||Joseph Massel was born in Russia in 1850 and emigrated to Manchester in 1895 where he worked as a printer. He was very much a pioneer in the promotion of Hebrew as the national language, publishing works by Israel Cohen and Harry Sacher among others. Along with his propaganda activities he wrote Hebrew poems and translated English classics into Hebrew, including Milton’s Samon Agonistes, Longfellow’s Judas Maccabaeus and Fitzgerald’s Omar Khayyam. He also spent two years preparing a unique collection of 94 portraits called a Gallery of Hebrew Poets; 1725–1903. Massel was very much an Anglophile, and wrote a poem for Queen Victoria and an ‘Ode on the Coronation of King Edward VII’ (1902) which, the title page informs us, was "Composed in Hebrew and Translated into Jargon by Joseph Massel."
By the time Weizmann arrived in 1904, Massel was living in a small street of the lower end of Cheetham Hill Road, across from Red Bank and not far from the Central Synagogue. Very much part of Manchester’s Zionist community, he had been a vice-president of the Manchester Zionist Association (MZA) when Dreyfus had amalgamated the various societies in 1902, and by this stage become president of the MZA himself. Massel had attended the First Zionist Congress (Basle, 1897) and had probably met Weizmann at the Second Zionist Congress (Basle, 1898). Showing hospitality that Weizmann never forgot, he collected him from the train station, put him up for the night and helped find accommodation for him the next day. Over the following years, it was the Massel household where Weizmann felt most comfortable, and he tended to visit them on Saturdays and also the Jewish holidays.
Samson Agonistes (Greek: "Samson the agonist") is a tragic closet drama by John Milton (1608-1674). It appeared with the publication of Milton's Paradise Regain'd in 1671, as the title page of that volume states: "Paradise Regained / A Poem / In IV Books / To Which Is Added / Samson Agonistes". It is generally thought that Samson Agonistes was begun around the same time as Paradise Regained but was completed after the larger work, possibly very close to the date of publishing, but there is no agreement on this.
Samson Agonistes draws on the story of Samson from the Old Testament, Judges 13-16; in fact it is a dramatization of the story starting at Judges 16:23. The drama starts in medias res. Samson has been captured by the philistines, had his hair, the container of his strength, cut off and his eyes cut out. Samson is "Blind among enemies, O worse than chains" .
As blindness overtook Milton, it becomes a major trope in Samson Agonistes, and is seen also in Paradise Lost (3.22-55) and his 16th Sonnet. Many scholars have written about the impact of Milton's increasing blindness on his works. This recurrence of blindness came after Milton temporarily gave up his poetry to work for Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth government. He continued this service even though his eyesight was failing and he knew that he was hastening his own blindness. The correlation is significant to the Agonistes plot: Milton describes Samson as being "Eyeless in Gaza", a phrase that has become the most quoted line of Agonistes. Novelist Aldous Huxley used it as the title for his 1936 novel Eyeless in Gaza.
Samson's blindness, however, is no way a direct analogy to Milton's. Rather, Samson's blindness plays various symbolic roles. One is the correlation between Samson's inner blindness as well as outer, the fact that he believes his "intimate impulses" to be divine messages, yet is never in any way divinely affirmed in this, unlike the rest of Milton's divinely influenced characters. Samson's inability to see that his inner vision does not correlate to divine vision is manifest in his physical blindness. It also plays on his blindness to reason, leading him to act overhastily, plus the fact that he is so easily deceived by Delila, "blinded" by her feminine wiles.
It is interesting to note that some of the chorus's lines in Samson Antagonistes are rhymed, thus suggesting a return of the "chain of rhymes", which itself reflects upon Samson's imprisonment.