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Literature / Samson and Delilah

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The story of Samson, better known as "Samson and Delilah", can be found in The Bible's Book of Judges. Samson was one of the "judges" of Israel and ruled during Israel's subjugation by the Philistines.

Samson is noted for having Super-Strength, a blessing of being chosen by God to be the one to free Israel from the Philistines. He's also the most unlikely person for the job, being something of a trickster and a skirt chaser. He also has a habit of choosing wives who tend to screw him over. In the end he sacrifices himself and takes everybody and everything with him. This is why Israel's massive retaliation plan in case of near military defeat is called The Samson Option.

This story has been used several times in fiction since then, inspiring paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn and Peter Paul Rubens, having Samson squared off against Superman in the Silver Ages and even having his own title (see Mighty Samson) highlighting him as a likely inspiration for and Ur-Example of the modern superhero. Samson has a surprising amount in common with early Superman (superstrength, likes to screw with people, takes on corrupt government/aristocracy/business).

His life's story has been the subject of a theatrical film, Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr in the title roles, which was remade twice on TV, the first in 1984 (with Mature doing a cameo as Samson's father) and another in 1996 (which featured Dennis Hopper, Michael Gambon and Elizabeth Hurley); Delilah tends to get more screen time in the films than she does in the original story. There's also an operatic version Samson et Dalila by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (the source of the popular concert piece "Bacchanal"), and an oratorio by George Frederic Handel, based on the dramatic poem "Samson Agonistes" by John Milton.

It should be noted that because of the aforementioned character traits of super strength, trickery, and skirt chasing, as well as the plot point of being crippled and betrayed by a woman he loved, many mythologists believe that Samson was a Jewish equivalent to the Greek hero Heracles (Roman version: Hercules), in the tradition of the Near Eastern folk hero.

Not to be confused with the talking dog from Flemish television.

Associated Tropes

  • An Aesop: In addition to the obvious "Think with the head on your shoulders rather than the one between your legs," this tale was originally intended as an analogy for all of Israel: just as Samson's weakness for Delilah got him handed over to his enemies, so too did Israel's idolatry with other nations' gods repeatedly get the Israelites handed over to their enemies; the bigger moral was "You idolatrous Israelites aren't much brighter than Samson."
  • Anti-Hero: Samson is a super-strong temperamental man who is tempted easily into committing some questionable deeds.
  • Batman Gambit: As he didn't start out a paragon of virtue, one could see God blessing Samson with super strength as this. A super strong skirt chaser could do some damage. However, God being omniscient, already knew it would pan out to His advantage.
  • The Berserker: When "the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson", massive body counts ensued.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Samson himself died, but at least his Heroic Sacrifice freed his people by breaking the Philistines.
  • Bond One-Liner:
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Samson versus anybody who was stupid enough to try fighting Samson, unless they knew his Weaksauce Weakness.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Happens all the time in the story. First, Samson robs and kills 30 people over the Philistines figuring out the answer to his riddle through his wife. Then, after finding out his wife's father had her betrothed to someone else, Samson burned Philistine crops, no doubt causing a famine. After the arson attack, the Philistines, instead of punishing him, punish his ex-wife and her father. Then finally, at the end of the story, he topples a Philistine temple, killing 3000 people, because the Philistine military stabbed his eyes.
  • Dumb Muscle: Gee, Samson, after the first few times Delilah springs the Philistines on you, maybe you'd figure out that she's setting you up and not tell her the actual secret of your strength?
  • Explaining Your Power to the Enemy: Samson explains this to Delilah, causing his doom.
  • Eye Scream: After finally capturing Samson, the Philistines gouge his eyes out.
  • The Famine: What no doubt happened as a result of Samson burning Philistine crops.
  • Fatal Flaw: Samson's lust—for Philistine women in particular—does not work out well for him. Pride also plays a big part in his downfall.
  • The Hero Dies: Samson pulls the Temple of Dagon down upon him and the entire Philistine nobility.
  • Honey Trap: In some versions, the Philistines hired Delilah from the beginning to seduce the secret out of Samson (in others, they were already together when they approached her).
  • Idiot Ball: Delilah would never have gotten the secret to Samson's success out of him if he hadn't been thinking with the wrong head; but then, that's kind of the point.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Samson once killed a bunch of people with a donkey's jawbone. Of course, when you're as as strong as he is, almost anything sturdy enough to not fall apart makes an effective weapon.
  • Karma Houdini: Delilah sells Samson to the Phillistines and gets 1100 silver pieces in exchange.
  • Love-Interest Traitor: Samson is seduced by Delilah, which proves to be his downfall.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Samson's downfall comes from making some extremely stupid decisions while pursuing women, most notably Delilah of course.
  • Mr. Fanservice: It's not uncommon for Samson to be shirtless in either art or the film adaptations.
  • One-Man Army: Samson killed one thousand Philistines with a donkey's jawbone. Give a medal to those 400 soldiers that thought they'd succeed where 600 of them had failed.
  • Pyromaniac: Samson burns Philistine crops after learning that his first wife's father betrothed her to someone else.
  • Riddle Me This:
    • Samson challenges his wedding guests with a bet on the riddle, "Out of the eater came something to eat / Out of the strong came something sweet." The guests aren't able to guess it, so they resort to cheating by pressuring his wife to extract the answer from him. Samson doesn't take this well at all. (The answer is that Samson killed a lion and discovered that bees had made honey in its carcass.)note 
    • The answer they gave, itself in the form of a couple of questions, is actually another ancient riddle. "What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?" The answer to that riddle also provides a bit of Foreshadowing: the answer is "love" in the sense of erotic desire. Samson's "love" for Delilah would ultimately lure him into a Honey Trap, with her wiles ultimately proving to be enough to overcome even his miraculous strength.
  • Super-Strength: Samson's strength enabled him to slay a lion with his bare hands and made him a literal One-Man Army. Unfortunately, his power was tied to his hair, which, when cut, turned him into a regular man.
  • Taking You with Me: The story ends with Samson destroying the Philistine temple, burying himself and his enemies in it.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: In an inversion, it's Delilah who repeatedly begs the protagonist to tell her the true secret of his strength, just so she could betray him to the Philistines.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Samson revealing the real secret of his strength to Delilah, after she'd already demonstrated several times that he would be betrayed to the Philistines with whatever thing he told her was the secret of his strength.
  • Touched by Vorlons: The reason for Samson's strength is part of God's plan.
  • Traumatic Haircut: When Samson's hair was cut off by Delilah, he lost his Super-Strength and was captured and blinded by the Philistines.
  • Tsundere: Delilah is often portrayed as this towards Samson in the film adaptations.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Cutting his hair, drinking alcohol, or touching the dead were all part of Samson's vows, and when all of them were broken, he lost his strength. According to the Bible, most of Samson's exploits happened after he disregarded all those rules except cutting his hair. His long mane was indeed the key to his strength, even after he reneged on his promise to God. (The vows and the ban on haircutting are typical of the Nazirites, a type of consecrated badass, something like warrior monks.)

Alternative Title(s): Samson