Samson Under Many Skies
Why was my breeding ordered and prescribed
As of a person separate to God,
Designed for great exploits, if I must: die
Betrayed, captived, and both my eyes put out. . .
O dark dark dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrevocably dark, total eclipse
Without all hope of day!
O first-created beam, and thou great Word,
"Let there be light, and light was over all"
Why am I thus bereaved thy prime decree?
THE STORY OF Samson stands out in the Bible as a grand tissue of absurdities. Sunday school pupils must long have been puzzled about his weapon for killing Philistines. But there is much more to puzzle about (Judges xv) :
15. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.
16. And Samson said, with the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.
17. And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramathle'hi.
18. And he was sore athirst, and called on the Lord, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?
19. But God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof En-hak'ko-re, which is in Le'hi unto this day.
20. And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
The passage has been bowdlerized in the Revised Version to make it more plausible, but verse 18 is an unshakable reminder that this was not an ordinary bone, or even "the place" of it as suggested recently. For that jaw is in heaven. It was the name given by the Babylonians to the Hyades, which were placed in Taurus as the "Jaw of the Bull." If we remember the classic tag "the rainy Hyades" it is because Hyades meant "watery." In the Babylonian creation epic, which antedates Samson, Marduk uses the Hyades as a boomerang-like weapon to destroy the brood of heavenly monsters. The whole story takes place among the gods. It is known, too, that Indra's powerful weapon, Vajra, the Thunderbolt made of the bones of horse-headed Dadhyank, was not of this earth (see appendix # 19)
The story is so universal that it must be seen as spanning the globe. In South America, where bulls were still unknown, the Arawaks, the Tupi, the Quechua of Ecuador spoke of the "jaw of the tapir," which was connected with the great god, Hunrakán, the hurricane, who certainly knows how to slay his thousands. In our sky, the name of the celestial Samson is Orion, the mighty hunter, alias Nimrod. He remains such even in China as "War Lord Tsan," the huntmaster of the autumn hunt, but the Hyades are changed there into a net for catching birds. In Cambodia, Orion himself became a trap for tigers; in Borneo, tigers not being available, pigs have to substitute; and in Polynesia, deprived of every kind of big game, Orion is found in the shape of a huge snare for birds. It is this snare that Maui, creator-hero and trickster, used to catch the Sunbird; but having captured it, he proceeded to beat it up and with what?—the jawbone of Muri Ranga Whenua, his own respected grandmother.
If one brings Samson—the biblical Shimshon—back to earth, he becomes a preposterous character, or rather, no character at all, except for his manic violence and his sudden passions. It comes as a shock, after reading that chaotic and whimsical life, to find: "And he judged Israel twenty years." For if anyone was bereft of judgment, it was this berserker. As Frazer remarks, one doubts whether he particularly adorned the bench.
Yet there is a mysterious importance to his person. On him was piled a hoard of classic fairy tales, like "the man whose soul was placed elsewhere" (the external soul), and the insistent motif of fatal betrayal by women, the motif of Herakles and Llew Llaw Gyffes. More than that, he is an incongruous montage of nonhuman functions which could no longer be put together intelligibly, and were crowded together with cinematographic haste. Even his feats as a young Herakles, tearing a lion apart, change over in a flash to the generation of bees from a carcass, recalling the time-honored bougonia of the fourth book of Virgil's Georgics.
Of the many nonsense feats there are some which take particular relief from the context. Samson was displeased (Judges XIV-XV) because the wife of his heart, a Philistine, had given away to the children of her people the meaning of his riddle on the lion: "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness," so that he was held to pay forfeit for his last bet.
xiv. 19. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house.
20. But Samson's wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend.
xv. I. But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in.
2. And her father said, I verily thought that you hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister fairer than she? Take her, I pray thee, instead of her to your compamon.
3. And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure.
4- And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.
5. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.
6. Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire.
7. And Samson said unto them, Though ye have done this yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.
8. And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam.
Leaving the great Shimshon there sitting in the top of the rock, a brief interlude before he goes out again on his own wayward, rash and splenetic way to provoke his enemies, one is moved to reflection.
