Faust
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Beelzebub, Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, the Prince of Darkness .
. . The Devil has many names in the Western tradition.  And he has
played even more roles.  He has been the tempter of the Garden of
Eden, the frozen presence in the depth's of Dante's Inferno, and
the epic warrior of Paradise Lost.  He claims the soul of Don
Giovanni, prevents the Yankees from winning the World Series, and
even teaches Robert Johnson how to play the blues.  But the most
distinctly modern Devil comes from the pen of Goethe, who
describes the Faustian bargain that still haunts the modern
imagination.   

Goethe's career spanned the ages of Enlightenment and
Romanticism, and the era and environment in which he lived was
permeated with unprecedented confidence in the powers of human
self-actualization, in the potential for the individual life to shine with
the brilliance of its own self-made luster.  Goethe probed the dark
side of this development in his protagonist Heinrich Faust.  Faust is
a scholar with a pure-minded love of learning for its own sake, the
essence of the humanist endeavor at its highest pitch.  His
aspiration is nothing less than to encompass the full range of
knowledge.  But his ceaseless studies eventually inspire him with a
bitterness at the vanity of scientific, literary and philosophical
learning, and in an almost suicidal passion he turns to the
teachings of magicians and necromancers.  In this hyper-charged
setting, the Devil appears (transformed from a stray dog who has
followed the scholar home) and offers to grant Faust all he desires
here on earth if he will agree to serve him afterwards in Hell.   

This basic framework for the plot, so similar to the magical wagers
known to us from fairy tales and mythical accounts, could hardly be
simpler.  But Goethe builds on its large superstructures of meaning
-- psychological, historical, sociological -- and poetry.   Goethe's
magnifying glass scrutinizes the aspects of his characters that are
most essentially modern, and as such this work has hardly lost its
power and relevance with the passing centuries.