[Milton-L] Did Samson Take An Oath?

Brendan Prawdzik brendanprawdzik at gmail.com
Wed Jul 28 17:19:23 EDT 2010

Dear C. Durning Carroll,

I don't know if anyone responded privately to your question.  Some thoughts
and a reference:

Judges 13:5

"For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on
his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he
shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines."

Since Samson is a "Nazarite ... from the womb," it seems that he inherits
the vow made initially by his parents.  Yet Milton's Samson refers to "*my* vow
of Nazarite" at l. 1386.  To what extent is it *his *vow?  I wonder, would
Samson have reaffirmed his Nazarite status by taking his own vow?

A recent article addresses Samson's oath-taking at length:

Alex Garganigo, “Samson's Cords: Imposing Oaths in *Samson Agonistes*,” *Milton
Studies *50 (2009), 125-49.

Here are a couple of good quotes that address your specific question:

"In this greater emphasis on taking vows, *Samson Agonistes* worries over
the problem of living with imposed oaths, re-creating the qualms of
conscience experienced by members of the political nation confronted with
the latest regime s demand for an expression of allegiance that invalidated
previous ones. For Milton and other early modern English commentators on the
book of Judges, the Samson narrative seemed particularly well suited to
discussing the problematics of oath-taking because it features a man who
does not choose his Nazarite vow but has it thrust upon him in the womb by
God and a nameless mother.54 Nowhere does the Samson of Judges actually
utter this vow to remain pure and deliver his people from the Philistines.55
Moreover, it is abundantly clear that Samson has problems keeping his vow:
he touches the unclean carcass of a lion and sleeps with presumably unclean
women from the very enemy nation from which he must deliver his own. The
fact that God makes exceptions in some of these cases stands at the center
of the story and of its relevance to early modern controversies over oaths.
A key bone of contention, was the issue of when God could be said to have
dispensed with his own laws on oaths, and to have dispensed in such a way as
to allow someone to take a new oath that violated an old.56 ..."

and later

"We now return to a speech-act that Milton's Samson may have performed
himself: the Nazarite vow. Samson Agonistes considerably amplifies but does
not ultimately resolve the question of whether Samson takes it. As argued
earlier, the Samson of Judges does not actually take this vow; his mother
does it for him, her unborn child being incapable of assent or refusal.
While Judges does not entirely rule out his performing this speech-act at
some later date, it never mentions him doing so."

I don't have specific page numbers on hand, as I copied this from LION.  If
anyone disagrees with this reasoning on oaths, ears are open.

Best wishes,

Brendan M. Prawdzik

UC Berkeley (Ph.D., 2009)
Department of English
Roberta Holloway Fellow (poetics), 2010-11

On Mon, Jul 26, 2010 at 3:37 PM, Charles Carroll <
charles at literatureinreview.com> wrote:

> Hi everyone,
> I'm just curious--among all the good minds out there, does anyone know
> whether Samson would personally have taken an oath to keep his secret
> silent, or would that oath have been made for him (by Manoah for example)?
> Thanks,
> C. Durning Carroll
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