To catch and corral three hundred foxes, and tie them in pairs by the tail, just to work off a spite, seems more the daydream of a juvenile delinquent or a Paul Bunyan or a "Starke Hans" than the feat of a warrior. It is as if Scripture had remembered that he had to stand out as a great hunter, but had misplaced the occasion of his hunts. After all, lions are not to be found behind every hedgerow, and foxes might do, if only to annoy. But we know from Ovid (Fasti 4, 631 ff.) that in April, at the feast of Ceres, foxes with burning fur were chased through the Circus. This might be the real context. The modern "fertility rite" explanations are so futile that it might be more to the point to be reminded of the three hundred elite "dogs" that Gideon recruited for his band, and which still stand unexplained. One should also consider a more important occasion to which attention has been drawn by Felix Liebrecht: the “Sada-Festival," during which animals were kindled and chased, burning, through the whole Iranian countryside. This, however, would lead back to Firdausi's Book of Kings, and beyond that to the whole problem of Kynosoura, that cannot be tackled at this point because it calls for an examination of all that was implied by the starting of celestial fires.
But the main theme of the story will appear more clearly if it is transposed in an utterly different narrative convention, the adventures of Susanowo the Japanese god. They are found in the Japanese Scriptures, in this case the Nihongi, compiled about the 8th century A.D. but going back to unknown times. They are the full equivalent of what the Bible was in our recent past, and even more, for "this
body of legend, folklore to us but credible history to the people of the archipelago, is tangled in the roots of everything Japanese." The quotation is from Post Wheeler, who prepared the latest edition of the Japanese mythical corpus. To quote him further: "In no other land do we find a people's sacred legend so interknit with the individual's daily thoughts and life. Its episodes peer at us from every nook and byway. The primeval myth of the slaughter of the Eight-Forked-Serpent by the deity Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male, brother of Bright-Shiner the Sun-Goddess, is pictured on Japan's paper currency. I have seen it produced au grand serieux at Tokyo's Imperial Theatre, in the same week as one of Ibsen"s tragedies and a Viennese light opera."
[n1 P. Wheeler, The Sacred Scriptures of the Japanese (1952), p. vi.].
Most of Hebrew mythology wears the hempen homespun of peasants and patriarchs from Palestine. Japanese myth bears the mark of an already refined perverse feudal world. back of which there is the baroque elegance and fantasy of late Chinese culture. With this premise, here is the story of the Japanese Samson, Susanowo, whose name means Brave-Swift- Impetuous-Male. No better set of attributes for Mars; he is also officially a god, since his sister Amaterasu, the sun-goddess, is still today the worshiped ancestor of the Imperial dynasty; the courtly precedences are neatly established. The hero need no longer masquerade as boor from the tribe of Dan who raged in Ashkelon and destroyed himself in Gaza.
Now Susanowo was banished from the sky for having thrown the hind part of his backward-flayed piebald stallion, in the weaving hall of his sister Amaterasu. These sudden discourteous gestures seem to be part of the code: Enkidu had thus thrown the hind quarter of the Bull from Heaven in the face of Ishtar, but here there is the additional code feature (it is code) of the backward-flayed animal. Susanowo's gesture caused the Sun-god to withdraw in anger into a cave: the world was plunged into darkness. The 80,000 gods assembled in the Milky Way to take counsel, and at last came upon a device to coax the Sun out of the cave and end the great blackout. It was a low-comedy trick, part of the stock-in
trade that is used to coax Ra in Egypt, Demeter in Greece (the so-called Demeter Agelastos or Unlaughing Demeter) and Skadi in the North—obviously another code device [n2 The obscene dance of old Baubo, also called lambe in Eleusis, parallels the equally uusavory comic act of Loke in the Edda. The point in all cases is that the deities must be made to laugh (cf. also appendix #36).].
Now light was restored to the world, but on earth the hero-god moving out of the darkness had nowhere to lay his head; he wandered around and succeeded in killing the "Eight-Forked-Serpent," thus saving a damsel.
Afterwards he arranged "The Drawing of the Lands," and the sowing of more land, giving the islands the shape which they have now, Finally, Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male, having traveled about the limits of the sky and the earth, even to the Sky-Upright-Limiting-Wall, dwelt on Mount Bear-Moor and finally went to the Lower World, also called the Nether-Distant-Land.
