The synthesis of Hebraism and Hellenism in Milton's "Samson Agonistes"
Gossman, Ann Mary
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation began as a colloquium paper on "Hebraism and Hellenism in Milton's Samson Agonistes." The question was raised, "Well, just how much Hellenism and how much Hebraism did you find in Samson Agonistes?" The question for Milton, when he wished to write a drama about Samson as one of the Saints of the Holiest of Holies, were first, What form of drama would best realize his great idea, and then, How far was it possible to adapt Greek structure to Christian theme and spirit. Milton found, as Ker has observed, "in the form of Greek tragedy exactly the right measure and mode for something not yet accomplished in his epic poems." Yet the assertion that Milton used primarily Hellenic form for the Hebraic (or Judaic-Christian) spirit, is not sufficient. For the reader, other questions arise. How far did Milton use the Greek form, and what did he create that was analogous to it? What artistic effect resulted? Is the spirit predominantly Christian or predominantly tragic? How are spirit and form, Christianity and tragedy, Hebraism and Hellenism, modified by one another and reconciled? Thus it is the purpose of the dissertation to analyze the quality and manner of Milton's synthesis of the Hebraic and Hellenic traditions in Samson Agonistes. Although in many respects Coleridge is right in saying that Samson Agonistes is "the finest imitation of the ancient Greek drama that ever had been or," he characteristically adds, "ever would be written," it must be remembered that "the pattern or example of everything is the perfectest in that kind, whereof we still come short, though we transcend or go beyond it...For even in things alike there is diversity; and those that do seem to accord do manifestly disagree." Milton wrote the finest imitation of Greek tragedy for the very reason that he transcended more imitation by vitally re-creating the Greek form to express those elements of the Hebraic spirit most analogous to the Hellenic spirit and compatible with a modified Hellenic form.
Theater; English literature