[Milton-L] RE: Samson's prayer for revengr

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Mon Feb 25 15:34:20 EST 2008

Paul: everything written in my last post was meant to be applicable to
the specific lines in question.  Ambiguity in this case is a function
of the grammar of the lines themselves -- there's no need to resort to
either your or my imagination of what Milton's intent may have been.
The text clearly presents two options:

<<Felt in his arms, with head a while enclin'd,
And eyes fast fixt he stood, as one who pray'd,
Or some great matter in his mind revolv'd.>>

1. As one who prayed, -or-
2. Some great matter in his mind resolved.

This immediate text itself does not give us a reason to choose one or
the other, so the -text itself- is ambiguous in its grammatical
structure.  The source text does not argue against an ambiguous
reading of these lines, especially since when Samson wants to make his
speech known he does without any difficulty.  If anything, reference
to source material heightens the ambiguity, as the prayer is clearly
given in Milton's source material and deliberately -not- in SA.
Therefore attempting to resolve this ambiguity by resorting to extra
textual material is another matter, one (as I have said ad nauseum)
that requires we assume Milton adopted a specific stance toward his
source material ahead of time -- for which you have presented no
argument.  I suspect that your reading of the poem's closing lines is
dependent upon similar reading strategies.

We could read on. noting that the chorus exonerates Samson of suicide
and the semichorus makes it clear the Philistines got what was coming
to them (but then, don't Philistines always do?).  The closing speech
unambiguously presents Samson as aided by God to do what he did to
deliver Israel from the Philistines.  You should note that Samson at
the end is praised as a hero -- in terms a propos to a pagan hero --
for taking revenge on his enemies and winning honor for both God and
Israel.  While the presentation itself at this point is unambiguous,
Christian stances toward it, even in Milton's time, were not.

May be wise to read Alan Rundrum's recent post which is a reasoned,
detailed response to various positions argued here.

Jim R

On Mon, Feb 25, 2008 at 2:57 PM, Paul Miller <pm9 at comcast.net> wrote:
> Jim
>  I am not trying to posit that there is no intended ambiguity in Milton's
>  work just none intended by our esteemed author in this paticular instance.
>  Responses have ranged from unadorned assertion to dogmatic certainty that
>  the passage in view is pregnant with ambiguity. It is not enough to assume
>  authorial ambiguity because Milton is known to have written it in in other
>  places in his work. The source text and context argue against it and there
>  has been little evidential argument put forward on this list to gainsay my
>  position just naked assertion. I think it must be hoped that if the mantra
>  of ambiguity is repeated often it might prove soporiferous enough to put me
>  in thrall to the god Hypnos or maybe transport me to a poppy field with
>  Dorothy and Toto.
>  Paul Miller

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