[Milton-L] Samson's prayer of revenge

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 28 15:26:54 EST 2008


Carol suggests that Milton was "nodding" in describing Samson as having his "eyes fast fixt" as if in prayer, for Milton knew -- but momentarily forgot -- that Samson's eyes had been physically removed.
   
  Milton's 'fatigue' is possible, but a careful poet such as Milton must have gone over the line many times, checking and rechecking, so I wonder if "nodding" is the answer to Joe Mayer's query about Samson's "eyes fast fixt."
   
  Just as a query of my own, mostly out of ignorance, but did Milton believe that Samson's eyes had physically been gouged out?
   
  In Samson Agonistes, a quick scan gives these references:
   
  line 33: "eyes put out"
   
  line 41: "eyeless in  gaza"
   
  line 67: "O loss of sight"
   
  line 152: "lost Sight"
   
  lines 195-6: "that which was the worst now least afflicts me, / Blindness, for had I sight"
   
  lines 644-5: "irreparable loss / Of sight"
   
  line 914: "though sight be lost"
   
  line 1103: "eyes put out"
   
  line 1160: "put out both thine eyes"
   
  line 1294: "sight bereav'd"
   
  line 1489; "eye-sight lost"
   
  line 1490: "it shall be my delight to tend his eyes"
   
  line 1502: "his strength with eye-sight was not lost"
   
  lines 1527-8: "What if his eye-sight (for to Israels God / Nothing is hard) by miracle restor'd"
   
  line 1624: "without help of eye"
   
  line 1637: "eyes fast fixt"
  
line 1687: "blind of sight"
   
  line 1741: "loss of eyes"
   
  I may have missed some, but of these lines, only line 41 ("eyeless in  gaza") and line 1741 ("loss of eyes") would most strongly suggest that Samson's eyes are physically missing, but are these to be taken literally?
   
  I am merely asking, uncertain.
   
  Expressions such as "eyes put out" seem far more ambiguous to me, for "put out" might be read as "extinguished" -- as in the light of the eyes being extinguished.
   
  Milton would, of course, know the Hebrew of Judges 16:21, which reads (apologies for the poor transliteration): "wayenaqqru et ainaiv."
   
  This is often translated "and they gouged out his eyes."
   
  My lexicon (Brown-Driver-Briggs, 669a), however, defines "naqar" as "bore, pick, dig." The Arabic cognate has the meanings of "perforate, bore out, hollow out." The Hebrew term "naqar" (and its Arabic cognate) thus seems to allow for some hermeneutic room to choose between the sense of gouging out and the sense of perforating.
   
  Incidently, the King James Bible translates Judges 16:21 as "the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes," which -- as noted in Milton's use above -- seems to allow for some ambiguity.
   
  But why would Milton want ambiguity on this point? What would be gained? Could it possibly have something to do with concepts of purity and holiness in Milton's reading of what he considered the old covenant? Purity and holiness are related to soundness of body and mind -- for instance, a priest must be sound of body according to divine law.
   
  Yet blindness itself, even with the eyes physically present, would perhaps not constitute soundness of body, would it?
   
  What do the rest of you think?
   
  Jeffery Hodges
  
Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net> wrote:
  Joe, I think rather that this is a case of Milton "nodding." He was eyeless 
only metaphorically--having eyes that could no longer see--and that were (by 
his own characterization) as clear and unclouded as anyone's who could. He 
may have "looked" toward heaven with them when he himself prayed, and 
therefore pictured Samson doing the same thing (forgetting for that moment 
that Samson's blindness was the result of the physical removal of his eyes, 
not disease).

But your general impression--that we are to envision Samson as "looking" 
heavenward, as one whose eyes were fixed on heaven would, perhaps with his 
head tilted upward (force of habit, for someone once sighted) seems to me to 
be correct.


Best to all,

Carol Barton



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University Degrees:

Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
(Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

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