This section contains 1,454 words
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Samson Agonistes, and Shorter Poems Summary & Study Guide Description
Samson Agonistes, and Shorter Poems Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on Samson Agonistes, and Shorter Poems by John Milton.
Samsonappears in Samson Agonistes
Samson, the warrior hero of the ancient Israelites, is the protagonist of the longest poem in this volume, Samson Agonistes. He is a defeated and remorseful man at the start of the poem, even though he has recovered the stupendous physical strength given to him by God, which he had lost after Dalila cut his hair. His blindness from having his eyes gouged out by the Philistines has left him with the conviction that he is already half-dead, and that God intends for his life to end soon. The poem reveals that Samson was a Nazarite, which means he took special vows to avoid strong drink and to live in a holy manner, but his downfall came through his association with women. First, he married a woman unnamed in the poem who belonged to the Philistine people, the mortal enemies of the Israelites. Although Samson explains that he believed this marriage was God's intent, it nevertheless created trouble for him. Later, he took Dalila as his "concubine," a term in the poem that suggests the two did not marry. When Dalila turns out be a terrible choice for Samson, betraying him to the Philistines, Samson laments his foolishness, and is truly repentant. In the poem, he is characterized as a man who is extremely proud of his great feats in battle, even to the point of egotism, yet who also has unwavering faith in God, who he believes communicates with him in some unspecified, internal manner. Samson's weakness in succumbing to the manipulative charms of Dalila and giving away the secret of his strength is tragic, because it betrays his promise to God. The price he pays for this sin is his own death, but at the same time, his tragedy turns to triumph when he pulls down the temple full of Philistine leaders.
Dalilaappears in Samson Agonistes
Dalila, or Delilah in the contemporary spelling, is the woman who undoes Samson. Nowadays, her name has become almost synonymous with betrayal. Milton's poem does not describe her as either a Philistine or an Israelite, although in one scene she admits that her highest loyalty is to the Philistine people. In the poem, she is portrayed as a woman of great allure, who seemingly is distraught by her role in Samson's capture and blinding. Her pleas to be able to care for him in his debilitated condition seem genuine, as does her remorse at having been weak in succumbing to the demands of the Philistines. Even so, she rationalizes that Samson was also weak in telling her about his hair, and his downfall would not have been possible without his weakness, which means they were both at fault. This is clearly a self-serving argument, in that the problems began with her lack of loyalty to him. After Samson rejects her repeated offers to take care of him, she says the Israelites will hate her forever, but the Philistines will praise her. Rather than being made in an angry or vengeful way, this statement appears to be offered as a simple fact, but it also shows that Dalila is always on the lookout for her own best advantage. Her feelings for Samson might be genuine, but her self-interest is paramount. Essentially, she might even be a good-hearted person, but her penchant to take whatever option is most rewarding for her has led to her corruption.
Manoaappears in Samson Agonistes
Manoa is Samson's father. A white-haired old man who is deeply proud of his son's triumphs on the battlefield on behalf of the Israelites, he is also immensely saddened and shocked by Samson's imprisonment and blinding at the hands of the Philistines. Manoa realizes that Samson made disastrous choices in his love life, but he has decided not to condemn or judge him. He also is well aware that Samson has been blessed by God with tremendous strength, and Manoa's own faith in God's plan for Samson makes him confident that this imprisonment is not the end of the story. Throughout the poem, he reminds Samson that God has restored his strength, which would not happen if it were not be used again. Manoa believes that God will restore Samson's eyesight and he tries hard to obtain his son's release by offering ransom payments to the Philistines, which demonstrate his unflagging faith in both God and Samson. At the end, when Manoa hears that Samson has died while destroying the Temple of Dagon, killing many Philistines in the process, his sorrow is lightened by the realization that God has given Samson a glorious ending. To Manoa, this unforeseeable occurrence is proof that his son, chosen by God, has suffered for his sin and has been forgiven. Manoa now can arrange an elaborate funeral for Samson, and put to rest the child whose deeds were the focus of his father's life.
The Chorusappears in Samson Agonistes
The Chorus is a group of Danites, the tribe of Israelites to whom Samson belongs. A collection of friends and neighbors of Samson, the members of the Chorus speak simultaneously, in the fashion of ancient Greek tragedy. They are not identified as individuals, and their roles are to comment on the action of the poem, and to carry on conversation with an individual character whenever another individual is not present.
Haraphaappears in Samson Agonistes
Harapha is a giant from the Philistines' town of Gath, who comes to visit Samson at the prison. A warrior of renown, Harapha says his intent is to look upon the man who would have been his greatest opponent, if the two ever had met in battle. Milton's portrayal of Harapha suggests that the giant might also be afraid of Samson, because he believes that his strength comes from magic. The real motives of his visit could be curiosity and the opportunity to brag in front of Samson, now that he is blind and imprisoned. As such, Harapha represents the false bravado of the pagan idolater.
Comusappears in Comus
Comus, the title character of Milton's poem, is a sorcerer who waylays innocent and virtuous people in a dark wood, plying them with a magical drink that makes them uninhibited, and causes their heads to transform into that of a wild beast, such as a bear or wolf. Comus is the son of the ancient Greek god of wine, Bacchus, and the goddess Circe, who also enchanted humans with a magical potion. Comus represents lack of restraint and sinful over-indulgence. He is temptation incarnate.
The Ladyappears in Comus
The Lady in the poem "Comus" is the unnamed sister of two brothers with whom she loses contact while walking in the woods. The Lady represents virtue. A virgin with a strong sense of what is good and true, she initially treats Comus with good will, but when he turns out to be a liar, she quickly rejects him, and will not drink the potion he offers. In the end, the Lady's virtue triumphs over the cajoling Comus.
The Two Brothersappears in Comus
The Two Brothers are the caretakers of their sister, the Lady. The younger brother is afraid for her safety but the elder believes that her virtuousness will protect her from evil. Neither brother is named, and no description is given of them. They are archetypes in the poem, whose main role is debate the ability of virtue to withstand temptation.
The Devilappears in On the Morning of Christs Nativity, Lycidas, Comus
The Devil makes regular appearances in Milton's poems and is given several names, including the Dragon, Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, and the grim wolf. The threat of the Devil leading humans astray and dragging sinners to hell seems to hover over these poems, which are dominated by the sensibility of retribution that prevailed in 17th century Christianity. The Devil is horrible and angry, but also cunning and powerful. Indeed, it often seems that his only superior in all of existence is God.
Joveappears in Il Pensoroso, Lycidas, O Nightengale, Methought I Saw
Jove, the king of the gods in Roman mythology, is frequently invoked in Milton's poems. Milton seems particularly interested in Jove's defeat of his father, Saturn, to take power over the heavens.
Apolloappears in On the Morning of Christs Nativity, On Shakespear, Lycidas,
Apollo, the ancient Greek god of poetry and music, is often invoked by Milton as a muse or inspiration to the creation of art.
Dagonappears in Samson Agonistes
Dagon is a sea god beloved by the Philistines. He represents the folly of idolatry.
Lycidasappears in Lycidas
Lycidas is the title character of a Milton poem to a friend who died at sea. Like Milton, Lycidas was a lover of poetry and other arts, which made his death particularly poignant.
This section contains 1,454 words
(approx. 5 pages at 300 words per page)