MILTON: Samson Agonistes

John Milton’s Samson Agonistes is a tragic play that was published in 1671. It retells the Biblical story of Samson, which is recounted in the Old Testament, Judges Chapters 13-16. In short, God gave extraordinary physical strength to Samson when he was born. When Samson became a man, he famously defeated an entire army with only the jawbone of a donkey. The source of Samson’s strength, however, was his hair. He told this fact to his wife Delilah, who subsequently cut off his hair and betrayed him to the Philistines, his enemies. The Philistines enslaved Samson and cut out his eyes. In despair, Samson seized his opportunity for revenge and tore down the columns that supported the Philistine Temple, killing the Philistines and himself.

The parallel between the divinely inspired Samson, who inflicts mass casualties through his own suicide, and modern Islamic suicide bombers is obvious. Religious beliefs – whether they be Islamic, Christian, or Jewish – often lead to violent destruction, which is highly undesirable. All religions, however, are not equal. Some religions compensate for the violence that they cause by producing beautiful works of art. Other religions have no redemptive qualities. Western Christians, for example, have produced the greatest artists and musicians of the world. Islam, on the other hand, seeks to suppress all artistic and musical endeavors.

Islam actively discourages pictorial art. It not only prohibits the depictions of God and the prophet Muhammad, but it also discourages the depictions of all humans and non-human animals. Thus, Islamic art, if one can call it art, is primarily composed of different geometrical patterns. This is vastly different from the sublimity of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, on which the Western Christian artist Michelangelo painted scenes from the Christian Bible, which include the depictions of God and humans.

Islam also discourages music. Some Islamic groups prohibit music entirely. In support of this prohibition, Muslim scholars quote Muhammad, who spoke disparagingly of music and musical instruments. “From among my followers there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcoholic drinks, and the use of musical instruments, as lawful… Allah will destroy them during the night and will let the mountain fall on them, and He will transform the rest of them into monkeys and pigs and they will remain so till the Day of Resurrection.” Western Christians, on the other hand, actively encourage musical composition. This encouragement gave the world Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Handel, and many others.

Despite the artistic treasures that Christian culture has bestowed upon the world, the West has turned its back on it. For decades, the United States’ public educational system has preached moral relativism, cultural relativism, and tolerance. The youth of America have no values, no pride in their country, and no will to fight. After all, why should they risk their lives to defend one culture against another if all cultures are equal?

There are some citizens of the West who voluntarily join the military and are willing to sacrifice their lives, but this is a very small minority. In the United States, for example, only 7.3% of the population have served in the military and only 0.4% of the population are currently serving in the military, according to a 2014 Veterans Affairs report.

19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche warned the West of the nihilism that would ensue after the death of the Christian God. He warned the West that it must either create new values to replace those that it lost, or perish. If there is a new God of the West, it is money. People, however, will never die for money. Money is useless to the dead.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates proposes that the ideal Republic must use a Noble Lie or myth in order to maintain social harmony and security. This myth must give the citizens hope of achieving immortality if they perform certain deeds. Without this hope, Republics naturally fall into a state of nihilism or materialism, as evidenced by the United States.

Although religious beliefs often lead to violent destruction, religious beliefs also encourage people to perform great and heroic deeds, even at the expense of their own lives. In order to combat modern Islamic extremism, the West must either return to its roots of Christianity or adopt a new belief system that encourages self-sacrifice and ambition.


Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke.

But what is strength without a double share
Of wisdom, vast, unwieldy, burdensom,
Proudly secure, yet liable to fall
By weakest subtleties, not made to rule,
But to subserve where wisdom bears command.

Blind among enemies, O worse than chains,
Dungeon, or beggary, or decrepit age!

Wisest men
Have err’d, and by bad Women been deceiv’d.

But what more oft, in nations grown corrupt,
And by their vices brought to servitude,
Than to love bondage more than liberty—
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty—
And to despise, or envy, or suspect,
Whom God hath of his special favour raised
As their deliverer? If he aught begin,
How frequent to desert him and at last
To heap ingratitude on worthiest deeds!

O ever-failing trust
In mortal strength! and, oh, what not in man
Deceivable and vain? Nay, what thing good
Prayed for, but often proves our woe, our bane?
I prayed for children, and thought barrenness
In wedlock a reproach; I gained a son,
And such a son as all men hailed me happy:
Who would be now a father in my stead?
Oh, wherefore did God grant me my request,
And as a blessing with such pomp adorned?
Why are his gifts desirable, to tempt
Our earnest prayers, then, given with solemn hand
As graces, draw a scorpion’s tail behind?

