I’m trying to read Goethe’s Faust for the umpteenth time. The legend of Faust certainly has resonances for those of us in the latter decades of their existence; the promise of knowledge, youth, girls …
But Goethe’s Faust goes much further than that. Most people are familiar with the story via Gounod’s opera. It is based on Goethe, but is reduced to: old man longs for youth, vitality and the benefits that that confers; sells his soul to the Devil for the same, destroys the virtue of a beautiful girl who is later condemned to death for killing their illegitimate child, she is saved at the last minute by a choir of angels, and he is dragged down to Hell by Mephistopheles.
It’s great theatre and Gounod’s music is wonderful, but Goethe’s original Faust is so much more. His Faust is a scholar who has studied the great medieval callings – law, philosophy, medicine and theology – has had great academic honours piled upon him, but realizes that with all that learning, actually, he knows nothing. Thus the quotation ‘what we know we do not need, and what we need, we know not …
Of course there is no solution to this conundrum; the pleasures of youth and its benefits are transitory; we can never know. When it comes down to it, we’re on our own. In the universe. A sobering thought, and one that prompts me to refill my glass …
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs