Introduction. Samson Agonistes was first published in 1671 in one volume with Milton's four-book epic, Paradise Regain'd. The title page read: "Paradise Regain'd. A Poem. In IV Books. To which is added Samson Agonistes." Because the 1671 title page might appear to treat Samson Agonistes as a kind of supplement to Paradise Regain'd, some early readers assumed that the two poems were composed at about the same time, or that Samson was written shortly after Paradise Regain'd.

William Riley Parker, in his 1968 biography, argued that Milton wrote Samson in the 1640s or 1650s, citing certain metrical similarities to earlier poems and Milton's own marital difficulties with his first wife, Mary Powell. However, the general consensus at present is in favor of a later date of composition, after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Blair Worden has shown how much the language of the drama echoes statements made by and about republicans and regicides imprisoned or exiled during the Restoration; Milton was one of those imprisoned, though briefly.

The 1671 edition also included a separate title page at the beginning of Samson Agonistes that identified the piece generically as "a Dramatic Poem." Milton meant the poem to be read as a tragedy but not performed on the stage. In an essay placed just before the poem and titled, "Of that sort of Dramatic Poem which is call'd Tragedy," Milton specifically noted that Samson Agonistes was never intended for the stage (see Elizabeth Sauer's essay, "The Politics of Performance in the Inner Theater: Samson Agonistes as Closet Drama"). Citing classical tragedians—Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides—as precedents, Milton modeled his tragic dramatic poem on their works and on Aristotle's descriptions of tragedy in the Poetics. The Samson titlepage features a quotation, in Greek and Latin translation, from chapter six of Aristotle's Poetics, the beginning of Aristotle's treatment of tragedy: "Tragedy is, then, a representation of an action, . . . through pity and fear it effects relief to these and similar emotions" (translated by W. A Fyfe). Milton's drama, however, might be said to concentrate more on representing the inner mental and emotional struggle (agon) of its hero, than on representing his actions. The most significant outward action of the play—Samson's murder of the Philistine elite in Dagon's temple—takes place off-stage. In his essay on tragedy, Milton echoed Aristotle's phrase, "imitation of an action," but with a significant change:

Tragedy, as it was antiently compos'd, hath been ever held the gravest, moralest, and most profitable of all other Poems: therefore said by Aristotle to be of power by raising pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions, that is to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight, stirr'd up by reading or seeing those passions well imitated.

In Paradise Lost, Milton tried to redefine heroism as "Patience and Heroic Martyrdom" (Paradise Lost 9.32); Samson's tragic heroism is similarly an inward sort. Whether or not his outward action counts as heroic depends upon how we evaluate the "rouzing motions" that prompt it (Samson 1382).

The story that underlies Milton's plot in Samson comes from the Biblical book of Judges, chapters 13-16. Milton added characters to the biblical story (Harapha the arrogant carpet-knight giant and the Publick Officer), ignored some (Samson's mother), inflated others (Samson's father), but the most significant change was to make Dalila Samson's legally wedded wife. Judges 16:4 describes Delilah as a Philistine woman "from the valley of Soreck" whom Samson "loved" sometime after having gone "in unto" a "harlot" in Gaza (16:1). Flavius Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquities 5:306 writes the following: "[Samson] at length transgressed the laws of his country, and altered his own regular way of living, and imitated the strange customs of foreigners, which thing was the beginning of his miseries; for he fell in love with a woman that was a harlot among the Philistines: her name was Delilah, and he lived with her." Paradise Lost refers once to Delilah as a harlot (Paradise Lost 9.1060). In this poem, however, Milton re-casts Dalila as Samson's "Traytress" wife, perhaps the most perfect example in every particular of the "unfit and mistak'n wife" Milton described in his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce of 1644. (Search the text for "unfit" to find many more examples.) It may be helpful to regard Samson as achieving a sort of heroism Adam could not: Samson divorces his unfit wife.

The Milton Reading Room text of both these poems was prepared from the 1671 edition as found in the Rauner Special Collections of the Dartmouth College Library (Val. 824/M64/U612). This copy appears to be made up of the following signature states identified by Harris Fletcher (4.30-34): Signature B-state 1; C-1; F-2; H-1; K-2; M-2; N-1; P-2. There are no signatures A or J; all other signatures display no printing variations according to Fletcher. All of the errors listed as "Errata" at the end of the volume have been corrected in ink or erasures by a careful hand, except that where the "Errata" calls for removing a full stop after "frail life" in SA 656, the period has been changed to a comma.

