Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Seven Braids of Samson" and Delilah

After reading "Epic and Historical Haircuts", a friend has reminded me about another Epic haircut - the one of "Seven Braids of Samson".

Samson and Delilah are biblical figures and there are many versions of their story. The major details remain the same but there are some minor deviations about some of the details, as is the case with most of the epic characters. The common strands of the story revolve around the Superhuman strength of Samson, also called as Shimshon or Shamshoun, Beauty of Delilah, Samson's infatuation or love for Delilah, Secret of Samson's strength and Delilah's betrayal.  

Samson is said to be son of Manoah, a chieftain of the tribe of Dan in the city of Zorah. Manoah's wife did not conceive for a long time and  an angel appeared before Manoah and his wife  and informed them that a son will be born to them by the will of God, who will be of great strength and will deliver Israel from the Philistines. Samson was born subsequently and he took a "Nazirite Vow", a vow comprising of not taking alcoholic beverage and  shave the head. He grew up to be a handsome young man and his strength was at  superhuman levels. He fought an Asiatic Lion with bare hands, simply grabbed it and ripped it apart! He also slayed an entire army using the jawbone of an ass. There are stories that he tied burning torches to the tails of 300 foxes and leaving the panicked beasts to burn the crops of his enemies.

He was engaged to a Philistine girl by name Semadar, from the valley of Sorek. At their engagement, Samson lost a bet with his wedding guests, mainly due to the role played by Semadar, and attacked thirty Philistines to strip them of their cloaks to pay his betting debt.  Enraged by this, the Philistines killed Semadar and her father by burning them alive. Samson became a hunted man and in his fury he begins fighting the Philistines. The Saran of Gaza  imposed heavy taxes on the Dannites, with the purpose of having Samson betrayed by his own people. Saran's plan works, and frustrated Dannites hand over Samson to the Philistines, much to the joy of Delilah, Semadar's sister. (Some sources opine that Delilah was not Semadar's sister). Samson was chained and taken by the high general Ahtur and a regiment of Philistine troops. On the way to Gaza, Ahtur decides to taunt Samson. Samson rips apart his chains and ropes and begins to fight the Philistines, toppling Ahtur's war chariot and using the jawbone of an ass to club the Philistine soldiers to death.

Unable to know the source of Samson's strength and how to defeat him, Arthur and his other companions approached Delilah to seduce Samson and gain his confidence. Each of them offer Delilah a certain sum of money to help them in a scheme to uncover the secret of Samson's great strength so that they can find a remedy and defeat him. Samson visits Delilah frequently and each time she asks him about the source of his strength. First time he tells her that he can be tied up with  fresh bow strings. She ties him when he is asleep, but he breaks the strings and frees himself once he is awake. Second time when asked he tells her that he can be tied up with new ropes. She ties him with new ropes when asleep only to find that he frees himself after waking up. Third time when the same question is asked, he tells her that he can be defeated if his seven braids are woven together. She does the same but it has no effect on him. Each time he becomes suspicious about her motives, she parries him with good humor. Using her powers of seduction and deception, the beautiful Delilah persistently wears down Samson with repeated requests. In a weak moment, when asked fourth time, he tells her that his strength is in his seven braids of hair. Some sources say she cut the seven braids of hair when he was sleeping in her lap. Some say that she took the help of a servant while some others say she took the help of co-conspirators. But his seven braids were cut when he was asleep, and once subdued he was overpowered and captured.

Instead of killing him, his captors blind him by gouging out his eyes and consign him to hard labour in a prison. He was tied to a  Mill and made to grind grain and beaten with lashes repeatedly. He suffered the humiliation and in due course his hair again grows. His captors bask in the glory of their triumph and do not pay any attention to this. Having become humble now, Samson prays to God to restore his strength and his prayers are answered. Delilah is also now repentant and actually falls in love with him, but she is helpless.

During a Pagan sacrificial ritual, his captors parade him in the streets along their other prisoners. Samson requests his guards to take him to the two main pillars of the temple. Once he reaches the pillars he frees himself from the chains with his now reacquired power and bracing against the two pillars brings down the entire temple, thus killing all those in the temple and himself. Some versions say that he shouted at Delilah to run away from the temple before bringing it down, but she was also killed. It is said that he killed more enemies when he brought down the temple than in all his combats with them put together.

Samson's mission was to deliver Israel from the Philistine Oppression. Analysts say he was a failure but still accomplished his task to a great extent. Even today peace has not returned to Gaza area and bloodshed continues. Samson's tale has a sad ending. He is considered as a Demi-God like Hercules and Enkidu. He was buried near the tomb of his father in Tel Tzora in Israel, overlooking the Sorek valley.

Samson and Delilah have caught the imagination of the mankind over the years. Many paintings by well known painters are available and a painting by Carl Henrich and Rembrandt are quite famous. There is a life size wooden sculpture of Samson, tearing the lion's jaws from which the water flows, in a monument in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. There is also a marble sculpture by Giambologna in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. It is nearly seven feet high showing two nude men in combat, and representing Samson slaying a Philistine with the jaw of an ass. Six films have been made in the 90 year period starting from 1922 to till now on "Samson and Delilah". Cecil B DeMille, arguably one of the greatest filmmakers of all times, and maker of such films like "Ten Commandments", "Cleopatra"and "The Greatest Show on Earth", has himself produced two movies on the same subject, in 1923 and 1949. It is said that the two versions differ in many details. I have seen only the 1949 version, with Victor Mature as Samson and Hedy Lamarr as Delilah. Cecil B DeMille was known for his talent for directing "Thousands of Extras" and his creation of "Parting of Red Sea" in "Ten Commandments" and "Toppling of the Pagan Temple" in "Samson and Delilah" are among the finest scenes ever created in a movie, all the more so considering that the filming was some sixty years ago, when the technology had not advanced so much and there were no computers.

"As you sow, so you reap", goes the proverb.  "He who lives by the Sword dies by the Sword", says the Bible. Samson's supernatural strength itself ultimately became his undoing. "The seven braids of hair of Samson" and the story of "Samson and Delilah" remind us of this repeatedly.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Murthy, another idea for you is Rapunzel.