To this his place came a Jason, namely the Kami (Divine Prince) Great-Land-Master, looking for some helpful device against his brothers, "the 80 Kami" who had succeeded in killing him several times (Sky-Producer revived him). Before reaching the house, he married Susanowo's daughter, Princess-Forward, and this Medea was to support him faithfully, so that he survived the different "stations" which Susanowo had prepared for him [n3 For a comparison of the sequence of troublesome caves, holes, or “houses" that heroes of the Old World as well as of the New World have to pass through, see L. Frobenius, Das Zeitalter des Sonnengottes (1904), pp. 371f.] as proper guest rooms: the fire, the snake-house, the centipede-and-asp-house (Dostoyevsky's Svidrigailov must have been a great seer):
Then Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male, having shot a humming arrow into the midst of a great grass-moor, sent him to fetch it and when he had entered the moor, set fire to it on all sides. But when Great-Land-Master found no place of exit, there came a mouse which said, "The inside is hollowly hollow; the outside is narrowly narrow." Even as it spoke thus, he trod on the spot, and falling into the hollow, hid himself until the fire had burned over, when the mouse brought him the humming arrow in its mouth, and the arrow's feathers were brought in like manner by its young ones.
Now his wife, Princess-Forward, weeping, made preparation for the funeral, and her father, deeming Great-Land-Master dead, went out and took stand on the moor, but he found his guest standing there, who brought the arrow and gave it to him. Then he great Kami Susanowo took him into the palace and into a great-spaced room, where he made Great-Land-Master pick the lice from his head, among which were many centipedes. His wife, however, gave him aphananth berries and red earth, and he chewed up the berries and spat them out with the red earth which he held in his mouth, so that the great Rami, believing him to be chewing and spitting out the centipedes, began to feel a liking for him in his heart and fell asleep. Then Great-Land-Master bound Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male's hair fast to the palace rafters, and blocking up the door with a five-hundred-man-lift rock, took his wife Princess-Forward on his back, possessed himself of the Kami's great life-preserving word, his bow and arrows, and his Sky-speaking lute, and fled. But the Sky-speaking lute smote against a tree so that the earth resounded, and the great Kami [Susanowo] started from sleep at the sound and pulled down the palace.
While he was freeing his hair from the rafters, however, Great-Land-Master fled a long way; so pursuing after him to the Level-Pass-of-the-Land-of-Night, and gazing on him from afar, Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male called out to him, saying,"with the great, life-preserving sword and the bow-and-arrow which you carry, pursue your low-born brethren till they crouch on the high-slopes and are swept into the river currents! And do you, fellow! Make good your name of Great-Land-Master, and your name of Spirit-of-the-Living-Land, and making my daughter Princess-Forward your chief wife, make strong the pillars of your palace at the foot of Mount Inquiry in the lowest rock bottom, and near its crossbeams to the Plain-of-the-High-Sky, and dwell there!"
Then, bearing the great sword and book, Great-Land-Master pursued and scattered the eighty Kami, saying, "They shall not be permitted within the circle of the blue fence of mountains." He pursued them till they crouched on every hill-slope, he pursued them till they were swept into every river, and then he began to rule the Land. (Therefore the place where he overtook them was called ComeOvertake.) [n4 Wheeler, pp. 44f.]
Later on, the "Genesis" part of the Nihongi will be shown to meet the requirements of archaic theory very exactly. Even incidents that seem like minor embellishments, the little mouse in her
burrow, are really recurrent elements in the ancient fugue. Because it is necessary to deal with one theme at a time, much of the tale of Susanowo appears wildly arbitrary although no more so than that of Samson. Also the narrative is confusingly interwoven with other classic plots, recognizably those of Theseus and the Argonauts. And yet there Susanowo is, a maker of darkness at noon, Samson strength-in-hair, who "went away with the pin of the beam, and with the web," walking off with rafters an rocks and gates and posts, pulling down a palace (his own, for a change), smiting and scattering low-born workers of iniquity "not to be permitted again within the circle of the blue fence. "But the Nihongi shows the ampler scheme in which the old order is smashed and the new foundation of an order is undertaken: "make strong the pillars of your palace at the foot of Mount Inquiry in the lowest rock-bottom, and rear its crossbeams to the Plain of the-High Sky, and dwell there."
The god has not only judged and apportioned, he has also established and sowed for the future in his capacity as the new king of the underworld; he has gone to sleep in his Ogygia, and appointed his successor as ruler of the new age. Further: the GreatLand-Master had to procure something in the Nether-Distant-Land (in Japan the dead go down there by land with countless windings, whereas the whirlpool in the ocean is good only for transporting there the "sinful dirt"). He had been sent there to get "counsel" from Susanowo (who identified him at the first glance as: "This is the Kami Ugly-Male-of-the-Reed-Plains") he eventually got it, and added to it the precious life-preserving sword which Susanowo had found in the tail of the Eight-Forked dragon, and the "bow-and-arrows," and his Orphic Sky-speaking lute, not to forget Princess-Forward. A complicated affair. But the Great-Land-Master undeniably plays a Jupiter role against Susanowo's Mars, the more so, as his beloved Princess-Forward turns out to be extremely jealous.