Laura Ferrell and Thomas H. Luxon

The Argument. The "argument" here is a summary of the action of the play, similar to the arguments that precede each book of Paradise Lost. The plot of the dramatic poem comes from Judges 13-16. Orgel and Goldberg think that in choosing his plot, Samson's last days, Milton imitates Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus.

Gaza. The principal city of the Philistines during the period of their domination over the Hebrews.

Festival day. The festival in honor of Dagon, one of the Philistine dieties. Milton represents Dagon as a "Sea Monster, upward Man and downward Fish" in Paradise Lost 1.462-63.

tribe. Samson's tribe is the Danites (the descendants of Dan). Milton describes Samson as "the Danite strong" in Paradise Lost 9.1059.

Catastrophe. The turning point of the drama; the event that produces the denouement. Aristotle called it the peripety; see Poetics 1452a-1452b.

by accident. That is, as a secondary effect of his chief intention. In Judges 16: 30, Samson prays, "Let me die with the Philistines," but Milton may be trying here to remove or make ambiguous, the implication of suicide.

his Wife. In Judges 14-16, Delilah is never described as Samson's wife.

Harapha. Milton added this fictional giant to the Samson story. In lines 1248-49, Milton calls him "Father of five Sons/ All of Gigantic Size, Goliath chief." For the David and Goliath story, see 1 Samuel 17-22.

dark steps. These opening lines resemble the opening of Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus, in which Antigone leads her blind father, Oedipus.

day-spring. daybreak. See Luke 1: 78. Also, compare to Paradise Lost 5.139 and 6.521.

popular noise. That is, the noise of the people gathered for the festival.

like a deadly swarm. See Paradise Regain'd 1.196-97 where the Son is described as beset with "multitudes" of thoughts as he is led into the desert.

what once I was. Compare this phrase to Satan's lament: "bitter memory/ Of what he was, what is" in Paradise Lost 4.24-25.

from Heaven foretold. See Judges 13: 3-5.

fiery column charioting. Compare to Josephus's Jewish Antiquities 5.279, in which he writes that the angel rose to heaven from the rock where Manoa burned his sacrifice "by means of the smoke, as by a vehicle."

a person separate to God. Samson was a Nazarite, seperated from others from birth for ritual purity and piety, dedicated specially to God. See Numbers 6: 2.

bondslave. A more emphatic word than simply "slave", as defined in OED2.

what part lodg'd. That is, as Samson supposes, in his hair. A Nazarite was never to "use a razor on his head." See Numbers 6: 5.

Seal of Silence. In the Judges story, Samson does not take a vow of silence. See Numbers 6: 1-21 for a Nazarite's vows and duties.

Proudly secure, yet liable to fall. Compare to Paradise Lost 3.99: "Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall."

O loss of sight. Milton also was blind and often thematized his blindness. See Sonnet 19 (sometimes numbered as 16), "When I consider how my light is spent." See also Paradise Lost 3.22-55.

Light the prime work of God. The first created thing. See Genesis 1: 3 and Paradise Lost 7.243.

extinct. extinguished.

daily fraud, contempt, abuse and wrong. Compare this to Milton's complaint about daily being obliged to deal with fools in Colasterion.

still. Always, persistently.

Lines 78-79. Samson's words here are ambiguous and capable of meaning more, perhaps, than he intends. He thinks of himself as more than half dead, but we also might say he has never been the possessor of his own power, but of a special power leant by his God. According to Puritan doctrine, living fully will require a "death to self."

silent as the Moon. Compare to Dante's Inferno1.60 in which he says that the sun is silent in hell.

interlunar cave. The period between the waning and waxing (or new) moon: that is, between moons.

She all in every part. Augustine taught that the soul is diffused throughout every part of the body in his De Trinitate 5.6.

tore the Lion. See Judges 14: 5-6.

Made Arms ridiculous. In Paradise Lost 9.28-41, Milton scorns epics that celebrate arms and battles. Both Virgil in his Aeneid and Homer in his Iliad made battles and arms their epic subjects.

tender ball. Though my first Milton teacher, Barbara Lewalski, told me she thinks the idea perverse, I cannot help hearing Samson here express some anxiety about the fragility of masculinity, as well as of the sense of sight. In any case, loss of manhood is all of a piece here with loss of sight, power, and apparently, God's other special gifts.

not as feeling. That is, not like the sense of touch. Both Aristotle and Augustine revered the sense of sight as the most noble of the senses and that of touch as the least. Samson laments that the least noble sense is diffused throughout the body and sight confined to a fragile "tender ball."

