Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Faustian Century

The Faustian Century: German Literature and Culture in the Age of Luther and Faustus

J. M. van der Laan
Andrew Weeks
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 416
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Faustian Century
    Book Description:

    The Reformation and Renaissance, though segregated into distinct disciplines today, interacted and clashed intimately in Faust, the great figure that attained European prominence in the anonymous 1587 'Historia von D. Johann Fausten'. The original Faust behind Goethe's great drama embodies a remote culture. In his century, Faust evolved from an obscure cipher to a universal symbol. The age explored here as "the Faustian century" invested the 'Faustbuch' and its theme with a symbolic significance still of exceptional relevance today. The new essays in this volume complement one another, providing insights into the tensions and forces that gave the century its distinct character. Several essays seek Faust's prototypes. Others elaborate the symbolic function of his figure and discern the resonance of his tale in conflicting allegiances. This volume focuses on the intersection of historical accounts and literary imaginings, on shared aspects of the work and its times, on concerns with obedience and transgression, obsessions with the devil and curiosity about magic, and quandaries created by shifting religious and worldly authorities. Contributors: Marguerite de Huszar Allen, Kresten Thue Andersen, Frank Baron, Günther Bonheim, Albrecht Classen, Urs Leo Gantenbein, Karl S. Guthke, Michael Keefer, Paul Ernst Meyer, J. M. van der Laan, Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly, Andrew Weeks. J. M. van der Laan is Professor of German and Andrew Weeks is Professor of German and Comparative Literature, both at Illinois State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-843-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. Introduction: Faust Scholarship and the Project at Hand
    (pp. 1-15)
    J. M. van der Laan

    This volume investigates and illumines the German sixteenth century—the age of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Faust. Bringing old and new research together, this book structures its study of that era around the figure of Faust. The stories about him address a number of definitive issues for his century, in particular, the intersection of Renaissance humanism and Reformation theology, the practice of magic and diabolism, the interplay of fact and fantasy, the juxtaposition of good and evil (or of the spirit and the world), and the submission to or transgression of the moral code. What is more, Faust forms a...

  6. 1: The German Faustian Century
    (pp. 17-41)
    Andrew Weeks

    The sixteenth-century Faust phenomenon is a monument without an inscription. Few doubt the historical importance of the anonymous 1587 Historia von D. Johann Fausten, but how the story relates to the time of its origins is not self-evident. Does Faustus signify the rebellion of the new sciences against religious authority or the rejection of Renaissance humanism, the obscurantism of the Reformation or the latent nihilism of the dawning modern age?

    As noted in the introduction, this volume aims to illuminate the Faust phenomenon by focusing on what the work shares with its age: the obsession with the devil and curiosity...

  7. 2: Faustus of the Sixteenth Century: His Life, Legend, and Myth
    (pp. 43-65)
    Frank Baron

    Only a few reliable sources corroborate the identity of the historical Faustus, the person behind the legend. Faustus was an astrologer, but he also gained a reputation for dabbling in magic. Renaissance magic seemed to be a magnet, which possessed an extraordinary power to draw into its orbit a whole range of associations. Many feared magic as a dangerous adventure of curiosity into the realm of the devil. Faustus’s bold claims in these areas made him sensational, provocative, and, in his lifetime, admired at certain times, condemned at others. The condemnation of Faustian curiosity in combination with the devil pact,...

  8. 3: Cornelius Agrippa’s Double Presence in the Faustian Century
    (pp. 67-91)
    Michael Keefer

    The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris is not merely a great library and one of the mid-nineteenth century’s architectural triumphs; it is also, like the Panthéon, which it overlooks from the north side of the Place du Panthéon, a structure visibly devoted to commemorating the illustrious dead. That commemoration, however, contains one notable error that offers a point of entry into this chapter’s subject, which is the peculiarly redoubled participation of the early sixteenth-century humanist, occult philosopher, skeptic, satirist, and protofeminist Cornelius Agrippa—or Henricus Cornelius Agrippa ab Nettesheym, to give his full Latin name—in what we are calling in...

  9. 4: Converging Magical Legends: Faustus, Paracelsus, and Trithemius
    (pp. 93-123)
    Urs Leo Gantenbein

    As early as 1834, two years after Goethe’s death, the apparent resemblance of his Faust figure with Paracelsus led John S. Blackie, in the preface to his rendition of Goethe’s tragedy into English verse, to the following statement: “There is much in all that is told of him [Faust] that recalls to our mind the biography of Paracelsus.”¹ By the end of the nineteenth century, this assumption acquired a degree of certainty for Goethe scholars. In 1870, Gustav von Loeper² remarked that Goethe’s Faust is a physician and a physician’s son, as is Paracelsus. Both figures detested the medicine of...

  10. 5: Faust from Cipher to Sign and Pious to Profane
    (pp. 125-147)
    J. M. van der Laan

    For many reasons, we can consider the sixteenth century a Faustian age. One way to define the era in Faustian terms, and probably the most obvious, involves a particular individual, part fact perhaps, but almost entirely fiction, who emerges full blown in the sixteenth century and has been with us ever since as a dynamic figure laden with meaning. That person or character is Faust himself, who embodies the zeitgeist or spirit of the age. If we survey the century, we find that Faust receives more and more attention as the years go by and transforms from a cipher, from...

