Character in a story treated by both Christopher Marlowe and Goethe. Sells his soul to the devil in return for magical powers. The story is both a tragedy (Faustus is dragged off to Hell at the end) and a love story (Faustus does, truly, fall in love with Helen of Troy).

The story and elements of it permeate much of Western literature, with ideas of selling your soul to get something, of making a deal with the devil, and of the Faustian Bargain.

Comic references to Faustus include Eric by Terry Pratchett and Faust Among Equals by Tom Holt.

Perhaps the most famous alchemist, nigromancer, and death-bed penitent in history. It is doubtful that any such person or model ever existed; already in 1624, Wilhelm Schickard in his commentary on the Pentateuch states: "But nor do examples fail us Germans. Indeed, among these perhaps the most famous, believed sometimes even by sensible men, is the legend of a certain, fictitious Doctor Faustus, which the more sane among us recognise to be nothing more than an invention made to warn the superstitious rabble away from folk-tales and the black arts".

The earliest recorded version of the story, written in Middle High German, was printed in 1587, 5 years before Christopher Marlowe's play appeared, though it must have existed still earlier. The manuscripts are titled: "The history of Doctor Johann Faustus, sorcerer and nigromancer, how he committed himself on an occasion to the devil, what sort of strange adventure he experienced, caused and created, until he gained his just rewards."

Johann Faustus was born to a poor farmer, but grew up with his wealthy cousin, who sent him to study theology. Faustus' thirst for knowledge and natural aptitude for academia soon earned him his magister, and then his doctor; still unsatisfied, he pursued the more arcane arts, including necromancy, which led to his pact with Mephistopheles.

The first 2 parts of the work treat Doctor' Faustus arguments with the devil, disputations over various bits of knowledge. The third relates his visits across the world and through time; to the court of Charles V, summoning Helen of Troy to a dinner with his students (she quickly disappears again, and the story hints at very little of the love story later writers were to make of it), and countless others.

I would like to translate his untimely end. Knowing he is about to die, he calls his students to him:

My dear friends, gentlemen, I've called you together to tell you what sort of man I am, instructed in many arts and magics, which have no other source than the devil himself, to whom nothing if not my own fault and desires have brought me, my wretched flesh and blood, my godless will, and devilish thoughts, so that I made a pact to hand over my body and soul at the end of 24 years. That time will come as soon as this night is over; I see the sand runs out, and he will soon come to take me...This is why I called you here, gentlemen, so I could before I die raise a glass one more time in farewell. I beg you, brothers, to remember me kindly, and forgive my offenses against you, for which I am truly sorry. What I have done these past 24 years, you will find I have duly recorded, and let my awful end be a warning to you all, to keep God in your thoughts, that he shield you from the devil's treachery and deceit, lead you not into temptation; I beg you never to fall from his grace, as I, a damned and godless man who denounced his baptism, the eucharist, God himself, the Heavenly Hosts, and mankind, have done...(more of the same, and the students' sorrowful response)

While Doctor Faustus remained in the room, the students left and went to their own beds, though not a single one could sleep. It happened somewhere between 12:00 and 1:00; a great wind began to strike so that the whole house shook as if the very foundations would collapse. The students leapt from their beds, comforting each other, afraid to leave the room...from where Doctor Faustus was sleeping, they heard a harsh chattering and hissing, as if the house were filled with snakes and asps and all sorts of poisonous worms. The door to Faustus' chamber shuddered open, and from within they could hear his ghastly screams for help, though growing ever more faint and distant; soon, it stopped, and all was quiet again.

The students stayed awake the rest of the night, and only when day finally broke dared to enter the chamber. Doctor Faustus was gone; the room was covered in blood, the remains of his skull dripping from the walls, as the devil had battered him across the room. His eyes and teeth also were left behind, a gruesome sight. The students began to weep for him, and searching finally found the rest of his body outside on a dung-heap, his head and all his limbs mangled.

Well, thus ends the first and earliest recorded history of Doctor Johann Faustus, a tale of which even H.P. Lovecraft could be proud.

An important point to note is that the ending of Faust changes depending on the author.

Sometimes he is dragged to hell. The original and Marlowe's play have this ending.

And Goethe lets him obtain salvation, with angels snatching Faust away from Mephistopheles at the last moment.

Different times, different ideas, I suppose.

Also, a novel by Thomas Mann. The complete title is Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn erzählt von einem Freunde that translates to Doctor Faustus; the life of the German composer, Adrian Leverkúhn, as told by a friend. It was published in 1947, while Mann was living in Switzerland, and it was translated to English the following year..
This long book traces the life of Adrian Leverkühn, as told by his friend Serenus Zeitblom. The book starts in idyllic, rural childhood; the scene of the action shifts to the University and eventually to the rural seclusion that Adrian chooses for composing. From the very beginning it is clear that Adrian is different; self-sufficient and ironic, the child expresses an interest in music, but it is not obvious from the beginning that he will dedicate his life to composition.

Midway through the book there is an Italian interlude; it is during this visit to the sunny South that Adrian forges his Faustus' Contract with the devil.
The event is related, in a break with the form of the rest of the book, as an included manuscript by Adrian himself. Briefly, the devil will give 24 years of genius to the composer, in exchange for Adrian's soul and body.
Additionally, Adrian is not permitted to love anyone: his two attempts fail miserably, the first one when Marie Godeau is seduced by Rudolf Schwerdtfeger, Adrian's friend, and the second one when little Nepomuk dies.
It is interesting to notice that the supernatural nature of Adrian's pact remains in doubt; the devil himself admits that he operates through the cerebral infection of syphilis. The whole pact could be an hallucination, and its consequences the normal random adversities of life.

Adrian (a figure that owes much to the composers Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler) after the diabolic pact becomes subject to terrifying migraine episodes; his creativity comes in bursts, and his works (despite being the product of genius) are scarcely performed and receive mixed reactions.
Close to the end of the book the wonderful child Nepomuk, Adrian's nephew, comes to live with Adrian and subsequently dies of meningitis (again, the brain theme). Nepomuk's death inspires Adrian to write his last work, the Lamentations of Doctor Faustus.
Adrian, after a short time, suffers something that looks like a stroke followed by a progressive degeneration of his higher faculties. The once-brillian composer is reduced to a mindless invalid.

This is just the briefest sketch of a long book in which many other characters act and debate.
The life of Adrian and his pact with the devil is paralleled by Germany's ascension to power and victory through Nazism.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.