Excerpts from my Vernacular Reading of Milton’s “Samson Agonistes”

The following verses are from John Milton’s play, “Samson Agonistes’ (the Greek surname roughly translates as “contestant” or , more loosely, “warrior”). The play takes place after Samson’s capture. Betrayed by Delilah, shorn of his hair – the source of his strength – and blinded, he languishes in a Philistine prison. In this scene,  Samson is confronted by Harapha, the captain of the Philistine guard. Harapha, father of the legendary Goliath,  is an estimable badass in his own right.  And what happens when two tough guys meet face to face? They size each other up, look one another in the eye, and say “I can kick your ass.”  This scene is that barroom staredown translated into Miltonic verse. Samson and Harapha’s exchange is an example of  “epic vaunting” (long-winded boasting, basically);  a Renaissance version of a pre-fight press conference. These excerpts start with the original text, and then break off into my vernacular renderings, less literal translations than approximations of the speakers’ intent. I hope to finish a complete redux at a later date.

Here, Harapha arrives in the dungeon where Samson is held.

Harapha: I come not Samson, to condole thy chance,

As these perhaps, yet wish it had not been,

Though for no friendly intent. I am of Gath,

Men call me Harapha, of stock renown’d

As Og or Anak and the Emims old

That Kiriathaim held, thou knowst me now

If thou at all art known. Much I have heard

Of thy prodigious might and feats perform’d

Incredible to me, in this displeas’d,

That I was never present on the place

Of those encounters, where we might have tri’d

Each others force in camp or listed field:

And now am come to see of whom such noise

Hath walk’d about, and each limb to survey,

If thy appearance answer loud report.


Harapha: Don’t expect me to feel sorry for you, Samson. Yeah, I know who you are. And I know you know who I am. If you know anything in your life, you know me. My daddy kicked all y’all asses, his daddy kicked y’all asses, and I’m still kicking your asses. But still, all I been hearing is all this Samson shit. Samson this. Samson that. My first day of boot camp, that’s all my C.O. was talking about – how Samson was out there waiting for my ass, and I couldn’t be half-stepping ’cause he did this and that, and kicked these hundred niggas’ asses and blahzay blahzay. And I was like “oh, hell naw, that’s some bullshit.” I was like, ‘man I gotta fight this nigga’. I wish I was there when he did all this supposed shit’. I mean, I kicked everybody’s ass I met, and everybody was still like, “oh no, Samson, dada-dada”. So finally I hear that you’re down here, and I’m like, ‘oh I gotta see this nigga, if I do nothing else in life. Now I meet you and I’m like, ‘THIS is the nigga everybody was talking about? This, blind-ass busted up, no hair-havin’ mothafucka?….THIS is Samson? Sheeett.

Samson: The way to know were not to see but taste.


Samson: Come catch a blind-ass beatdown, bitch.

After dozens of lines of insults, threats and self-aggrandizing rhetoric. Samson has had enough, and calls Harapha out… .

Samson: Therefore without feign’d shifts let be assign’d

Some narrow place enclos’d, where sight may give thee,

Or rather flight, no great advantage on me;

Then put on all thy gorgeous arms, thy Helmet

And Brigandine of brass, thy broad Habergeon,

Vant-brass and Greves, and Gauntlet, add thy Spear

A Weavers beam, and seven-times-folded shield,

I only with an Oak’n staff will meet thee,

And raise such out-cries on thy clatter’d Iron,

Which long shall not with-hold mee from thy head,

That in a little time while breath remains thee,

Thou oft shalt wish thy self at Gath to boast

Again in safety what thou wouldst have done

To Samson, but shalt never see Gath more.


Samson: Tell you what. See that alley over there? No, first, clear your schedule, get a good eight hours sleep, eat some dammit Wheaties. Don’t wanna hear no bullshit about how you had a doctor’s appointment or had to do your taxes or some shit. Meet me in that alley –  shit, pick any alley you want. I don’t give a fuck what country, what city – hell I don’t give a shit if it’s at the bottom of the mothafuckin ocean. Put on all your shit – get all your gear, get strapped, bring a dammit machete, machine gun, hand grenades, bulletproof vest, I don’t give a fuck. Meet me in that alley, and I’ll beat your ass with fuckin’ broomstick,nigga. And if you try to run, I will track you down and beat your ass for making me tired. And you’ll be thinking ‘damn, I should have stayed my ass at home where they all believe all my bullshit, instead of out here getting my ass whupped.’

And I’ll be like, ‘yeah, bitch, yo ass is mine.’ 

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