Now, after this Far Eastern interlude, Samson's own tragedy can be seen in better focus (Judges XVI):
19. And [Delilah] made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven Iocks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.
20. And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from
21. But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house. [Appendix # 17 ]
22. Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.
23. Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.
24. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.
25. And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport; and they set him between the pillars.
26. And Samson said unto the lad that held him by Ithe hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.
27. Now the house was full of men and women; an all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
28. And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
29. And Samson took hold of the two middle pi!lars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of he one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.
30. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistine. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell up the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life. Such is the great story, and it has gone through innumerable variations.
The general design of the tragedy is obviously faulty, more even than most Bible narratives which are superbly indifferent to such
consideradons. If Samson had been bred as "a person separate to God," by the care of the Lord "who sought an occasion gainst the Philistines", he does not compare with chiefs like Joshua and Gideon. He remains, mythically speaking, a misguided missile. Most great feats of the mythistorical past would not have rated the attention of news media, but Samson's achievements make so ittle sense, even on rhe micro-scale of Palestine power politics, that Milton finds it hard to justify the ways of God to man. Certai "central" events like the fall of royal houses, whether in Greece or Babylon or Denmark, are capable of a truer and deeper reverberation. That is why great motifs like "darkness at noon" and "pulling down the edifice" combine into a larger theme, obviously cosmic, which is here obscured. The Nihongi is truer to this larger style.
In the arabesque of interlaced motifs, one can mark those where the theme of "pulling down the structure" is in evidence. The powerful Maori hero Whakatau, bent on vengeance,
laid hold of the end of the rope which had passed round he posts of the house, and, rushing out, pulled it with all his strength, and straightaway the house fell down, crushing all within it, so that the whole tribe perished, and Whakatau set it on fire [n5 See Sir George Grey, Polynesian Mythology (1956; 1St ed. 1855), pp. 97f.].
This is familiar. At least one such event comes down simply from history. It happened to the earliest meetinghouse of he Pythagorean sect, and it is set down as a sober account of the outcome of a political conflict, but the legend of Pythagoras was so artfully constructed in early times out of prefabricated materials that doubt is allowable. The essence of true myth is to masquerde behind seemingly objective and everyday details borrowed from known circumstances. However that may be, in many other stories the destruction of the building is linked with a net. Saxo's, Amlethus does not pull down pillars; he reappears at the banquet set by the king for his own supposed funeral, like Great-Land-Master himself. He throws the knotted carpet net prepared by his mother over the drunken crowd and burns down the hall. In Japan the parallel does not go farther than that but it has its own relevance nevertheless. It suggests the fall of the House of Atreus. The net thrown by
Clytemnestra over the king struggling in his bath cannot have come in by chance. But this is an uncertain lead as yet.
The Sacred Book of the ancient Maya Quiche, the famous Popol Vuh (the Book of Counsel) tells of Zipacna, son of Vucub-Caquix (=Seven Arara). He sees 400 youths dragging a huge log that they want as a ridgepole for their house. Zipacna alone carries the tree without effort to the spot where a hole has been dug for the post to support the ridgepole. The youths, jealous and afraid, try to kill Zipacna by crushing him in the hole, but he escapes and brings down the house on their heads. They are removed to the sky, in a "group," and the Pleiades are called after them ( appendix #18).
Then there is a true avenger-of-his-father, the Tuamotuan Tahaki, who, after long travels, arrives in the dark at the house of the goblin band who tortured his father. He conjures upon them "the intense cold of Havaiki" (the other world) which puts them to sleep.
Then Tahaki gathered up the net given to him by Kuhi, and carried it to the door of the long house. He set fire to the house. When the goblin myriads shouted out together "Where is the door?" Tahaki called out: "Here it is." They thought it was one of their own band who had called out, and so they rushed headlong into the net, and Tahaki burned them up in the fire [n6 J. F. Stimson, The Legends of Maui and Tahaki (1934), pp. 51, 66.].
