The Hellenic and Hebraic elements
The Hellenic and Hebraic elements in Samson Agonies. Q. Samson Agonies Is a tragedy on Greek model. IQ . Consider or Mans. Milton In Samson Contests has finally produced a Biblical tragedy which he has long ago proposed as a kind of literature to be practiced In a Christian society. But at the same time the play remains as it does heavily indebted to the ancient Greek tragedies in its structure as well as the representation of the tragic protagonist.
Contextually in his preface to Samson Agonies, Milton makes a general statement on that sort of dramatic poem which is called tragedy. Herein his highly compressed discussion includes all the major percepts of Aristotle Poetics, including the structure of a tragedy as well as its cathartic effect on soul.
Thus from the very preface of Million’s tragedy the fact comes out very clear that, he (Milton) was writing a drama with the careful consideration to both Aristotle classical theory of tragedy, and to the actual examples of Greek drama, particularly the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides et al. Now structurally speaking, Samson Contests shows Milton complete mastery over the mechanism of Greek tragedy, cause It remains as It does possible to delve the play Into the several parts of a tragedy as defined by Aristotle in his Poetics.
These divisions are: Prologues; Parade (which means the first ode sung by the chorus); episodes (which in case of Samson are six in numbers exude (which means the final event or catastrophe) and cosmos (which means the Joint lament of chorus and some of the characters). Nay the critics like Broadband have further argued that abiding much by the Greek tradition, if required the plot of Samson Agonies can be easily divided into five acts.
And in ouch a case the dialogues between Samson and the chorus would constitute the first Act (lines 1-325), the Interview between Samson and Manna along with the choral ode that follows the second (illnesses-709), the conversation between Samson and Delia the third (illnesses-1060), the argument between Samson and Harp the fourth (lines 1061-1440)and finally the description of Gammon’s final heroic deed by the messenger would contribute to the fifth act (illnesses-end) of the play. However it is worth mentioning here that according to Milton such divisions are not essential as the play was never intended to be performed on stage.
Again in respect to the representation of the central protagonist also, Samson Agonies satisfies the requirements of the classical drama. Indeed Milton found precedents for his suffering hero in several Greek tragic figures of antiquity such as Hercules, Prometheus et al. Nay Samson further corresponds to the conception of a tragic hero in the true Aristotelian sense. He is a great man, once illustrious and prosperous but now fallen and even blind due to one fatal flaw (hamster) In his nature ‘e. The lust for a woman. And It Is this weakness that brings him down to his present position rising pity for him and fear for the audience.
However by doing so, Million’s tragedy Intends to purge the minds of the audience of these or Like emotions as Is evident In the lines- “His servant he, with new acquits/ Of true experience from this great spent. ” Now this very concept reminds one of Aristotle idea on catharsis, where he held that the “purpose of tragedies is to tamper or reduce the passions of pity and fear to a Just measure with a kind of delight” The next affinity that Million’s Samson Agonies shares with the classical tragedies is the presentation of chorus on stage.
Contextually it can be pointed out that Million’s use of chorus in his play resembles much more to Oedipus Rexes by Sophocles than any other Greek dramatist. Discussing on the chorus Milton in his Preface wrote, “the chorus is here introduced after the Greek manner, not ancient only but modern and still in use among the Italians. ” Now the chorus in Million’s play holds supreme significance, as we witness from the end of prologue until the final catastrophe it never leaves the stage at all. And so long as Samson is on stage, the chorus serves to illustrate his character and brings home to us what manner of man he is.
Nay it is again the chorus that where on one hand consoles Samson in his distress by sharing his thoughts, and on the other, Justifies the ways of god to men -“Just are the ways of God/ And Justifiable to men’… Who made our laws to bind us, not himself, / And hath full right to exempt. ” which is the first and foremost concern of Million’s tragedy. Another important feature of Million’s tragedy that contributes further to its Hellenic spirit is the observance to the three dramatic unities- the unity of time, place and action.
Now as for the unity of time, following the established theory and practice, Milton in his preface asserted that the duration of the action in a play should not exceed more than twenty four hours. And following this the action of Samson Agonies begins at sunrise and ends at noon, thus occupying only seven or eight hours. Herein it appears necessary to mention that, as all the incidents of Gammon’s life could not have been depicted before us within the short span of time, Milton overcame this difficulty by presenting those incidents through the device of reminiscence.
That is Samson past life comes out to be vividly portrayed by means of the very opening speech of Samson along with the successive speeches of chorus, Manna, Delia and even Harp. Then there is the unity of place, of which Milton does not refer in his preface. But he obeys this unity quite strictly, even more strictly than Aeschylus and Sophocles had done. The scene in the case of Samson Agonies is throughout laid before the prison of Gaza.
Though the catastrophe takes place at a distance from the prison, but it does not occur before our eyes; and it is reported by a messenger as was often done in the ancient Greek tragedies. Finally, the unity of action too is thoroughly observed by Milton. As we witness the drama is concerned tit a single action, and there is no under plot or subplot. We certainly have a number of episodes, but each of these episodes has a logical connection with the predominant theme of the drama; which is Gammon’s revenge upon the philistines.
Now these unities as observed by Milton apart from bringing Samson Agonies in the realm of the classical tragedies also adds to the play a compactness along with a greater coherence. Now it can be said that, the above analysis provokes a unanimous acceptance of the fact that, Samson Agonies was deliberately and avowedly written in conformity with ancient Greek principles and practice. However at the same time one should never forget that Million’s actual purpose was to write a Christian tragedy.
And quite naturally the Hebraic elements had their proper place in transformation that leads to his proper understanding of “the ways of God to men. ” And finally when he sacrifices his life to serve the purpose of God we are reminded of Paradise Regained which dramatists the self sacrifice of the ‘son’. Nay even in the conception of fate Milton remains more Hebraic than Hellenic. As we witness, he never allows the fate to rule over his protagonist and if Samson suffers, it is the result f his own deed: “l myself have brought them on/ sole author l/ sole cause. Last but not the least, Million’s deviation from the Greek tradition comes out clear in his interpretation of the tragic error, IEEE. Hubris. Hubris, which is a concept of Greek origin means the over confidence which leads man to trust too much his own powers, thus provoking an attack by the Jealous God. Herein Million’s Christian belief does not allow him to portray his God as Jealous. And therefore even if he introduces this element in his tragedy, he imposes it on the Philistines. As the chorus suggest, that
God has sent the Philistines into a state of mad frenzy in order to impair their judgment and make them bring on themselves, by their own acts an avenging Nemesis. ” So to conclude, Samson Zionists is Justly regarded as a significant literary antiquity for its balanced Juxtaposition of the Hellenic and Hebraic elements. Truly though Milton in his tragedy has made an ample use of the Greek devices and conventions, his tragedy is very much Christian in spirit. Hence it does not appear to be a false assessment that; Samson Agonies “is not an imitation, but recreation of Greek art. ” (Kenneth Mir)