My self my Sepulcher. This implies the Puritan notion of the self (as body) as the tomb or "living death" of the self (as soul). Samson echoes Paul's reference to the "body of this death" in Romans 7: 24. The line also tends to echo Satan's acknowledgement in Paradise Lost 4.75: "Myself am Hell." In addition, this line can be compared to Adam dreading "a living death" in Paradise Lost 10.788.

obnoxious. Exposed to every harm.

inhuman foes. The Philistines are not, of course, inhuman. Perhaps we should understand the word as "inhumane," but it is more likely that Milton portrays Samson as one who thinks of the Philistines as less than human. Whether or not Milton shares Samson's racist attitude is a matter for debate.

Chor. The Chrous. Milton follows the classical practice of using a chorus as a kind of commentator on the drama as it unfolds. Sophocles used a chorus in his tragedies: see Sophocles' Ajax. The practice was uncommon in early modern tragedy. Shakespeare's Hamlet has no chorus, but his Henry V does.

Lines 118-119. These lines echo Ovid's description of Hermaphroditus in Metamorphoses 4.373.

weeds. Clothes.

Chalybean. Virgil celebrated the Chalybes for their metal-working skills in his Georgics 1.58.

Adamantean. Rock-hard.

tools. weapons. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet 1.1.28, the word meant sword: "Draw thy tool."

Ascalonite. Ascalon (Ashkelon) was, along with Gaza, one of the five principal cities of the Philistines. Samson slew thirty men there. See Judges 14: 19.

jaw of a dead Ass. See the story in Judges 15: 15-16.

thousand fore-skins. The Philistines were, of course, uncircumcised. The Chorus refers to them here metonymically, and scornfully, as foreskins.

Ramath-lechi. See Judges 15: 17: Samson named the place after his deed, literally, the casting away of the jawbone.

Azza. Variant of Gaza.

Lines 148-149. These lines refer to the Jewish law that no man should "go out of his place" on the Sabbath. See Exodus 16: 29. Samson defied that law in carrying the gates almost forty miles, from Gaza to Hebron. Anak's father, Arba, lived in the city of Hebron. Anak's sons were giants. See Numbers 13: 33.

Like whom the Gentiles feign to bear up Heav'n. That is, Atlas, the Titan who was fabled to bear heaven on his shoulders.

Dungeon of thy self. This sounds very much like Satan's situation in Paradise Lost: "Myself am Hell" (Paradise Lost 4.75).

darkness of the body. The phrase invites comparison with Paul's expostulation in Romans 7: 24: "Who will deliver me from the body of this death?"

outward light/inward light. For Milton's sense of outward light versus inward light, see the invocation to Book 3 of Paradise Lost, lines 1-55.

high estate. According to Aristotle's definition of tragedy, its protagonist must be one of high estate, noble by birth (Poetics 1453a). Milton redefines "high estate" as a matter of virtue rather than of birth. In Book 9 of Paradise Lost, Milton offers an even more detailed redefinition of tragedy and heroism: Paradise Lost 9.5-41.

vertue was her mate. Physical strength, in this figure of speech, is gendered as feminine, virtue as masculine, "her mate." Milton's God describes Adam's fall from virtue as "effeminate slackness" in Paradise Lost 11.634. Manliness is also a topic of Raphael's discourse at the end of Book 8, lines 561-585.

subdu'd the Earth. In Genesis, God enjoined the newly created Adam to "Be fruitfull and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1: 28). Milton records this injunction in Paradise Lost 7.531-532.

Eshtaol and Zora. Danite cities. Samson was born in Zora and was buried between these two cities. See Judges 16: 31.

tumors. Tumor was sometimes defined as a "'swelling' of passion or pride." See OED2.

Superscription. Literally, how untrue are many who are called friends, where the image of a counterfeit coin, embossed with the name "Friend" conveys the sense.

Lines 198-200. Samson's vessel is his body which he wrecks by giving in to Dalila. Milton continues this nautical imagery throughout the text. For example, see lines 711-18.

divulg'd the secret gift of God. See the story of Samson's betrayal by Delilah in Judges 16: 4-22.

two proportion'd ill. The image of ill proportioned pairs is a major theme of Milton's divorce tracts. See especially The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.

wisest Men. In The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Milton often remarks how easy it is even for the wisest and soberest of men to be mistaken in their choice of women; see Doctrine 1.3. Also, in Tetrachordon, Milton depicted Adam as the sole man who could choose the correct mate according to God's command.

Philistian women. Although Samson's first wife, the Woman of Timna, was a Philistine (Judges 14: 1), the Bible does not specifically say that Dalila was also. Milton can be seen as interpreting her as such in order to emphasize her association with an idolatrous religion, that of worshipping Dagon.

