[Milton-L] Milton Judges in SA

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sun Feb 24 12:53:48 EST 2008

Paul --

You're descending from argument into assertion.  The assumption being
questioned here is whether or not Milton wrote SA with the purpose of
providing a direct narrative representation of the same story in
Scripture in which all details are faithful to the original.  If we
accept this assumption, then of course we should assume from the lines
quoted that Samson prayed.  If we do not, then we can observe that the

1. Does not record a prayer.
2. Does not explicitly say that Samson was praying, just that
     a. Samson's posture appeared to be that of someone praying: "as
one who prayed."

The word "as" denotes a comparison of some sorts.  When someone is
engaged in an activity -- say, swimming -- you don't say, "That person
looks like he's swimming."  And you don't say, "That person is moving
his arms just like someone swimming."  You say, "That person is
swimming."  Similarly, when the messenger says that Samson's head was
inclined "as one who prayed," the messenger is not asserting that
Samson was praying.  He could not make that assertion from his
position, just that, "it looks like he could be praying from here."
It's not too different from being in church, really.  Every head is
bowed and every eye is closed, but some people are praying, some
people are sleeping, some people are passing notes, and some people
are playing video games on their cell phones.

What the text of SA needs, I think, is an attentive usher with a long stick.

What you're ignoring is the direct discontinuity within the text of SA
with the Biblical story at this point.  Since, in the Biblical story,
Samson articulated a prayer, he was clearly praying out loud.  The
messenger in SA, even from a distance, would be able to tell if
Samson's mouth was moving in a spoken prayer.  It's probably safest to
assume from the description that it was not, but either way, it's not
mentioned -- just that Samson's head was inclined.

I don't think I can spell out any more clearly SA's ambiguity on this
point, which stands in stark contrast to Scripture's complete lack of
ambiguity.  There's simply no room for question in the Biblical
account.  Yes, Samson prayed, and here's his prayer.  That Milton's
text leaves room for question is, I think, very telling.  Attention to
Milton's own personal and social history accounts for this ambiguity,
but attention only to the details of his Biblical source material does
not.  Assuming you know authorial intent is, of course, begging the
question -- unless we have a personal letter or a record of a
conversation in which Milton claims to have intended to write a clear
representation of a praying Samson.

If he did, he did a very bad job of it.

Jim R

On Sun, Feb 24, 2008 at 10:38 AM, Paul Miller <pm9 at comcast.net> wrote:
> "with head a while enclin'd,
> And eyes fast fixt he stood, as one who pray'd",
> Let's take the messenger out of SA and put him into the narrative of Judges.
> Place him close to an exit so he can escape the cataclysm but close enough
> where he can observe Samson.  Samson prays as he does in Judges. Wouldn't
> the subjective observation of the messenger from his spacial placement in
> the narrative of Judges be the very same as what is written above from SA?
> Literary criticism so often resembles a Rorschach test where people feel
> free to see whatever instead of unpacking a text with authorial intent,
> context, history, and such.  It makes me think of William Blake who's
> interpretation of Milton I find facinating but does it have much to do with
> Milton, I doubt it.
> Paul Miller

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