Thursday, 14 January 2010

Samson Agonistes by John Milton

Patrick Hamilton makes great use of Milton’s Samson Agonistes in his novel Hangover Square (qv). Each chapter in the book is prefixed by quotes, many from Milton's poem, where he draws comparisons between Netta and Samsons’s nemesis, Delilah.


Samson, the Chorus informs us, was an abstemious man through oath to God, who didn’t touch a spot. However, Milton’s description of the dancing Rubie is enough to give the rest of us a thirst:

Desire of wine and all delicious drinks,
Which many a famous Warriour overturns,
Thou couldst repress, nor did the dancing Rubie
Sparkling; out-pow'rd, the flavor, or the smell,
Or taste that cheers the heart of Gods and men,
Allure thee from the cool Crystalline stream.

Samson reiterates the point. He has only time for cool fresh water. He never:

...envy'd them the grape
Whose heads that turbulent liquor fills with fumes.

Sadly, his oath is broken when he tells Delilah where his strength comes from. (In Hangover Square, George’s allure to Netta is destroyed when he tells her he loves her and explains that he is squandering his savings to be with her.) Samson, blinded by his enemies and condemned to wander eyeless in Gaza finally redeems himself by tumbling the pillars of the Philistines’ temple, killing himself and everyone inside.

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