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Studying the characters of Adam and Samson reveals that they have many things in common but it seems totally out of place to compare them with Jesus. Adam and Samson typify men who are on a godward journey while Jesus is the way and also the end of the road.
John Milton the poetic legend of the seventeenth century is well-known for his deep belief in providence and divine judgement. His puritanical sentiments are echoed in most of his poems. His sheer belief in divine ordinance is reflected in his works like "On his Blindness," "Paradise lost" and the tragic poem "Samson Agonistes." In all these poems we see a peculiar pattern wherein Milton projects his own beliefs through the characters. In these poems there is a gradual transition wherein the troubled conscience finally finds tranquility and deliverance by divine grace. Particularly Milton's Paradise lost and "Samson Agonistes" have biblical themes running through them. Let us compare the characters (Samson and Adam) in these two interesting poems and also study them with that of Jesus in the Old Testament.
This great poem is about the ordeals underwent by Samson, a warrior endowed with great strength. He bought about his own ruin by disclosing the secret of his strength to his wife. Samson found himself bereft of his strength and he was also blinded and enslaved by the philistines. Once a mighty warrior of great strength he is now a slave to the Philistines in the Gaza prison. He staunchly believed that everything happened for a purpose, "just are the ways of God,/And justifiable to Men" (293) It is this persistence in holding on to the belief in spite of the umpteen difficulties, and the firm resolution that divine guidance would ultimately prevail, that is reflected in Samson's character. When we compare the character of Samson to Jesus we see one significant difference between them. Unlike Jesus who is totally pure and not having committed any sin Samson feels that the sins that he committed and his fickle mind are the cause for his present troubles. So the tribulations that he undergoes are in a way an atonement for his misdeeds. Jesus on the other hand willingly took on the troubles of others to redeem them of their sins. Adam's character (paradise lost) on the other hand resembles (a savior) Samson more in that they both commit a transgression and seek the mercy of the lord.
Milton also highlights the weakness or the fickle state of mind, which yields so easily to the temptations as the prime cause of man's downfall. Just like Satan managed to bungle matters for eve he also casts his influence upon Samson. This is evident when Samson says to his father that it was his weak mind that ruined him. "Who with a grain of manhood well resolv'd;Might easily have shook off all her snares"[408, 409] Enraptured by her beauty Samson confessed to her the secret of his strength. By using these verses Milton stresses that a mind which is in divine contemplation would not be so easily shaken of its resolve.
Samson's death marks more than a tragic ending. From a broader perspective it represents the triumph of the spirit. His persistence was rewarded and his life ennobled with a great purpose. This draws in parallel to Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus is crucified on the cross and gives up his life only to redeem the sins of man. Similarly in Samson's own death lies the redemption from slavery (for the Israelis) and the birth of freedom. By giving a tragic end to the story Milton glorifies Samson and emphasizes the biblical message that it is in giving up ourselves for others that our redemption lies. In short one aspect that is obvious between these two characters is that their death, though it is tragic, is actually a mark of victory, symbolizing the triumph of the spirit.
Milton's "Samson Agonistes" is reflective of his puritanist views wherein all the suffering that man undergoes are attributed to his own sinful deeds committed in the past. Milton patterns Samson's character in parallel to his own life and so there is a hint of autobiographical touch to it. Instead of bemoaning fate for his predicament Milton deems that his blindness is the result of his own doing (sins committed with the exercising of the freewill). Admitting full responsibility for his blindness Samson prays to god and gains inner strength. Divine ordinance and the faith that providence will take its course is clearly obvious in the poem. This theological thought prevails throughout the poem and we see that Samson accepts all the resposibilitites for his predicament. In short there is a submission to the will of god, the supreme force. Finally his destruction of the philistines (redemption) stands for the deliverance that is promised to the devout Christian. Milton's unwavering faith in divine justice is indicated by the following verses, "Yet stay, let me not rashly call in doubt; Divine Prediction; what if all foretold " (43, 44).
Paradise lost is again a historic epic poem, which recounts the story of Adam and Eve, the first two creations of god and how the satanic influence corrupted them and denigrated their status of purity and as a consequence engulfed the whole of humanity with sin and death. There are several qualities that are common to both the characters (Adam and Samson) in the poems. The central theme of this epic poem is again the ever continuing tension between the good and the bad, and the conflicting thoughts that guide our choice. In both the poems Milton emphasizes his religious sentiments very clearly. He openly attacks idolatry, which is evident, when Samson refuses to participate in the function organized for the Philistine deity "Dagon." In Milton's 'Paradise lost ' as well as 'Samson Agonistes' there is a direct attack against idolatry. 'Dagon his name, sea-monster, upward man And downward fish; yet had his temple high (460-465 I book). Similarly in 'Samson Agonistes' Dagon must stoop, and shall e're long receive; Such a discomfit, as shall quite despoil him [470, Samson Agonistes]
Disobeying Divine Ordinance
Both the poems have the consequences of disobeying divine commands as the central theme. The very first verse of Paradise lost "Of Man's first disobedience" indicates that the poem is about the primeval disobedience or the defiance of divine injunction. Both Samson and Adam are projected as men of unique greatness. They both are endowed with special qualities by god. While Samson is known for his supreme strength and valor Adam is known for his great reasoning and discriminating ability. In both instances only after trespassing god's commands that they fall from their glorified stance and undergo all the suffering. Only after taking the forbidden fruit does his (Adam's) intelligence and reasoning ability tarnish. Similarly only after disclosing the forbidden secret does Samson loose his might. Women stand out as the main cause for the downfall of both of these characters. In their wish to satisfy their women both Adam and Samson disobey divine ordinance and in the process both of them loose their ingrained special abilities.
Samson for example looses his eyesight, strength and endures hardship while Adam looses his reasoning mind and begins to entertain evil qualities like lust, anger etc. Jesus stands out distinctly from these two characters in that there is no question of disobedience of divine injunctions on his part. Being the very embodiment of divinity there is no trace of selfish, amoral qualities in him. From the very birth his path is well-charted (always-immersed in divine contemplation) and there is no downward fall at any moment of his life. Unlike Samson and Adam who are directly or indirectly affected by satanic influences Jesus is not affected the least. The sufferings that he undertakes upon himself are of a different kind. They are not the result of misdeeds but rather a willing acceptance of other's burdens.
One aspect, which is common to both "Paradise Lost" and "Samson Agonistes," is that both these poems emphasize the moral redemption. After the initial transgression we see a firm resolve and commitment to god and an upward journey. Samson and Adam both realize their mistake and the sincerely repent for their misgivings. They both fully understand their own accountability for their transgressions. Here again we see that it is not correct to compare Jesus in the same vein as Adam and Samson. Jesus never once deviates from the rightful path or succumbs to the earthly temptations. He is always saturated with wisdom. This is because the levels of consciousness are entirely different. Jesus is always in a divine trance and his role is that of a redeemer as against Adam and Samson who seek redemption for their sins.
Desire and the Downfall
Desire again is one of the important themes in both the poems. We notice that both the poems are imbued with Milton's puritanical thoughts.…[continue]
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