might as an indicator of his heroism, similar to the preoccupation with strength and honour found in earlier British works such as Beowulf. It seems that Milton was influenced at least in part by these earlier works in developing his characters ideals.Samson, however, disagrees with the accolades given by his friends. He argues that he has squandered his gift from God and does not deserve their praise: ìHow could I once look up, heave the head, who like a foolish pilot have shipwrecked my vessel trusted to me from above…?î (1617, lines 197-199). Samson goes on to say that ì[he has] divulged the secret gift from God to a deceitful womanî (1618, lines 201-202), and asks if he is ìsung and proverbed for a fool in every street…?î (1618, lines 203-204). This quote is important not only because it shows that Samson has realized his faults, but also because it shows that Milton, with his Puritanical views, sees all women as inherently deceitful. Samson continues his penitent acts when he is visited by his father, Manoa. He tells Samson that he has ìmade way to some Phillistian lords, with whom to treat about [Samson’s] ransomî (1624, lines 481-483), to which Samson replies, ìSpare that proposal, father..let me here as I deserve…my punishment.î This shows that Samson obviously regrets his errors, and is willing to receive punishment for them. Manoa conitnues to plead with Samson, saying, ìBe penitent…repent the sin, but if the punishment thou canst avoid, self-preservation bids…î (1624, lines 502-505), yet Samson still refuses. This is a major step in Samson’s development as the Christian hero Milton wants him to be. Samson’s penitent nature after his mistake is the first step to his redemption, as it gives him a more ìChristianî persona, likening him to the saints who sinned then repented to live a life devoted to God.In the end of this work, Samson’s father and the chorus of his friends hear screams of anguish coming from afar, and Manoa assumes that they are coming from his son (ìOh it continues, they have slain my son.î 1646, line 1516). His friends, however, know that ì[Manoa’s] son is rather slaying them,î (1646, line 1516) as ìthat outcry from slaughter of one foe could not ascendî (1646, lines 1516-1517). They postulate over what could be happening (ìWhat if, his eyesight by miracle restored, he now be dealing dole among his foes, And over heaps of slaughter walk his way?î 1646, lines 1528-1531), yet soon a messsenger comes and relays to them what happened: ìThen take the worst in brief: Samson is dead.î (1647, line 1570). The messenger continues to relay to them how Samson ended his life, telling of how ìUnwounded of his enemies he fell…with horrible convulsion to and fro, he tugged, he shook, til down [the columns] came, and drew the whole roof after them…upon the heads of all who sat beneath.î (1649, lines 1649-1653) His friends, know this to be the fulfillment of Samson’s destiny (ìLiving or dying thou hast fulfilled the work for which thou was foretold…î 1649, lines 1661-1662), and now regard him has a true hero. Manoa agrees, saying ì[he] heroically hath finished a life heroic…î (1650, lines 1710-1711), and tells that Samson will be honoured ìwith silent obsequy and funeral train to his father’s eyes…there will I build him a monument…[where] the virgins also shall on feastful days, visit his tomb with flowersî (1651, lines 1732-1744). It is clear from these excerpts that Milton has given Samson all that he needs for true heroism. A clear indication of this is the description of Samson’s funeral, which likens itself to not only the way heros in the time of Beowulf were buried, but also to the crucifixtion of Christ himself, who would obviously be Milton’s greatest hero.Through the use of several influences, Milton models Samson on his ideals of what a hero should be. While Milton’s work uses several liberties with the original story from the Book of Judges, he uses these liberties to make Samson seem more like the hero that Milton wants him to be. Milton obviously wants us to see that through penitence, all are given the chance of redemption through God, and that sacrificing oneself is the ultimate act of true heroism. Milton’s Samson achieves both of these, which, in Milton’s eyes, make him a true hero.
