July 15, 2022

#08-224: Faust

Faust and Mephisto

Note: There is a long tradition in literature of people "selling their soul to the devil"; the most famous example is the German scholar Faust (or Faustus).

Get Ready: What would you trade for financial, romantic, or intellectual success?

Once there was a learned scholar named Faust (or Faustus). Bored with his life, he tried--and failed--to end it, then called on the Devil to give him greater knowledge and magic powers.

The Devil sent one of his minions, a demon named Mephistopheles, to make a deal with Faust: he would serve the scholar for a certain number of years, but when the term was up, his boss--the Devil--would claim Faust's soul to serve him for eternity.

Faust found many uses for Mephistopheles (sometimes called "Mephisto"): gaining knowledge, seducing women, gathering riches, and so on.

This is the basic folk legend, perhaps based on the life of a real German alchemist, astrologer, and "magician" (who of course made no such deal) named Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480-1540). The phrases "make a deal with the devil" and "Faustian bargain" come from this story. It has been told by many great writers, with different details and endings.

Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was the first to popularize the story in English as a play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus probably written in 1592 or 1593. In this version, Faustus signs a contract in his own blood, gaining 24 years of service, at which point Lucifer will claim his body and soul. He and the demon travel about Europe playing tricks on, among others, the Pope in Rome. In the end, the devils come for him.

Perhaps the greatest version is the play Faust (Part One, 1806; Part Two, 1832) by German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This more complex version of the story explores philosophy, psychology, history, and politics, as well as religion. Here, Faust and Mephistopheles (who first appears as a poodle) make a bet: If the demon helps Faust experience one moment of transcendence, Faust will die immediately and go straight to hell. In the end, the demon is only partially successful, and Faust goes to heaven.

German author Thomas Mann also wrote a modern version, Doctor Faustus, in 1947; and American author Stephen Vincent Benét's humorous 1937 version, "The Devil and Daniel Webster," is one of many popular adaptations of the story.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. alchemist
  2. astrologer
  3. bargain
  4. c (or c., or ca.)
  5. eternity
  6. minions
  7. poodle
  8. popularize
  9. seducing
  10. transcendence

  1. a person who tries to turn cheap metal into gold
  2. a type of dog
  3. make famous
  4. a condition above or outside of ordinary limits; bliss
  5. a person who tells the future from the stars
  6. forever
  7. a follower; a subordinate
  8. a deal; an agreement
  9. circa, meaning "about"
  10. tricking into having sex

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 15, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. e; 3. h; 4. i; 5. f; 6. g; 7. b; 8. c; 9. j; 10. d