What the net could be is known from the story of Kaulu. This adventurous hero, wanting to destroy a she-cannibal, first flew up to Makalii the great god, and asked for his nets, the Pleiades and the Hyades, into which he entangled the evil one before he burned down her house [n7 A. Fornander, Hawaiian Antiquities (1916-1920), vol. 4, pp. 50f.; vol. 5, p. 368.]. It is clear who was the owner of the nets up there. The Pleiades are in the right hand of Orion on the Farnese Globe [n8 R. Eisler, Orpheus the Fisher (1921), pp. 25f.], and they used to be called the "lagobolion" (hare net). The Hyades were for big game [n9 G. Schlegel, L'Uranographie Chinoise (1967), pp. 351-58, 365-70.].
At the end of this far-ranging exploration, it is fair now to ask, who could Samson have been? Clearly a god, and a planetary
power, for such were the gods of old. As Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male, as the Nazirite Strong One, he has all the countersigns that belong to Mars, and to none other. Clearly, while trying to draw the concluding episode of the investigation of Amlethus-Kronos, King of the Cosmic Mill, something else has come into, view, the new and formidable personage of Mars—or Ares as the Greeks called him. He will come back more than once. Yet there is no question but that the name of Samson comes up quite spontaneously in connection with the Sampo, the original quern. It was clearly and unequivocally within the Amlethus design. At this point, the intrusion of this new planetary Power must be recognized. Even Susanowo substitutes for Kronos in his very reign of the Underworld. It would have been desirable to present the Powers separately, and each in his own shape, as will be done farther on. But the many-threaded tale has its own runes, and this exemplifies an important one. There are no Powers more diverse than Saturn and Mars; yet this is not the only time they will appear as a confusing and unexplained doublet of the two.
One of the motifs, destruction, is often associated with the Amlethus figure. The other belongs more specifically to Mars. There is a peculiar blind aspect to Mars, insisted on in both Harranian and Mexican myths. It is even echoed in Virgil: "caeco Marte." But it does not stand only for blind fury. It must be sought in the Nether World, which will come soon. Meanwhile, here is the first presentation of the double figure of Mars and Kronos. In Mexico, it stands out dreadfully in the grotesque forms of the Black and the Red Tezcatlipoca. There is a certain phase in the Great Tale, obviously, in which the wrecking powers of Mars unleash and make up a fatal compound with the avenging implacable design of Saturn. Shakespeare has, with his preternatural insight, alluded to both when he: made Hamlet warn the raging Laertes before their final encounter:
Though I am not by nature rash and splenetic
Yet there is in me something dangerous
Which let thy wisdom fear. . .
But obviously there is more, and what emerges here lifts the veil of a fundamental archaic design. The real actors on the stage of the universe are very few, if their adventures are many. The most "ancient treasure"—in Aristotle's word—that was left to us by our predecessors of the High and Far-Off Times was the idea that the gods are really stars, and that there are no others. The forces reside in the starry heavens, and all the stories, characters and adventures narrated by mythology concentrate on the active powers among the stars, who are the planets. A prodigious assignment it may seem for those few planets to account for all those stories and also to run the affairs of the whole universe. What, abstractly, might be for modern men the various motions of those pointers over the dial became, in times without writing, where all was entrusted to images and memory, the Great Game played over the aeons, a never-ending tale of positions and relations, starting from an assigned Time Zero, a complex web of encounters, drama, mating and conflict.
Lucian of Samosata, that most delightful writer of antiquity, the inventor of modern "science fiction," who knew how to be light and ironic on serious subjects without frivolity, and was fully aware of the "ancient treasure," remarked once that the ludicrous story of Hephaistos the Lame surprising his wife Aphrokite in bed with Mars, and pinning down the couple with a net to exhibit their shame to the other gods, was not an idle fancy, but must have referred to a conjunction of Mars and Venus, and it is fair to add, a conjunction in the Pleiades.
This little comedy may serve to show the design, which turns out to be constant: the constellations were seen as the setting, or the dominating influences, or even only the garments at the appointed time by the Powers in various disguises on their way through their heavenly adventures.
No one could deny, in the case of the Amlethus-Samson epiphany, that this fierce power, or momentary combination of powers, wears here the figure of Orion the blind giant, called also Nimrod the Hunter, brandishing the Hyades, working he Mill of the
Stars, like Talos, the bronze giant of Crete. For the feature which clinches the case has been named. Orion was blind, the only blind figure of constellation myth. He was said to have regained his sight eventually, as befits an eternal personage. But this is how legend portrays him, wading through the rushing flood of the whirlpool at his feet (where he will appear again), guided by the eyes of little Tom Thumb sitting on his shoulder, whose name, Kedalion, suggests a low-comedy occupation. But who are we to impose Mrs. Grundy on the assembly of heaven?