The first I saw at Timna. On Samson's first wife, see Judges 14: 4-20.

motion'd. Compare to Samson's "rouzing motions" (line 1382) before he pulls down the temple. According to the OED2, "motion'd" can mean "inward prompting" or "stirring of the soul." In this instance such "stirring" would be caused by God.

She proving false. Milton here neglects to retell part of the Samson story: After the woman of Timna betrayed him, he set the Philistine fields on fire by attaching torches to foxes' tails. In revenge, the Philistines burned Samson's wife and her father. See Judges 15: 1-6.

specious/snare. In this line Samson characterizes Dalila. Compare this description to Satan being specious in the Serpent (Paradise Lost 9.361) and Satan's gifts being specious in Paradise Regain'd 2.391. Also note the similarity to Eve naming herself Adam's snare after the Fall in Paradise Lost 11.165.

my self. Compare this assumption of responsibility to Adam and Eve eventually blaming themselves, not each other, for their own sins. See Paradise Lost 10.958-59.

vanquisht with a peal of words. Compare this to Milton's sense of the cause of Adam's original sin: "Fondly overcome with female charm" in Paradise Lost 9.999.

Governours. Samson's words here contradict the Biblical account of his life, which states that he ruled Israel for twenty years himself. See Judges 15: 20 and 16: 31.

the rock of Etham. See Judges 15: 8.

trivial weapon. That is, the famous jawbone of an ass.

love Bondage more then Liberty. For Milton's explicit theories of political liberty, see the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates; see also Michael's theory of the connection between personal and political corruption in Paradise Lost 12.83-101.

Succoth and the Fort of Penuel. The people of these cities refused to help Gideon pursue the fleeing Midian kings; see Judges 8.

ingrateful Ephraim. The people of Ephraim refused to help Jephtha against the Ammonites; Jephtha later slew them (Judges 11-12).

Shibboleth. When Jeptha's men of Gilead were testing Ephraimites who had escaped, they used this word because the Ephraimites could not pronounce it.

Lines 293-294. The Chorus here echoes Revelation 15:3 and Paradise Lost 1.26.

heart of the Fool. See Psalms 14: 1: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."

ravel. That is, "to entangle, confuse, perplex," as defined in OED2.

Line 306. In the UMI microfilm copy of 1671, this line is double-indented; the Rauner Library copy shows it flush left.

obstriction. That is, national law. Deuteronomy 7.4 indicates that marriage between Hebrews and the surrounding tribes of Canaan can be considered idolatry. See On Christian Doctrine for Milton's interpretation of that text. The poem seems uninterested in the problem that bothered Francis Quarles in his History of Samson (1631): how it was that Samson, a Nazarite, could kill with impunity, since, according to Numbers 6, a Nazarite could not touch dead bodies, let alone kill men or touch the carcass of a dead lion.

Unclean. All Gentiles were considered ritually unclean. In Ezekiel 4: 13, the bread that the Israelites eat while among the Gentiles is "defiled."

Unchaste. The Chorus's words here seem false: The Woman of Timna "was given to his [Samson's] companion" (Judges 14: 20). She did not go of her own accord. Thus it is difficult to label her actions as unchaste.

inform'd. guided. See A Mask lines 179-80: "where else/ Shall I inform my unacquainted feet?".

Line 360. See Luke 11: 11.

nor was at all supris'd. Again, compare this to Adam's fall in Paradise Lost 9.998-99: "not deceiv'd".

spurious first-born. Dalila conceived corruptly because she went to Samson's bed driven by the desire of wealth that the Philistines offered her to betray him. See Judges 16: 5.

foul effeminacy. Again, compare this estimation of manly virtue lost to that of Adam in Paradise Lost 11.634.

Divine Impulsion. Manoa here casts doubt on the divine inspiration that prompted Samson's first marriage.

over-potent charms. See "Fondly overcome with female charm" in Paradise Lost 9.999.

I do acknowledge and confess. This mimics the confession of sin from the Book of Common Prayer 1559: "acknowledge and bewayle oure manifolde synnes and wyckednesse."

connive. The OED2 defines "connive" both as to remain dormant or inactive" and "to shut the eyes to crime or wrong." Merritt Hughes prefers the second reading, comparing it to Paradise Lost 10.624.

thy ransom. There is nothing about ransom in the biblical story in Judges.

Lines 499-501. Milton here describes the myth of Tantalus, who was sent to Hades for revealing secrets of the gods, according to Euripides in Orestes 1.

