Saturday, July 6, 2013

The legend of Dr. Faustus: Truth depends on who you ask.

Faust, etching, Rembrandt van Rijn

The figure of Faustus is both fact and fancy.

The legendary figure of Dr. Faust has fascinated philosophers, theologians, spectators and audience members for centuries.    

According to ancient lore Faust was a traveling fortune-teller and wizard.

A learned man, he may have taught in the universities of his era, ultimately living in Cologne.

Contemporary scholars depicted him as a charlatan, unscrupulous, yet hard evidence on his life is lacking; and they may just have been jealous.

Whispered stories of supernatural powers helped create the legend of Faust in his own lifetime, (1480?-1540?).

One tradition has it that Faust was a respected, prominent citizen living under the patronage and protection of the Archbishop of Cologne. Alchemy and magic were not that far removed from sorcery and witchcraft in the minds of the common people; any kind of knowledge was suspicious.

Doctor Faust may have been employed by the Archbishop to get a psychological edge on his enemies. The Renaissance was in full swing thanks to Gutenberg’s printing press.

This helped to spread revolutionary new ideas, yet it was also a time of great ignorance and superstition.

One widely held folk belief at the time was the notion that the Jews, in league with Satan, had conspired to crucify Jesus. It coloured public opinion.

Faust the man may have been a victim of anti-Semitism, or who knows, he may have been a genuinely rotten fellow. It is possible he was Jewish, yet it is a known fact that both Martin Luther and Melancthon believed him to be in cahoots with the Devil.

The “Historia von Dr. Johann Fasuten,” (1787) was published in Frankfurt. In this compilation of tales, Faust makes a deal with Mephistopheles, who grants him magic, knowledge and power, but only for twenty-four years. After which, his soul belongs to the devil…Eventually Faust repents having “bartered his soul for illusory knowledge and pleasure.” Well, we all have to grow up some time, eh?

This collection of legend and fact appeared in English verse in 1587 and German verse in 1588, and was released in French and English prose versions in 1592.

Playwright Phillip Marlowe produced a “Tragedy of Dr. Faustus” in 1589. But it is the great poetic drama ”Faust” (written and re-written between 1808 and 1832) by J.W. von Goethe, which is the best known to the world. In his version Faust is not damned, because he genuinely desires to expand the boundaries of knowledge.

Possibly von Goethe thought a person could play poker with the Devil – and win.

Goethe’s story became the definitive version; later writers did not tamper with his outcome. Other classic works include the dramatic epic “Faust” (1835) by Nicholaus Lenau; Heinrich Heini’s ballad of the same title appearing in 1851 and “Doktor Faustus” (1948) by Thomas Mann.

The average person on the street might tend to identify Faust as “The man who sold his soul to the Devil.”

Thomas Mann. Portrait by Carl van Vechten
They say history is a generally agreed upon thing. That really depends who you ask.


Author's Note: my short sexual memoir 'The Note' is now free on Smashwords. here is my profile, below that is the link for the book. Use coupon code SSW75 on checkout. Offer ends July 31/13.

Readers are always welcome to click like, share or repost pages and posts.

Reviews are especially appreciated, they're quick and easy to do and provide a valuable service to readers and authors alike.

> Ian


No comments:

Post a Comment