Perhaps the most famous alchemist
, and death-bed penitent
in history. It is doubtful that any such person or model ever existed; already in 1624, Wilhelm Schickard in his commentary on the Pentateuch
states: "But nor do examples fail us Germans. Indeed, among these perhaps the most famous, believed sometimes even by sensible men, is the legend of a certain, fictitious Doctor Faustus, which the more sane among us recognise to be nothing more than an invention made to warn the superstitious rabble away from folk-tales and the black arts"
The earliest recorded version of the story, written in Middle High German, was printed in 1587, 5 years before Christopher Marlowe's play appeared, though it must have existed still earlier. The manuscripts are titled: "The history of Doctor Johann Faustus, sorcerer and nigromancer, how he committed himself on an occasion to the devil, what sort of strange adventure he experienced, caused and created, until he gained his just rewards."
Johann Faustus was born to a poor farmer, but grew up with his wealthy cousin, who sent him to study theology. Faustus' thirst for knowledge and natural aptitude for academia soon earned him his magister, and then his doctor; still unsatisfied, he pursued the more arcane arts, including necromancy, which led to his pact with Mephistopheles.
The first 2 parts of the work treat Doctor' Faustus arguments with the devil, disputations over various bits of knowledge. The third relates his visits across the world and through time; to the court of Charles V, summoning Helen of Troy to a dinner with his students (she quickly disappears again, and the story hints at very little of the love story later writers were to make of it), and countless others.
I would like to translate his untimely end. Knowing he is about to die, he calls his students to him:
My dear friends, gentlemen, I've called you together to tell you what sort of man I am, instructed in many arts and magics, which have no other source than the devil himself, to whom nothing if not my own fault and desires have brought me, my wretched flesh and blood, my godless will, and devilish thoughts, so that I made a pact to hand over my body and soul at the end of 24 years. That time will come as soon as this night is over; I see the sand runs out, and he will soon come to take me...This is why I called you here, gentlemen, so I could before I die raise a glass one more time in farewell. I beg you, brothers, to remember me kindly, and forgive my offenses against you, for which I am truly sorry. What I have done these past 24 years, you will find I have duly recorded, and let my awful end be a warning to you all, to keep God in your thoughts, that he shield you from the devil's treachery and deceit, lead you not into temptation; I beg you never to fall from his grace, as I, a damned and godless man who denounced his baptism, the eucharist, God himself, the Heavenly Hosts, and mankind, have done...(more of the same, and the students' sorrowful response)
While Doctor Faustus remained in the room, the students left and went to their own beds, though not a single one could sleep. It happened somewhere between 12:00 and 1:00; a great wind began to strike so that the whole house shook as if the very foundations would collapse. The students leapt from their beds, comforting each other, afraid to leave the room...from where Doctor Faustus was sleeping, they heard a harsh chattering and hissing, as if the house were filled with snakes and asps and all sorts of poisonous worms. The door to Faustus' chamber shuddered open, and from within they could hear his ghastly screams for help, though growing ever more faint and distant; soon, it stopped, and all was quiet again.
The students stayed awake the rest of the night, and only when day finally broke dared to enter the chamber. Doctor Faustus was gone; the room was covered in blood, the remains of his skull dripping from the walls, as the devil had battered him across the room. His eyes and teeth also were left behind, a gruesome sight. The students began to weep for him, and searching finally found the rest of his body outside on a dung-heap, his head and all his limbs mangled.
Well, thus ends the first and earliest recorded history of Doctor Johann Faustus, a tale of which even H.P. Lovecraft could be proud.