At times when men seek most repose and rest,
I yielded, and unlocked her all my heart,
Who, with a grain of manhood well resolved,
Might easily have shook off all her snares;
But foul effeminacy held me yoked
Her bond-slave. O indignity, O blot
To Honour and Religion! servile mind
Rewarded well with servile punishment!
The base degree to which I now am fallen,
These rags, this grinding, is not yet so base
As was my former servitude, ignoble,
Unmanly, ignominious, infamous,
True slavery; and that blindness worse than this,
That saw not how degenerately I served.

His pardon I implore; but, as for life,
To what end should I seek it? When in strength
All mortals I excelled, and great in hopes,
With youthful courage, and magnanimous thoughts
Of birth from Heaven foretold and high exploits,
Full of divine instinct, after some proof
Of acts indeed heroic, far beyond
The sons of Anak, famous now and blazed,
Fearless of danger, like a petty god
I walked about, admired of all, and dreaded
On hostile ground, none daring my affront—
Then, swollen with pride, into the snare I fell
Of fair fallacious looks, venereal trains,
Softened with pleasure and voluptuous life
At length to lay my head and hallowed pledge
Of all my strength in the lascivious lap
Of a deceitful Concubine, who shore me,
Like a tame wether, all my precious fleece,
Then turned me out ridiculous, despoiled,
Shaven, and disarmed among my enemies.

Many are the sayings of the wise,
In ancient and in modern books enrolled,
Extolling patience as the truest fortitude,
And to the bearing well of all calamities,
All chances incident to man’s frail life,
Consolatories writ
With studied argument, and much persuasion sought,
Lenient of grief and anxious thought.
But with the afflicted in his pangs their sound
Little prevails, or rather seems a tune
Harsh, and of dissonant mood from his complaint,
Unless he feel within
Some source of consolation from above,
Secret refreshings that repair his strength
And fainting spirits uphold.

The common rout,
That, wandering loose about,
Grow up and perish as the summer fly,
Heads without name, no more remembered.

Yet toward these, thus dignified, thou oft,
Amidst their highth of noon,
Changest thy countenance and thy hand, with no regard
Of highest favours past
From thee on them, or them to thee of service
Nor only dost degrade them, or remit
To life obscured, which were a fair dismission,
But throw’st them lower than thou didst exalt them high.

Out, out, Hyæna! These are thy wonted arts,
And arts of every woman false like thee—
To break all faith, all vows, deceive, betray.

If weakness may excuse,
What murtherer, what traitor, parricide,
Incestuous, sacrilegious, but may plead it?
All wickedness is weakness; that plea, therefore,
With God or Man will gain thee no remission.

Is it for that such outward ornament
Was lavished on their sex, that inward gifts
Were left for haste unfinished, judgment scant,
Capacity not raised to apprehend
Or value what is best,
In choice, but oftest to affect the wrong?
Or was too much of self-love mixed,
Of constancy no root infixed,
That either they love nothing, or not long?
Whate’er it be, to wisest men and best,
Seeming at first all heavenly under virgin veil,
Soft, modest, meek, demure,
Once joined, the contrary she proves—a thorn
Intestine, far within defensive arms
A cleaving mischief, in his way to virtue
Adverse and turbulent; or by her charms
Draws him awry, enslaved
With dotage, and his sense depraved
To folly and shameful deeds, which ruin ends.
What pilot so expert but needs must wreck,
Embarked with such a steers-mate at the helm?
Favoured of Heaven who finds
One virtuous, rarely found,
That in domestic good combines!
Happy that house! his way to peace is smooth:
But virtue which breaks through all opposition,
And all temptation can remove,
Most shines and most is acceptable above.
Therefore God’s universal law
Gave to the man despotic power
Over his female in due awe,
Nor from that right to part an hour,
Smile she or lour:
So shall he least confusion draw
On his whole life, not swayed
By female usurpation, nor dismayed.

O, how comely it is, and how reviving
To the spirits of just men long oppressed,
When God into the hands of their deliverer
Puts invincible might,
To quell the mighty of the earth, the oppressor,
The brute and boisterous force of violent men,
Hardy and industrious to support
Tyrannic power, but raging to pursue
The righteous, and all such as honour truth!

But patience is more oft the exercise
Of saints, the trial of their fortitude,
Making them each his own deliverer,
And victor over all
That tyranny or fortune can inflict.

Be of good courage; I begin to feel
Some rousing motions in me, which dispose
To something extraordinary in my thoughts.

If there be aught of presage in the mind,
This day will be remarkable in my life
By some great act, or of my days the last.

All is best, though we oft doubt
What the unsearchable dispose
Of Highest Wisdom brings about,
And ever best found in the close.
Oft He seems to hide his face,
But unexpectedly returns,
And to his faithful Champion hath in place
Bore witness gloriously; whence Gaza mourns,
And all that band them to resist
His uncontrollable intent.
His servants He, with new acquist
Of true experience from this great event,
With peace and consolation hath dismissed,
And calm of mind, all passion spent.


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