God will relent. Manoa echoes Mammon's mistaken supposition in Paradise Lost 2.237-38: "Suppose he [God] should relent/ And publish Grace to all."

imploring mercy. Milton did not share the commonplace early modern belief that Judaism was a religion without any concept of mercy. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare's Venetians all share this misconception of Jews and Judaism (Merchant 4.1.71).

instinct. Innate impulse. See Paradise Lost 10.263.

Sons of Anac. The giants mentioned in line 148 above.

venereal trains. Traps of erotic desire.

tame Weather. According to the OED2, a male sheep or castrated male sheep. Milton creates a weak, vulnerable, ridiculous image of Samson as a shorn sheep. Furthermore, this image refers to Judges 16: 19, in which Dalila has a man shave locks of Samson's hair as he is sleeping in her lap, after which he loses his strength. See also Antonio's line from The Merchant of Venice 4.1.116.

Thou couldst repress. Part of the Nazarite vow of purity to which Samson subscribed required abstention from drink. See Numbers 6: 3.

Lines 541-546. In short, Samson could easily abstain from drink, but had difficulty resisting sexual temptation. Compare this to the temptations in A Mask 524-526.

Line 548. 1671 has a period after "pure"; since this renders Samson's first sentence a fragment, it looks like a printer's error. I have supplied a comma instead.

milkie. This adjective is also used to describe fresh water in Paradise Lost 5.306. This phrasing creates an image of earth as mother. See Song of Solomon 5: 12.

fumes. Effects of food and/or drink on the body and mind. Compare to Paradise Lost 9.1050 where "unkindly fumes" from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge put Adam and Eve into a deep, unnatural sleep.

temperance. For Milton's definition of temperance, see Christian Doctrine 2.4 and Paradise Lost 11.531-32.

Effeminatly. To be effeminate here does not mean to be like a woman so much as it means to be swayed by feminine charms, to love women too much.

Lines 558-572. Some critics hear hints of Milton lamenting his own situation after the Restoration by likening it to that of Samson in prison.

caus'd a fountain. See Judges 15: 18-19. Milton reads the passage as indicating the fountain rises from the ground rather than from the jawbone.

locks. A passage from Judges 16: 22: "Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven" puts forth the possibility that Samson's strength might return with the growth of his hair.

My hopes . . ./ In all her functions weary of herself. This phrase echoes that of the melancholy Hamlet in Shakespeare's play: "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,/ Seem to me all the uses of this world!" (Hamlet 1.2.137).

Lines 581-598. This exchange seems to echo a conversation in Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2.438-48. Phineus replies to Jason "nor is there any remedy hereafter, for blasted are my sightless eyes. But instead of that may the god grant me death at once, and after death I shall take my share in perfect bliss."

humours black. That is, bilious or melancholy humours, according to traditional physiology.

healing words. Compare to the Nurse's misused healing words in Euripides' Hippolytus 1.478.

reins. Kidneys.

accidents. Symptoms.

Alp. A high mountain. In Paradise Lost 2.620, the fallen angels journey "O're many a Frozen, many a fierie Alpe."

the uncircumcis'd. Gentiles in general, but in this case the Philistines especially.

truest fortitude. Milton also praises patience as heroic in Paradise Lost 9.32-33 and pious in Paradise Regain'd 1.426.

mood. As a musical term. Compare to "In perfect Phalanx to the Dorian mood/ Of Flutes and soft Recorders" in Paradise Lost 1.550-51.

what is man. The phrase echoes the expostulations of the Psalmist in Psalm 8: 4-8: "what is man that thou art mindfull of him?" Hamlet's soliloquy also echoes this passage: "What a piece of work is a man" (Hamlet 2.2.319).

To dogs and fowls a prey. These lines resemble the Iliad 1.1 in which Homer writes that the dead from the Trojan war "made them themselves spoil for dogs and every bird" in "Hades".

Like a stately Ship. Compare to Ben Jonson's description of Lady Pecunia in The Staple of News Act II as "a galley, Gilt in the prow" wearing adornment that costs "as much as furnishing a fleet."

Of Tarsus. Tarsus was a Spanish commercial port famous for its impressive ships. The image is one of overweening pride.

Javan. Greece; named for Noah's grandson, Javan, the legendary progenitor of the Ionians. See Paradise Lost 1.505.

Gadier. Cadiz.

surcharg'd with dew. Compare to the daffodil, which supposedly filled during the rain and wept when overflowing. See "Lycidas" 150.

