(Screenshot from Youtube)

By Lucy Acebes | The BL

“La Damnation de Faust” is a renowned opera by Hector Berlioz, one of the most influential European composers of the 19th-century. The main protagonist is Faust, a familiar figure in German folklore based on the historical figure Johann Georg Faust who lived across the 15th and 16th centuries.

Johann Georg Faust. (Public domain)

Johann Georg Faust was said to be an alchemist, astrologer, and magician who lived during the Renaissance period in Germany.

He was an aging scholar, but at the end of his life, he fell out of love with his previously devoted scholastic endeavors in the accumulation of human knowledge. He is said to have made a contract with the devil, selling his soul to enjoy and partake in reckless earthly pleasures. The one who lured Faust away from his scholarly endeavors was said to be Méphistophélès, a malevolent devil.

The story of Faust has served as inspiration for numerous literary, artistic, cinematographic and musical works throughout the ages. Even the mere term ‘Faust’ has been used to refer to ambitious people who are willing to exchange moral values for strength and success in certain fields.

La Damnation de Faust – Tragic destiny

‘La Damnation de Faust’ is often interpreted to describe a tragic destiny resulting from a false wish, a trope that still holds relevance in contemporary society.

In the classic play, Faust is presented as an aging scholar in desperation. He has spent his whole life in search of wisdom just to find that at the end of it all, he has gained nothing. Youth, happiness, and achievement have all slipped away from him. Even the search for wisdom can no longer inspire him. To set him free from sorrow and depression, he decides to seek death.

(Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)

In a singular moment, the resounding sound of a church bell and hymn remind him of his youth, of the time when he still held faith in religion. But that fleeting moment does not last long before the appearance of Méphistophélès, a malevolent devil, is seen before him. Faust, desperate and depressed almost at the point of suicide, accepts the devil’s offer of returning to him his youth, knowledge, and the fulfillment of all of his deepest desires. In return, he must, however, follow the devil and fall under his command.

Méphistophélès and Faust. (Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)

Seemingly, the vague and fleeting religious memory Faust experienced moments before the appearance of the devil was not enough to revive in him a strong faith in religion, in a God that he once had.|

Naturally, Faust now has all that he was craving, yet, there was no way for him to know where the journey ahead would lead him.

After Méphistophélès fulfills his side of the bargain he encourages Faust to seduce Marguerite, an innocent girl whom Faust had an unrequited love for, and then abandon her, alone and pregnant.

Méphistophélès, Faust and Marguerite. (Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)

Faust and Marguerite in the Garden, by James Tissot (1861). (Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)

Her life falls into ruin and, so, in an effort to save his lover, Faust agrees to relinquish his soul to devil Méphistophélès. With this decision, he gives the devil every reason and ability to drag him to hell. Which he does, tragically and immediately. Perhaps his final destiny was predetermined from the very moment he accepted the offer of the devil Méphistophélès.

(Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)

It is a tale that resembles the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The devil Méphistophélès plays a role not dissimilar to the role of the serpent that tempted Eve to take a bite of the apple. Once Adam and Eve succumbed to the serpent to eat the forbidden fruit, it was determined that they would be expelled from the Garden of Eden.

In the case of Faust, he yields to lust and worldly desires and culminates in hell. It is the inevitable fate for the one that chooses to go against good and side with evil.

The story of Faust: An awakening bell

In the contemporary era of the robust development of science and technology, in most cases, science and knowledge play a positive role in society, but at times, it can assume a negative role, as well. Especially when the scholars and scientists ignore moral and humanistic values, and put their fame and interest on top, they would disregard any adverse impact that their work might impose on humanity.

Don’t we catch the image of Faust in communist philosophers, in surgeons involved in live organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners and in the development of nuclear warfare, to name a few?

No matter what excuse they can make, the undermining effect on human society that they exert is irrefutable.

In this aspect, the story of Faust can still prove its relevance to today’s society and serve as the awakening bell for those who choose to go down that path.