Samson Agonistes "Though Her Body Die, Her Fame Survives"

John Milton

"Though Her Body Die, Her Fame Survives"

Context: The play opens with the last phase of the life of Samson, the Old Testament hero. The Philistines have blinded him and hold him prisoner in Gaza. The play, structured as a Greek tragedy, depicts the restoration of the fallen Samson to the grace of God. Samson has already been tested by God and failed. Having been punished and having repented his sin, he now undergoes trials of his will and integrity to prove that he is worthy to be tested a second time. Surmounting these trials, he is summoned to entertain the Philistine nobles at the feast of the pagan god Dagon. He at first refuses. However, he is prompted by God's Providence to change his mind. He leaves for the feast and is not seen again. His final triumph over the Philistines is described by a messenger, who reports the spectacular catastrophe that Samson creates by pulling down the temple of Dagon on the priests, the nobility, and himself. Manoa, his father, in despair has asked for all the details of the bloody end. After the details are related, the Chorus judges Samson's action as "dearly-bought revenge, but glorious." In an extended simile, Samson's divinely restored strength and earthly fame are compared to the phoenix, the age-old symbol of death and rebirth:

So vertue giv'n for lost
Deprest, and overthrown, as seem'd,
Like that self-begotten bird
In the Arabian woods embost,
That no second knows nor third,
And lay e're while a Holocaust
From out her ashie womb now teem'd
Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most
When most inactive deem'd
And though her body die, her fame survives
A secular bird ages of lives.