Hyæna. Proverbially deceitful animal. See Jonson's Volpone 4.6.2-3.

a poysnous bosom snake. An image similar to those Milton uses to describe bad marriages in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.

both common female faults. Milton endows Dalila with a misogynist conception of women as overcurious and unable to keep secrets, much like Chaucer's Wife of Bath, who tells the story of King Midas and his wife as proof that women cannot keep secrets (The Wife of Bath's Tale 945-982). Though Chaucer's Wife cites Ovid as her source, in Ovid's story, it is Midas's slave barber who reveals his shameful secret, not his wife (Ovid, Metaphorphoses 11. 172-193).

thou to thy self wast cruel. Compare to Shakespeare's Sonnet 1.8: "to thy sweet self too cruel."

Lines 800-802. Dalila appears to be blatantly lying here because in Judges 16: 5, the Philistines ask Dalila to discover Samson's secret in order for them to "bind him to afflict him."

Be not unlike all others. But, of course, a Nazarite was one who was supposed to be "unlike all others" in his austerity.

Love seeks to have Love. See Cicero's definition of love in On Friendship 27.100.

Priest...at my ear. The Judges account mentions no priest. The image Milton presents of the priest is similar to that of Satan at Eve's ear in Paradise Lost 4.800. The angels find him "close at the eare of Eve" while she is sleeping. Equating a priest with the devil could be interpreted as one of Milton's attacks on Catholicism.

circling wiles. This image of snake-like movement recalls Satan's action in Paradise Lost 9.510-15.

Lines 876-881. This speech to Dalila mimics Shakespeare's Othello 3.3.83: "I will deny thee nothing" and 5.2.345: "lov'd not wisely, but too well."

thou wast to leave/ Parents and countrey. See Genesis 2: 24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."

law of nature, law of nations. Milton studied John Selden's work and praised it as "that noble volume written by our learned Selden, Of the law of nature & of Nations" in the second book of Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.

trains, ginns, toyls. All words for traps.

fair enchanted cup. This image equates Dalila with Circe (Homer's Odyssey 10.135-396) and her various Renaissance descendants including Comus (A Mask 50).

Adders. See Psalm 58: 4-5 for another example of the superstition that adders are deaf.

tear thee joint by joint. Compare to Polymestor's desire to "rend her [Hecuba] limb from limb" in Euripides, Hecuba 1125.

double-mouth'd. Fame or rumor, in Latin fama, is proverbially double-mouthed, speaking both good and ill reports. See, for example, Chaucer's House of Fame, especially 1023-1031.

the Circumcis'd. The Israelites, the sons of Abraham.

Ecron, Gaza, Asdod, and in Gath. Principal cities of the Philistines.

odours. spices. See Jeremiah 34: 5.

Jael. Dalila refers, with unwitting irony, to the story of Deborah and her song of praise for Jael who slew the Canaanite general Sisera (Judges 4).

beauty. For Milton's notions of the power of female beauty, see Adam's remarks to Raphael in Paradise Lost 8.532-570.

what it is, hard is to say. The question of what women desire has been considered by men a riddle for many ages. This "riddle" is the burden, for example, of Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale 905.

thy riddle. The riddle Samson posed to the Philistines at his first wedding at Timnah: "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." Samson allowed the men seven days to solve the riddle (Judges 14: 14).

musing. Misprinted "mu sing" in Rauner copy.

Thy Paranymph. While Samson is away (Judges 14: 20), his first wife sleeps with his best man.

outward ornament/inward gifts. On outward beauty and inward beauty and Milton's habit of gendering such features, see Paradise Lost 8.538-546 and 4.488-491.

to wisest men and best. That even the wisest and soberest men can be gravely mistaken in their marriage choices is one of Milton's chief themes in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.

virgin veil. Compare to The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce 1.3: "and who knows not that the bashfull muteness of a virgin may oft-times hide all the unlivelines and naturall sloth which is really unfit for conversation."

to the man despotic power. See the famous dictum in Paradise Lost 4.299: "Hee for God only, shee for God in him." Milton believed that female subjection to men was established in creation.

female usurpation. Milton held that Adam's original transgression was, in part, an improper subjection of himself, his "manhood," to his wife. See Paradise Lost 8.568-75, 10.144-156. Much of his account of Adam's first sin is derived from Genesis 3:17, where God prefaces his sentence on Adam with the words, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, . . ."

The Giant Harapha. Harapha is never mentioned in the scriptural narrative of Judges. He is Milton's own invention. His name may be derived from the Hebrew for giant, ha raphah. H. Loewe also notes that the Hebrew Rephaim, which means "giants" is actually a euphemism (derived from rapha, "to be weak") meaning "the flabby, powerless ones."

His habit carries peace. Habit means clothing, that is, he is unarmed.

