Tuesday, March 17, 2015

F a u s t -- a summary



Faust

The Deal with Mephistopheles

Faust curses his books and his papers and wishes he could get out. He is a university teacher. He  considers suicide but is held back by childhood memories.

A few weeks later, around Easter, he goes out for a walk. A black poodle follows him home. The black poodle turns out to be Mephistopheles -- Faust's own Greek version of the devil.

Mephistopheles is a most entertaining elderly cynic dressed up as a gentleman who has come to offer Faust a deal: "I will show you the wonders of the world, and in return, when you die, I will intercept your soul when it leaves your body."

Faust accepts.













Homer says he would sell his soul for a donut and the devil appears to close the deal.

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Traveling with Mephistopheles

They travel and end up at a beer cellar where Mephistopheles produces free wine for everybody by drilling holes in their table.  Faust tells Mephistopheles that he did not sell his soul for that kind of show.

So Mephistopheles has to work hard to help him seduce a teenage girl called Gretchen who gets pregnant and in despair drowns her baby. She faces the death penalty.  Mephistopheles comments: "She is damned". From Heaven comes an answer: "She is saved".

That is where the first part ends. It is easy and great reading........ but only in German
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Faust II

Even Goethe said he knew it was too difficult for most readers, because it is full of Greek mythology and German witchcraft, but I did read its most famous passages:
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The Flood of Paper Money

Mephistopheles becomes the court jester of a bankrupt Emperor.

Overnight he prints a ton of paper money.  In the morning, the Emperor and all his subjects celelebrate their new wealth.
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Angels to Seduce Mephistopheles

Faust is dying, and Gretchen, from Heaven, sends angels to Faust's deathbed.

Mephistopheles, too, arrives to try and catch Faust's soul according to their agreement, and  he lets it escape because he gets dazzled by the splendour and beauty of the angels.

It is a good example of Goethe's paganism, the way he turns the Christian view of death into a joke.
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Text samples
Faust in his study room

Goethe's introduction to Faust is based on the beginning of The Book of Job where God and Satan bet on the soul of a man.


Below is part of the beginning of  Faust I with my own prose translations.





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And here is the same text versified and  freely available at Project Gutenberg where the name of the translator is not given. It must be an old translation, and I don't think it is readable:

















http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/3023/pg3023.html
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