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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 biblical 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 one Cecil B. DeMille theatrical film, 1949'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 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:
    • "With the jawbone of a jackass, I have made jackasses out of them."
    • In the original Hebrew, Samson is making a pun on the similar sound of the words for "donkey" and "heap" (of bodies); a closer translation might be "With the jawbone of an ass, I have heaped them in a mass."
    • The DeMille film specifies that donkeys' skulls and jawbones were used by court jesters. One is present at Samson's arrest at Etam to mock his "defeat". Samson uses his donkey skull. Lots of "ass" jokes in these scenes as the Saran of Gaza realizes how this is going to make his empire look to the rest of the world.
      Saran. Lord Athur! Military Governor of Dan! Prince of Philistia! Emir of Armies! Beaten with the jawbone of an ASS!... Are you a soldier, or a clown commanding fools?
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Samson versus anybody who was stupid enough to try fighting Samson, unless they knew his Weaksauce Weakness.
  • Death by Adaptation: Delilah is killed in the Saint-Saëns opera and the 1949 film version.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kill 'Em All: Happens to both soldiers and civilians throughout the story, from robbing and killing 30 people over a riddle to burning entire fields of Philistine crops, causing mass starvation, from slaying an army of a thousand men sent to apprehend him to toppling a temple full of 3000 people.
  • 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.)
    • 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.
  • Sense Loss Sadness: In George Frederic Handel's oratorio, Samson's aria "Total Eclipse" describes his feelings at being blind. As Handel had lost his own sight, performances were said to move the composer and the audience to tears.
  • 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.)

Tropes specific to the 1949 film

  • Adaptational Heroism: Delilah is portrayed more sympathetically here, showing regret over betraying Samson and helping him bring down Dagon's temple.
  • Adaptational Karma: While her fate after betraying Samson is never mentioned in the Bible, here Delilah is killed when Samson brings down the temple of Dagon
  • Betty and Veronica: Miriam, the sweet, gentle Hebrew girl vs the spoiled and selfish Delilah.
  • Big Bad: This version has the Saran of Gaza, who has conquered the people of Israel and sends Delilah to seduce and destroy Samson, who leads the rebellion against him.
  • Crapsack World: The 1949 film depicts the Land of Dan as this, as the Philistines oppress the Jewish people with a military dictatorship that abolishes most of their culture and makes them serve their conquerors hand and foot.
  • Crazy Jealous Girl: Delilah, whenever Miriam shows up
  • Foreshadowing: Twice in the film, Delilah says "If you crushed the life out of me, I'd kiss you with my dying breath." Guess how she dies.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Samson's first wife is named Semadar.
  • Never My Fault: In the 1949 film, Delilah blames Samson for the death of her sister and father...ignoring the fact that she set off most of the trouble by being a Manipulative Bitch and trying to get Samson for herself.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Here Delilah is the sister of Samson's first wife.
  • Young Future Famous People: Saul, the future king of Israel, shows up as Samson's Kid Sidekick. Odd considering he was from the tribe of Benjamin rather than Dan.

Alternative Title(s): Samson, Samson And Delilah