Gath. The comma, which makes sense here, is missing in the Rauner copy; I have supplied it based on state 2 of signature N as described by Fletcher 4.33

Og or Anak and the Emims. Giants mentioned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 2: 10-11; 3: 11; Numbers 13: 33).

Kiriathaim. The Emims lived in this place (Genesis 14: 5).

If thou at all art known. An echo of Satan's boastful speech to Zephon in Paradise Lost 4.827-830.

encounters. The comma, which makes sense here, is missing in the Rauner copy; I have supplied it based on state 2 of signature N as described by Fletcher 4.33.

listed field. That is, in the lists, or tournament field.

single me. Challenge me to single combat.

the unforeskinn'd race. The Israelites, spoken with derision.

in thy hand. Within reach.

assassinated. Treacherously attacked, not actually killed.

Brigandine. Body armour composed of iron rings or small thin iron plates, sewed upon canvas, linen, or leather, and covered over with similar materials (OED2).

Habergeon. A sleeveless coat or jacket of mail or scale armour, originally smaller and lighter than a hauberk, but sometimes the same (OED2).

Vant-brass. A vambrace is defensive armour for the fore-arm (OED2).

Greves. Greaves are defensive armor for the shins (OED2).

Gauntlet. An armored glove (OED2).

Weavers beam. The wooden roller in a loom on which the warp is wound, or the roller on which the cloth is wound. Also see 1 Samuel 17: 7 (Of Goliath): "And the staff of his spear was like a weaver's beam."

seven-times-folded shield. Similar to the shield of Ajax (or Aias) in The Iliad, which was made of seven layers of bull's hide.

disparage glorious arms. Milton was fond of disparaging arms and the accoutrements of war and tournament; see Paradise Lost 9.27-41.

ruffl'd Porcupines. Compare to Shakespeare's Hamlet 1.5.19-20: "And each particular hair to stand on end,/ Like quills upon the fretful porpentine."

I know no Spells, use no forbidden Arts. Compare to the oath taken by parties in single combat: Selden, Duello 34: "that hee was free from all use of Art Magique, that he did not carry with him any hearbe, stone or other kinde of experiment of Witchcraft."

those thirty men. At his first wedding feast, Samson slew thirty Askalonites and gave their cothes to the Philistines who solved his riddle, thus keeping his bargain. The Philistines used Samson's wife to find the answer to the riddle (Judges 14).

spies. There is nothing in the book of Judges to indicate that the thirty "companions" were spies, although Josephus, in Antiquities 5.8, writes that they were "in pretence to be his companions, but in reality to be a guard upon him."

the force of Conquest. See Milton's theory of tyranny in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.

defies thee thrice to single fight. Pepys's account of the coronation of Charles II describes the medieval custom of challenging three times in judicial combats: "the Champion flings down his gauntlet, and all this he do three times in his going up toward the King's table."

To fight with thee no man of arms will deign. Harapha implies that he is of too high a rank to fight with a common slave such as Samson.

Baal-zebub. Harapha swears by Beelzebub, the "god of the flies," one of the many forms of the Philistine God Baal whose shrine was at Ekron. In Paradise Lost, Beelzebub appears as the chief of Satan's companion devils (Paradise Lost 1.81).

van. Vanguard.

Astaroth. Now Harapha swears by another pagan deity, the fertility goddess Astarte, female counterpart to Baal. See Milton's "Nativity Ode."

crest-fall'n. As Flannagan notes, literally, Harapha's knightly crest has toppled when faced with Samson's strength.

Goliah. Goliath, whom David fought and slew with a sling and "five smooth stones" (1 Samuel 17).

Heroic magnitude of mind. Compare this to Paradise Lost 9.31-32.

patience. That is, suffering, and waiting upon God.

Saints. Holy people, or "the elect," in the Protestant sense.

Our Law forbids. See the second of the ten commandments of the law (Exodus 20: 4-5).

commands? The Rauner copy has a period here instead of a question mark. The question mark is supplied based on the second state according to Fletcher 4.33.

Where the heart joins not, outward acts defile not. This maxim may be an echo of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics 1110a.

that he may dispense. Samson voices the conviction that God can dispense with any of his laws or commandments as he sees fit. This, Samson claims, was the case with his marriage to the Timnan woman. The Chorus agrees; see above, lines 307-314.

Masters commands come with a power resistless. How does this consist with Samson's earlier distinction between command and constraint, lines 1363-1376?

Lines 1421-22. See Horace, Ars Poetica 224: "The spectator, after the rites had been observed, was drunk and in a lawless mood."

Spirit. See Judges 8: 25.

