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PREFATORY NOTE.— It is unnecessary to give any separate account of the commentators on Samson Agonistes. Who they are, and in what circumstances their Notes appeared, will have been already learnt, or may now be learnt, from the Prefaces to the Notes to Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.
AUTHOR'S PREFACE. Of that sort of Dramatic Poem,” &c. In. connexion generally with this Preface, see our Introduction to the Poem, Vol. II. pp. 85-94. The following points may be noted here :--The
verse of Euripides” which St. Paul is said to have inserted into the text of Holy Scripture consists of the words “Evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. xv. 33). In the original Greek the phrase is φθείρουσιν ήθη χρηστά ομιλίαι κακαί-which is an Iambic verse, attributed by some to Euripides, and by others to the comic poet Menander, and found in the printed fragments of both.—The “Paræus” whose opinion as to the construction of the Apocalypse Milton cites, both here and in his Reason of Church Government (see the passage quoted from that pamphlet in our Introduction to this Poem, p.
was David Paræus, a German theologian and commentator on the Scriptures of high note among the Calvinists (1548—1622). There is an article on him in Bayle's Dictionary.
-When Milton says " Though the Ancient Tragedy use no Prologue," he uses “Prologue in its modern sense as a kind of Preface to the Play, detached from the Play itself, and intended to put the audience in good humour with it beforehand. Though the Comedians Plautus and Terence had Prologues of this kind, the ancient Tragedians had none. But, according to Aristotle (Poetics, chap. XI.), the Prologue in another sense was a regular part of every Tragedy, and consisted of all that part of the Tragedy which preceded the entrance of the Chorus.—In the plırase “ that which Martial calls an Epistle" there is an allusion to the
Epistola ad Lectorem” prefixed by Martial, by way of apology, to the First Book of his Epigrams.- - The three terms of Greek Prosody introduced by Milton in his Preface, and printed in Italics-viz. Monostrophic, Apolelymenon and Allcostrophic-in their present connexion may be translated “Single-stanzaed," " Released from the restraint of any particular measure,” and “Divers-stanzaed.” Milton's purpose is to explain to prosodians the metrical structure of his choruses in Samson. These choruses, he says, may be called Monostrophic, inasmuch as they run on without division into stanzas, or into the mutually balanced parts called Strophe, Antistrophe, and Epodos in the regular musical chorus ; the verse in which they are written is Apolelymenon, inasmuch as no particular measure is adopted, but each line is of any metre that the poet likes; or, if the choruses do sometimes seem to divide themselves into stanzas or rhythmical segments, then Allaostropha would be the name for them, inasmuch as the stanzas are of different metrical patterns.
4. “ There I am wont to sit,” &c. One recollects here the description given by the painter Richardson of the blind Milton's own habits in his last years.
“ An aged clergyman of Dorsetshire,” he says, "found John Milton [in his house in Artillery Walk] in a small chamber, hung with rusty green, sitting in his arm-chair, and neatly dressed in black; pale, but not cadaverous; his hands and fingers gouty and with chalk-stones. He used also to sit, in a grey coarse cloth coat, at the door of his house, near Bunhill Fields, in warm weather, to enjoy the fresh air; and so, as well as in his own room, received the visits of people of distinguished parts, as well as quality.”
12. This day," &c. Here Samson begins his soliloquy, the person who had guided him to the bank on which he was now sitting having left him to himself, as desired.
13. “ Dagon, their sea-idol.” Compare Par. Lost, I. 457-466, and note to that passage.
23—29. “Oh, wherefore,” &c. See Judges, chap. xiii.
33. “captived," with the accent apparently on the last syllable. Newton cites the word, so accented, from Spenser (F. Q. 11. iv. 16) and from Fairfax's Tasso (xix. 95).
66—109. “But chief of all, O loss of sight," &c. The reference, in this noble lamentation, to Milton's own great calamity will strike the reader at once; but some parts of it receive painful illustration from the domestic circumstances of Milton in his old age and blindness. Thus in connexion with the lines 75-78 it is impossible not to remember parts of the evidence given, on the occasion of the lawsuit between Milton's third wife and his three daughters by the first, as to the inheritance of his property. (See the particulars, Introd. to Par. 7 ost, pp. 67---69.)
87–89. "silent as the Moon when," &c. The meaning is “as in
" visible as the Moon is when, from the fact that her dark side is turned to us, she seems to be out of the sky altogether, and lodged in some cave where she passes the time between the disappearance of one moon and the appearance of its successor. Luna silens, or “silent moon,” was a Latin phrase for absence of moonlight.
III.“ steering.” Compare Ode on Nativity, 146, and Comus, 310.
118, 119. “carelessly diffused, with languished head," &c. Probably, as Thyer pointed out, a recollection from Ovid, Epist. 111. iii. 8 :
“Fusaque erant toto languida membra toro.”
133. “Chalybean-tempered." Chalybean to be accented on the third syllable and not on the second, as some commentators suppose to be necessary. Chalybean-tempered is tempered like the Chalybean steelso called from the Chalybes or Calybes, a people of Asia Minor, possessing excellent iron-mines, and celebrated as iron-workers. 134. “Adamantean proof.” It is doubtful whether
this means “proof against adamantean weapons” or “proof as being itself adamantean." The second meaning is the likelier. Adamant, literally "unsubduable,” usually meant steel.
138. “ Ascalonite,” inhabitant of the Philistian city of Ascalon. See 1 Sam. vi. 17. (Newton.)
139. "ramp”: i.e. spring (Fr. ramper, to mount). We speak yet of a lion “rampant,” and we have the slang word “ rampageous;” but “ ramp,” both as verb and as noun, was common in old English. Spenser has it; and Milton in his Animadversions on the Remonstrant has the phrase, “Surely the prelates would have Saint Paul's words ramp one over another.”
144." foreskins," i.e. uncircumcised Philistines.
145. “ In Ramath-lechi”: so called from “the casting away of the jaw-bone" there : the name implying the phrase. See Judges xv. 17.
147. “Azza,” or Azzah; same as Gaza. See Deut. ii. 23.
148. “Hebron, seat of giants old." Hebron was the city of Arba, the father of Anak, whose children, the Anakim, were giants. See Numbers xiii. 33, and Josh. xv. 13, 14. (Newton.)
150. “Like whom," i.e. like those giants whom, &c., to wit the Titans, and particularly Atlas.
165.“ Since man on earth,” a classic idiom for “since man was on the earth."
172. “the sphere of fortune" : i.e. the rotating g.obe on which Fortune was represented as standing.