I noticed in Will Quadflieg's interpretation of Goethe's Faust that Faust seems to be relatively calm during his first encounter with Mephistopheles.

I get that in the original text, Faust mentions in the first scene that he turned to studying the mystical while seeking knowledge:

Drum hab ich mich der Magie ergeben, Ob mir durch Geistes Kraft und Mund Nicht manch Geheimnis würde kund;

Faust is even somewhat prepared for this encounter given that he is able to recite a whole spell:

Verschwind in Flammen,
Rauschend fließe zusammen,
Leucht in Meteoren –Schöne,
Bring häusliche Hülfe,
Incubus! Incubus!
Tritt hervor und mache den Schluß!

But I don't think that this justifies Will Quadflieg's interpretation of Faust, who is witnessing a poodle transforming. Will Quadflieg's Faust seems to be more annoyed than actually terrified.

Is there any evidence in the text that this isn't Faust's first encounter with the otherwordly? That would somewhat justify that interpretation in my opinion.

  • 3
    In the first scene, he also rather casually conjures the "Erdgeist" ("Er... spricht das Zeichen des Geistes geheimnisvoll aus ... der Geist erscheint in der Flamme"), and after being briefly afraid asserts that they are equals ("Soll ich dir, Flammenbildung, weichen? Ich bin's, bin Faust, bin deinesgleichen!"). Do you think that spirit is somehow a mirage, or why doesn't that already answer the question? Dec 25, 2023 at 12:00
  • Thanks @EikePierstorff, this fully answers my question. Feel free to post it as an answer I can accept. Dec 25, 2023 at 15:59

1 Answer 1


Faust is an experienced practitioner. "Drum hab ich mich der Magie ergeben" suggests an ongoing activity, and it would be a bit odd if his first successful spell was one that forced the devil to reveal himself (although it probably helped that the devil wanted to be revealed, so that he is able to tempt Faust).

Already in the first scene, before meeting Mephisto, he conjures up the "Erdgeist", the manifestation of nature itself, and that does not take him any effort at all - there are not spells or rituals, he just "mysteriously speaks" the name of the spirit and there it is.

More than his skills, this also shows the extent of Faust's hubris. After a short moment of terror ("Schreckliches Gesicht ... weh ich ertrag dich nicht!" he asserts himself as an equal (to, as mentioned above, the power of nature itself) and is promptly rebuffed ("Du gleichst dem Geist den du begreifst, nicht mir"). So now he is an ambitious man with something to prove (to wit, that he does not easily give up on deciphering nature's secrets).

The reason he is not particularly afraid of Mephisto is that meeting a powerful demon is something he wants and expects. And he thinks he is well prepared to stand up to the devil, if need be - not only has he a spell prepared, but again his spell draws up the power of nature's elemental forces (Salamander for fire, Undene (Undine) is a water spirit, sylphs as spirits of the air and I have to assume that the incubus stands in for earth, even if that is not the typical meaning), again probably something that would not work on the first attempt (I am not a wizard myself, but it does sound pretty advanced).

Faust not being afraid is in fact more or less the point (although he is wavering in his resolve after this rebuttal) - a frightened man would be much harder to lure into a deal for his soul than an overconfident one, so Mephisto goes to a lot of trouble to bolster Faust's self-confidence by being subservient, until he isn't.

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