Lines 1461-63. Milton takes this opportunity to attack priests, possibly in reference to his own opinion of the Catholic priesthood.

Line 1488. 1671 has a period here, which effectively orphans the following fragment; I have substituted a comma.

those locks,/ That of a Nation arm'd the strength contain'd. Compare to Ovid's Metamorphoses, 8. 15, where the security of the kingdom of Nisus depends on a lock of his hair.

as next. As next of kin, the tribesmen of Dan.

What if. These lines, from 1527-1535 and 1537, do not appear in the 1671 copy-text. They are supplied from a notice entitled "Omissa" provided on page 101, just before the Errata lists. The "Omissa" reads as follows:

Page 89 after verse 537. which ends,
Not much to fear, insert these.

Then follow the lines we have inserted as 1527-1535, including the speech prefixes. Then, the "Omissa" continues by specifying

After the next verse which begins, A little stay,
insert this.

Then follows the line we have inserted as line 1537. The "Omissa" concludes with "Then follows in order, For evil news, &c." That is line 1538. For some interesting speculations on the "Omissa" and why these lines came to be omitted and resupplied in this manner, see Leah Marcus, Unediting the Renaissance, 179, and Stephen B. Dobranski, "Samson and the Omissa." Line 1536. Lines 1527-1535 have been supplied from the "Omissa" listed at the end of the volume; so also line 1537. 1671 has a comma at the end of 1536, but since with the omitted lines restored the line closes a speech, I have substituted a period.

rides post. Travels quickly.

O whither shall I run, or which way flie. Refer to the Argument, where the Ebrew is said to enter "confusedly at first," echoing the manner in which many messengers bring bad news in Greek tragedies. See Euripides Phoenissae, 1335.

Samson is dead. Echoes the announcement of the death of Orestes in Sophocles's Electra 673.

Abortive as the first-born bloom of spring/ Nipt with the lagging rear of winters frost. One can hear echoes of Shakespeare here. See Love's Labour's Lost 1.1. 100-101.

Inevitable cause. Is Samson's death, then, a special kind of suicide, since he died by the same act that killed his enemies?

Theatre. Another departure from the scriptural version, in which the building is called a house (Judges 16: 25). George H. McLoone hypothesizes that Milton's word choice illegitimizes the Philistine religion, by making it an act put on in a playhouse.

Cataphracts. Soldiers in full armor.

arched roof. Milton may have been influenced by his contemporary, Sandys, who said in his description of the ruins of Gaza in his Travels, "On the North-East Corner...are the ruines of huge arches sunk low in the Earth, and the other foundations of a stately building.... The Jews do fable this place to have been the Theatre of Sampson pulled down on the heads of the Philisitines."

Lines 1630-34. See Judges 16: 26.

as one who pray'd. Compare to Judges 16: 30. The suicidal implications of this speech have long been an obstacle to those who would regard Samson as a saint. See also Judges 16: 26, "Let me die with the Philistines."

Lords, Ladies, Captains, Councellors, or Priests. Contrasted with the "vulgar" or the "throng" who survive the disaster.

Line 1659. This is not found in the Biblical account in Judges 16: 30.

dire necessity. See Horace, Odes, 3.26.6.

Lines 1667-68. These lines echo Judges 16: 30

Silo. The ark of the covenant was located in Shiloh. 1 Samuel 4: 4 records its removal from Shiloh: "So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant."

ev'ning Dragon. A firedrake: a meterological event similar to the will-o'-the-wisp.

that self-begott'n bird. The Phoenix; see "Damon's Epitaph" 185-187 and Paradise Lost 5.272-274.

Embost. The word most likely meant is "imbosked," which means hidden, concealed or sheltered in a wood or forest OED2..

That no second knows or third. Only one phoenix may be alive at once.

Holocaust. A sacrifice consumed by fire.

Sons of Caphtor. The Philistines were thought to have origially come to Canaan from Caphtor, or Crete.

Nothing is here for tears. If there is here no reason for tears, perhaps Manoa fails to perceive anything tragic in his son's death. See "Of that Sort of Dramatic Poem which is call'd Tragedy.

Lines 1730-33. See Judges 16: 31.

Home to his Fathers house. Compare to the ending of Paradise Regain'd 4.639, where Jesus is "Home to his Mothers house private return'd."

Laurel ever green. Laurels were sacred to Apollo and a traditional crown of poets. See the opening lines of Lycidas.

acquist. Aquisition.

Lines 1756-58. Flannagan believes this is an example of "the Aristotelian catharsis or purging that was supposed to accompany the experience of witnessing a tragedy: a potentially harmful passion is purged, for the betterment of the citizen and the state."