Samson Agonistes: The Force of Justice and the Violence of Idolatry

Regina M. Schwartz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Samson's violence can be understood in terms of how justice is understood. To engage the problem of how to understand John Milton's Samson Agonistes, then, is to approach the problem of divinely sanctioned violence. Milton's understanding of the force of justice is inflected by Exodus, in which God turns forcefully and swiftly against Israel when she is idolatrous, less to punish than to engage in a full-scale effort to deliver her from her own worst impulses. Idolatry encompasses many concepts, some almost at odds with each other. Idolatry is not just any error but injustice, and specifically the injustice of slavery. Milton unleashes, both in his prose and in Samson Agonistes, fury against the bondage of idolatry - and this helps to explain the remarkable appeal of his writing down the ages to those enslaved by the tyrants of nations or by the tyranny of instrumental worship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Milton
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191743900
ISBN (Print)9780199697885
StatePublished - Sep 18 2012


  • Idolatry
  • John Milton
  • Justice
  • Samson Agonistes
  • Slavery
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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