  11. 6: The Aesthetics of the 1587 Spies Historia von D. Johann Fausten
    (pp. 149-175)
    Marguerite de Huszar Allen

    A chapter analyzing the aesthetics of the 1587 Spies Historia von D. Johann Fausten may strike many as an oxymoron. We need only a brief review of previous assessments to suggest such a conclusion. Let Wilhelm Scherer’s devastating critique from 1884 of the anonymous author’s literary skills represent a point of view that still has subscribers up to the present day. Scherer begins, “Wie schlecht erzählt er! Wie schlecht hat er seinen Stoff disponirt. Wie wenig Übersicht und Klarheit besitzt er!” (How badly he tells a story. How badly he arranges the material. How little oversight and clarity he possesses).¹...

  12. 7: The Lutheran Faust: Repentance in the Augsburg Confession and the German Faustbuch
    (pp. 177-195)
    Kresten Thue Andersen

    Near the beginning of the sixteenth century, Martin Luther found new meaning in the Pauline expression justification by faith through the hermeneutic concept sola scriptura. Luther’s theological discovery inspired others to articulate and invoke fundamental religious, political, and cultural changes within the European societies. At the same time, the Protestant Reformation gave rise to a tension between a religious and a humanistic outlook. Many solutions put forward to overcome this tension were informed by fear or fascination and appear to us as reactionary or progressive. Such figures as Paracelsus, Erasmus, Trithemius occupied a place between the strict confines of religion...

  13. 8: Marriage in the Historia von D. Johann Fausten (1587)
    (pp. 197-213)
    Paul Ernst Meyer

    The Historia von D. Johann Fausten marks the beginning of a widely received rendition of the Faust legend. Although written anonymously, the Faust book is generally presumed to have been created by a sophisticated proponent of the Lutheran cause during the mid-sixteenth century.¹ At first examination, its components often seem irreconcilably diverse: sophisticated theology, bawdy sexual exploits, provincial religiosity, crude pranks, and extensive excerpts from contemporary reference sources all appear in the text. Yet, within this varied environment, there are observable consistencies. This chapter focuses on the closely related themes of marriage and sexuality within the Faust book and the...

  14. 9: Antiauthoritarianism and the Problem of Knowledge in the Faustbuch
    (pp. 215-239)
    Andrew Weeks

    When we look back in history, our perception of differences is foreshortened in time the way our perception of the horizon reduces distinctions in space. A millennium of the ancient world boils down to antiquity. The centuries from 800 to 1500 can be amalgamated into medievalism. Early modern periods are spoken of as homogeneous ages. Not only are ages and centuries homogenized, movements such as the Reformation or the Renaissance acquire a monolithic aspect. The equalizing resolution of phenomena distances them from one another by eliminating nuances and ambiguities. An example of such leveling is our perception of the 1587...

  15. 10: Exploring the “Three-Fold World”: Faust as Alchemist, Astrologer, and Magician
    (pp. 241-255)
    Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly

    The title page of the original edition of the Historia von D. Johann Fausten¹ prepares the reader for a straightforward black-and-white “damnation narrative,” the inverse of the salvation narrative of the saint’s vita so well established in contemporary Catholic piety.² It emphasizes that this is a tale about a man who, entirely through his own fault, comes to a bad end and that it should serve as an awful warning to all “hochtragenden fürwitzigen und Gottlosen Menschen” (arrogant, inappropriately curious, and godless people). The title page even quotes, surprisingly for a Lutheran work, the Epistle of St. James (4:7): “submit...

  16. 11: The Devil in the Early Modern World and in Sixteenth-Century German Devil Literature
    (pp. 257-283)
    Albrecht Classen

    While God has certainly been one of the most important subjects of Western literature, the devil matches that popularity in a Manichaean-like symmetry. Indeed, the good and evil they incorporate are among the fundamental issues of literature. A detailed probing of the ways individual writers in any particular period reflected those polar opposites would be an inexhaustible undertaking. Nevertheless, we can observe a remarkable increase in the interest in, fascination with, and fear of the devil during the late Middle Ages and the early modern period. The increase is parallel to the growth of widespread superstition.¹ In fact, the curious...

  17. 12: Encounters with “Schwarz-Hans”: Jacob Böhme and the Literature of the Devil in the Sixteenth Century
    (pp. 285-303)
    Günther Bonheim

    A number of conversations with the devil have come down to us in German literature. The best known in the twentieth century is surely the one familiar from Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, where it takes the form of a protocol from memory found in the posthumous notes of the fictional composer Adrian Leverkühn, transcribed faithfully for the reader by Leverkühn’s fictional biographer Serenus Zeitblom. It is a dialog in which a “frightfully different sort” of respondent guides the discussion ([ein] entsetzlich anderer . . . vornehmlich das Wort [führt]).¹ The respondent is the devil, an exceedingly eloquent gentleman who converses...

  18. 13: D. Johann Faust and the Cannibals: Geographic Horizons in the Sixteenth Century
    (pp. 305-336)
    Karl S. Guthke

    “In Goethe’s Faust, the “merry companions” have barely tasted the wine Mephisto has conjured up in Auerbach’s Cellar when they break into the otherwise unknown ditty

    Uns ist ganz kannibalisch wohl, Als wie fünfhundert Säuen!”

    [We feel cannibalistically good, Just like five-hundred sows!]¹

    How does something having to do with cannibals find its way to Leipzig? Or: why does Faust bump into cannibals on his trip through the “small world,” even if only in the lyrics of a song that is immediately dismissed with his “Ich hätte Lust, nun abzufahren” (I’d like to leave now, 2296)? Cannibals are, after all,...

  19. A Sixteenth-Century Chronology of Significant References to Faust with Parallel World Events
    (pp. 337-360)
  20. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 361-380)
  21. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 381-382)
  22. Index
    (pp. 383-400)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 401-401)