Blindness of Beauty
What Do We Learn Of The Characters Of Samson And Dalila And What Is The Significance Of This Episode ?The character of Dalila is first described by Samson, in his opening dialogue with the Chorus, as “that specious Monster, my accomplish’d snare.” He also later describes her as “fallacious, unclean, unchaste”. Thus when she finally appears in person, the reader is perhaps surprised to hear the Chorus uses a simile of a pulchritudinous ship to describe Dalila, “so bedeck’d, ornate and gay”. It is the first mention of her physical beauty. Neither does the Chorus merely mention it in passing; the chorus takes a total of eleven lines to describe the full extent of Dalila’s beauty. The Chorus continues this extended simile, admiring her “tackle trim . . . and streamers waving”. She even smells sweet, being followed by a damsel train and “amber scent of odorous perfume”. It seems as if the Chorus has fallen under Dalila’s spell as Samson had.Samson, however, is under no such illusions. Perhaps his blindness prevents him from capitulating to her beauty, in the same way that in Greek mythology, sailors, having blocked up their ears, saw the Sirens for the evil creatures that they were, rather than be charmed to their deaths by their beautiful singing. His blindness is perhaps the reason that he has made no reference to Dalila’s beauty – her seemingly only asset he is no longer able to appreciate. Unlike the Chorus, Samson is not so welcoming. He calls her a “Traitress” and bids the Chorus not to let her go near him. The Chorus, however, seems powerless to act against Dalila, as “yet on she moves”. They appear to still be under the spell of Dalila’s captivating beauty, this time assimilating her beauty with that of “a fair flower”. At this point Dalila is weeping, “wetting the borders of her silken veil”. She appears to take pity on Samson’s sorry state, and she stands with her “eyes [on Samson] fix’d”. Her first words in Milton’s poem take the form of a transferred epithet, claiming that she has come with “doubtful feet and wavering resolution”, the reason behind this being her fear of Samson’s “displeasure”. She acknowledges that this would be fairly warranted, and that she can offer no excuse, “I came . . . without excuse”. This gives the reader the impression of a meek Dalila, seeking to expiate her treachery against Samson, and humbly accepting the blame. She insists that “her penance hath not slackened” and her pardon is “no way assured”. She claims that “conjugal affection” is her motive for visiting Samson, and her love is so great that she was prepared to risk his wrath. This effusive display of humility and repentance gives the impression that maybe Samson has misjudged her, and that she is not the “monster” that had initially been thought. Yet it is only a short matter of time before we discover that Dalila, however, is lying. She has not come “without excuse”, but with many excuses, and this show of humility is just the first of her many ploys.Samson, unlike the Chorus, and perhaps the reader, is not so easily taken in. He tells her to leave in the manner that one would a dog, “Out, out”, and calls her a “Hyaena”. This is a reference to Ecclesiasticus, where the hyena is described as a beast which “counterfaiteth the voyce of men, and so entiseth them . . . and devoureth them”. Samson bitterly feels that he has been treated and tricked in the same way by Dalila. He is not likely to fall for such hypocritical trickery again. He recognises her deception, describing it as “thy wonted arts”. He then mocks her tactic of “breaking all faith, all vows” then repenting “with feign’d remorse” before once again transgressing. Samson reveals that he has learned his lesson, stating that the penitent are likely to “wear out miserable days” if they do not remove themselves from “pois’nous bosom snakes”, like Dalila. From this incident we learn that, although Samson may have initially seemed foolish, for going against Manoa’s wishes and for giving in to Dalila’s importunity, he now appears wiser for it. He is no longer blinded by Dalila’s beauty, and, in this respect, his actual blindness appears to have opened his eyes. Dalila realises that Samson will not be won over as easily as before, and is thus forced to change tack.Dalila then, despite her previous words, attempts to make excuses for her actions. She explains that she is not trying to “extenuate [her] offence” but by presenting her case, Samson will find it easier to forgive her and hate her less. She claims that she acted through moral feebleness, “it was a weakness”, alleging that the “importune of secrets”, and then the publishing of them, was “incident to all our sex” and thus naturally it was not her fault. She also claims that Samson, too, was weak for “making known for importunity, that wherein consisted all thy strength”, and thus he is also to blame. Had he not been weak in revealing his secret, then she wouldn’t have been able to betray him. She believes that because they have both been weak, he should forgive her: “let weakness then, with weakness come to parle . . . thine forgive mine”. However, Samson’s weakness did not cause Dalila to be captured by her enemies, constantly mocked, forced into hard labour, be chained up like a slave, held captive and blinded. In the same speech, Dalila also claims to have been motivated by love, she wanted to keep him by her. She says that she knew “liberty would draw [Samson] forth to perilous enterprises”. Dalila insists that all she ever wanted was for Samson to be her and “Love’s pris’ner, not the Philistines'”. This long speech does not create the same impression as Dalila’s first speech, as it merely demonstrates her cunning and wiliness. No longer does either Samson or the reader fall for Dalila’s effusive calls for forgiveness, and the more that she tries to expiate herself, the more that the reader, along with Samson, turns against her. This is significant in that it helps the reader to associate with Samson and form a common bond with him that lasts until the end of the poem.Samson counters Dalila’s arguments, echoing the reader’s own feelings. He calls her a “sorceress” and mockingly admires her cunning for turning her own transgressions into criticisms of him. He argues that it was “malice” that has brought her back to see him. He also refuses to accept her argument that they were both weak – he sees her only weakness as greed, “a weakness for Philistian gold”. He argues that “all wickedness is weakness” and therefore it is no excuse. He refuses to condone his own weakness, and thus