[Milton-L] Sophocles and Samson: Despair

Derek Wood dwood at stfx.ca
Wed Jan 16 16:29:23 EST 2008

I could not reply at the time -- too long to explain.
1. Do you really mean 'despair'? The implications of despair in a Christian world and those in  the Roman
world are such that I wonder if you can compare them. cf. Dido wandering around Hades after her despairing suicide compared with the terrible claustrophobic metamorphosis of Pier delle Vigne in the Inferno . . .punished for all eternity. Surely Oedipus despairs in the Tyrannos and blinds himself so that (terrible reason) he may not see his parents for all eternity in the afterlife. But he punishes himself for incest; he is not punished for a sin of despair. Despair is the most terrible sin, the unforgivable sin in Christian teaching. In Roman times it can even be honourable.
2. Samson does not despair. He is not in a state of sin. He has earlier gone through all the stages of regeneration as Milton explains them in the Doctrina; (in Adam we see these stages clearly realised: recognition of guilt, contrition, repentance etc) Samson does long for death, and calls for it repeatedly This is a lament as is Job's sorrowing cry. The lamentation is not sinful or despairing in either case..For despair see Redcrosse's experience in Faerie Queene Bk 1.
Derek N. C. Wood,
Senior Research Professor,
St. Francis Xavier University,
Canada,    B2G 2W5
e-mail: dwood at stfx.ca
phone: 902-867-2328 (w)
           902-863-5433 (h)
fax:      902-867-5400
web:     http://www.stfx.ca/people/dwood <http://www.stfx.ca/people/dwood/Welcome.html> /Welcome.html 


From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu on behalf of Kemmer Anderson
Sent: Thu 15-Nov-07 11:28 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: [Milton-L] Sophocles and Samson

>While sitting in Brian Hampton's class the at UT-Chattanooga,
>listening to him read the opening speech of Samson, I heard the
>voice from Ajax, a speech performed by 2 classes of students a few
>hours before. Those "rousing motions" (SA, 1182) (Richard DuRocher's
>2005 paper) went off in my head. The "I am lament" (Ajax,468) speech
>from Ajax, the despair of Samson echoed through my head.

I just spent a whole period hammering out Samson's speech to my class
who are performing and reading Ajax after reviewing his actions in
the Iliad, comparing the Hebrew God with the Greek gods. At the end I
said write a journal entry comparing the despair of Samson and Ajax.
What I see now is the following: An essay comparing the despair of
Samson, Ajax, and Philoctetes. Should I pursue the essay with my
students? I hear the echo from the prison, the cave, or the tent.
What do you all think?

Jefferson at 16 and 17 filled his commonplace book with quotes from
Samson Agonistes. Somehow this is the way of educating young Americans.

Thanks for stirring my wonder during the Miltonic musings at Murfreesboro.


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