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(fô`stəs, fou`–), or

Johann Faust

(yō`hän), fl. 16th cent., learned German doctor who traveled widely, performed magical feats, and died under mysterious circumstances. According to legend he had sold his soul to the devil (personified by Mephistopheles in many literary versions) in exchange for youth, knowledge, and magical power.

Innumerable folk tales and invented stories were attached to his name. The first printed version is the Volksbuch (1587) of Johann Spiess, which, in English translation, was the basis of Christopher Marlowe's play Dr. Faustus (c.1588). Many versions followed, ranging from popular buffoonery to highly developed art forms. Spiess and Marlowe represent Faust as a scoundrel justly punished with eternal damnation, but Lessing instead saw in him the symbol of man's heroic striving for knowledge and power and therefore as worthy of praise and salvation.

Lessing's view of Faust as seeker was continued by GoetheGoethe, Johann Wolfgang von
, 1749–1832, German poet, dramatist, novelist, and scientist, b. Frankfurt. One of the great masters of world literature, his genius embraced most fields of human endeavor; his art and thought are epitomized in his great dramatic poem Faust.
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 in one of the greatest dramatic poems ever written. He enlarged upon the old legend, adding the element of love and the saving power of woman and giving the story a philosophical treatment. Goethe first came to grips with the theme in 1774 (in what is called the Urfaust). The first part of Faust appeared in 1808; it is more suitable for the theater than the more profound and philosophic second part (1833).

The many subsequent Faust novels and dramas, among them those of Klinger, Chamisso, Grabbe, and Lenau, could not rival the power and fame of Goethe's work. A recent variant of the Faust legend is Thomas Mann's novel Doktor Faustus (1947, tr. 1948). Goethe's Faust inspired innumerable composers of operas, oratorios, stage music, and symphonic works, including Berlioz, Gounod, Schumann, Liszt, and Boito. Spohr's and Busoni's Faust operas are based on other literary models.


See H. G. Meek, Johann Faust (1930); P. M. Palmer and R. P. More, Sources of the Faust Tradition (1936).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Faustus), the scholar hero of a German legend, originating during the Reformation, who made a pact with the devil to gain knowledge, wealth, and the experience of worldly pleasures. The legend of Faust, a historical figure of whom contemporary evidence survives, became inextricably entwined with traditional tales of magi, wandering scholars, and charlatans, incorporating elements of the fantastic from Christian hagiography and medieval demonology.

The first literary presentation of the Faust legend appeared in 1587, when J. Spiess published the Story of Doctor Johann Faustus, Famous Sorcerer and Practitioner of Black Magic. Thereafter, Faust became the hero of German Volksbücher (or Faust-books), a drama by C. Marlowe, puppet plays, and pantomimes. In the second half of the 18th century, several leading German literary figures revived interest in the Faust legend, among them G. E. Lessing, who interpreted it in accordance with the convictions of the Enlightenment. Faust, Lessing believed, had to be saved, because the search for truth to which he dedicated himself could never become the province of Satan. During the Sturm und Drang period, such poets as J. M. R. Lenz and F. M. von Klinger found a congenial theme in Faust. J. W. von Goethe, in his drama Faust (part 1, 1808; part 2, 1832), suggested that man can achieve success in his quest for an understanding of human existence only through faith in the power of reason and in his ability to change the world.

The romantic poets of the early 19th century, for example, A. von Chamisso and N. Lenau, also turned to the Faust legend. In their treatment, however, they generally introduced Byronic motifs, stressing those elements in Faust that suggested the discontented wanderer suffering from Weltschmerz. In recent times the most significant work on the Faust theme has been T. Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus (1947), which juxtaposed Faust’s tragic fate with the fate of the novel’s hero and, more broadly, that of all Germany.

The personality of Faust inspired many Russian writers, including A. S. Pushkin, V. F. Odoevskii, and I. S. Turgenev. During the crisis of bourgeois culture, the Faust legend was given an irrationalistic interpretation in the works of K. D. Bal’mont, V. Ivanov, and S. Solov’ev, among others. The progressive trend in creative adaptations of the legend was continued in works by A. V. Lunacharskii and M. Gorky.

The mythological nature of the Faust story permitted its treatment outside literature. It became the theme of operas by C. Gounod, I. Walter, and F. Busoni and symphonic compositions by R. Wagner, F. Liszt, and G. Mahler. Artists, such as E. Delacroix, M. A. Vrubel’, and M. Beckmann, illustrated the Faust legend and its literary interpretations.


Legenda o doktore Fauste. Edition prepared by V. M. Zhirmunskii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Golik, I. “Bessmertie narodnoi legendy.” Voprosy literatury, 1962, no. 11.
Henning, H. Faust-Bibliographie, vols. 1–2. Berlin-Weimar, 1966–70.
Schroder, R. Gorkis Erneuerung der Fausttradition. Berlin, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(Dr. Faustus) sells his soul to the devil in order to comprehend all experience. [Ger. Lit.: Goethe Faust; Br. Drama: Marlowe Doctor Faustus]
See: Devil


rejuvenated by Mephistopheles at the price of his soul. [Ger. Lit.: Goethe Faust]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The Faust legends, Goethe's recreation of the folklore, and then Barbier's masterful libretto from Goethe have provided such a story.
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In providing the first scholarly edition of the English Faust Book (EFB), John Henry Jones has performed a major service to students of the Faust legend in English literature.
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Beaumont discusses his work on the score of Faust in a very interesting section of the E.N.O.'s program for the opera, which also includes studies on the Faust legend, on the possible analogies between Faust and Edward Teller (an interesting, if curiously ambiguous notion) and on the late Erich Heller's animadversions upon Mann, Busoni, Goethe and others.
Goethe was first attracted to the Faust legend by the Faustbuch and a Faust puppet - show he saw in his youth.
As William Bysshe Stein demonstrates in his study Hawthorne's Faust: A Study of the Devil Archetype (1968), there can be no doubt that Nathaniel Hawthorne was well acquainted with the Faust legend quite early in his literary career through leading literary journals in which Goethe's Faust was frequently discussed, through popular magazines, through his interest in alchemy (see Woodward), through his contact with the Transcendentalists, and through his close contact with such admirers of Goethe as Longfellow, George Hillard, and Margaret Fuller.
The Faust legend is something of a retelling of the Biblical myth of the Garden of Eden as it appears in Genesis 2-3.
Saturday, November 6, Top Banana, a comedy by David Napthine, bringing a fresh slant to the Faust legend is at 7.30pm at Buddle Arts Centre Station Road.