why should he condone hers ? Samson also asks what sort of love would seek fulfilment through treachery, “love seeks to have love”. He accuses Dalila of “striving to cover shame with shame”, that is, such arguments only reveal the wickedness that they try to hide.Dalila is once again forced to shift her ground and change her arguments and excuses. She refutes the charges of lust for money, “it was not gold, as to my charge thou lay’st”. Instead she attempts to blame the Philistine rulers and priests, by whom, she insists, she was pressurised into betraying Samson. She claims that “the Priest was . . . ever at my ear, preaching how meritorious . . . it would be to ensnare [Samson]”. She describes her battle with her conscience as being like a “siege” before she consented, as even “the best-resolved of men” would have. She insists that she had nothing with which to counter “such powerful arguments”, and it was only her “great love” which prevented her from betraying Samson sooner.Samson refutes these claims, saying that if Dalila’s love for him had “been, as it ought, sincere” then she should have put him before her tribe and people. After all, he did the same for her, forsaking all the Jewish women of his tribe for her, and ignoring the wishes of his people, including his own father. This shows the love that Samson must have initially felt for Dalila in the beginning, and shows how far from grace she has fallen in his eyes. This is thus a secondary tragic strand in the poem. He asks her why she initially received him as a husband, as he was “thy country’s foe professed” then, as he is now. Finally he questions her religion, asking what sort of gods are “unable to acquit themselves and prosecute their foes but by ungodly deeds”. There is something of an anomaly in this argument, however, as Samson had previously slaughtered “a thousand fore-skins” (Philistines) on behalf of the Lord for the people of Israel. Despite this fact, however, Samson’s arguments show that he is, at heart, a religious man, whose faith is important to him. He ends his speech asking Dalila, now that he has countered all of her arguments and excuses, dismissing them all, “how foul must [she] appear ?”.At this point, Dalila seems to have run out of excuses, and takes refuge in querulousness, pleading that “in argument with men a woman ever goes by the worse”. Samson sarcastically replies, “for want of words, no doubt, or lack of breath”. This is the first perceptible nuance of humour from Samson, and signifies a lightening of his spirits, brought about from his meeting with Dalila. It is almost as though he is has released an enormous quantity of pent-up anger and bitterness, and is beginning to feel a little like his former self.Dalila, having realised that there is no excuse or reasoning that Samson will find acceptable, resorts to material inducements and even sexual innuendo. She pleads with him not to “afflict [himself] in vain” and allow him to enjoy other solaces, “where other sense want not their delights”. She asks him to return home to “leisure and domestic ease”, exempt from “many a care and chance”. She requests that she may nurse him diligently, “to old age”. Samson resists Dalila’s offers and is shown to be no longer susceptible to such temptations, especially as he could now expect Dalila to be even less faithful than before, as his blindness would put him at her mercy. “I must live uxoriously to thy will in perfect thraldom”. If she can trick him when he has his strength and sight, what hope will he have now ? Instead he orders her to heed not his condition, and he tells her simply, “thou and I long since are twain”. In fact, he seems to despise her so much that he prefers his captivity alone, to freedom with her, “this Gaol I count the house of Liberty to thine”. Dalila makes one final effort, pleading to be able to touch his hand and impress upon one of his other senses. In continuing this obviously lost cause, the reader increasingly sympathises with Samson, understanding the haranguing and importunity that he must have suffered before divulging his secret to Dalila. It gives even more credence to his descriptions and feelings towards Dalila. On this occasion, however, he resists her temptation. Not only that, but he warns her that should she approach him, he is liable to “tear [her] joint by joint”. This gives us an indication to the extent of Samson’s hatred for her. He finally bids her farewell.The ferocity of Samson’s reaction finally convinces Dalila as to the hopelessness of her cause and she finally reveals her true nature: why should she humble herself any further ? Although she will be vilified in Israel, she will be recompensed by the gratitude and esteem of the Philistines, “fame, if not double-faced is double-mouthed”. She believes that she will be treated as a national heroine and henceforth will accept their homage. This is a clear demonstration of Dalila’s shallowness, and this is fully understood by the Chorus and Samson, who puts Dalila’s offences into context by saying that although “love-quarrels oft in pleasing concord end, not wedlock treachery endangering life”. Thus the encounter between Samson and Dalila ends. Such a meeting is the greatest dramatic opportunity which Milton’s poem offers, and is the turning point in the poem. It is a confirmation that Samson has learnt his lesson and is able to resist her. The effect that this meeting has on Samson is significant. His rejections of Dalila’s temptations rouse him from his previous depressed lethargy. The moral strength with which he resists her is the basis on which he builds the will to find the great physical strength on which he relies in the finale of the poem.Another great significance of this episode is that Samson no longer places the entirety of the blame on his own shoulders “I myself have brought them [these evils] on”. Seeing the deceitful Dalila allows him to alleviate some of the guilt that he feels. It is as if through sparring with Dalila, he has regained some of his strength, optimism and old assurances.Dalila’s appearance provides a welcome change from the misery and depression that enshrouds Samson Agonistes up until that point. Her femininity, beauty and elegance provide a stark contrast. Her deviousness and cunning are also effective contrasts with the emphatic morality of most of the other characters. It is, however, difficult to get a great insight into the true persona of Dalila, as her character is largely based on image and appearance, and any character aspects masquerade behind an array of deception, lies and mendacity.