The economic consequences of Faust’s intervention in the Emperor’s affairs do not make themselves apparent until later in the drama, when he once more has to bring his dubious influence to bear in order to end the civil war. The traditional legend, however, told of his calling up of Helen of Troy and Paris, and Goethe’s story, of which we are informed that the Helen episode was one of the oldest elements, now moves forward to this event and its effect upon Faust’s character.
Firmly established at Court by means of his magic tricks, which seem
to be little more than valueless trivialities, ‘Spaß und Trug’ in
Mephistopheles’ words, Faust is now ordered by the Emperor to raise the
two famous figures of antiquity, and he agrees to do so.
|Ich darf mein Wort nicht brechen,
[[ My promise can’t be broken. ]]
he says, a statement which may sound hypocritical in view of his past
conduct towards Gretchen but in fact indicates that he himself has no feeling
other than that his effort is to be one more illustration of his magic
routine. His vanity is involved. His position as a magician is at stake.
|Mit wenig Murmeln, weiß ich, ist’s getan,
[[ I know it only needs a muttered spell. ]]
he says unknowingly. He has no conception of Helen’s nature. He has
no thought of the great aesthetic power that she might exercise. Ideal
beauty is an experience that has not yet come his way. When it does, it
has decisive effects. At this moment, however, he is almost bored by his
newly accepted duty.
|Ich aber bin gequält zu tun,
[[ ...I am pinched and badgered without rest,
(At Seneschal’s or Chamberlain’s behest.) ]]
|Erst haben wir ihn reich gemacht,
Nun sollen wir ihn amüsieren.
[[ By acts of ours his wealth was made,
And now he needs to be diverted. ]]
It never occurs to Faust for a moment to resist the Emperor’s whims, however frivolous. There is no idea on his part of aiding his master in what really matters, the art of government.
Mephistopheles is angry. He does not say he cannot help Faust to produce
the visions, but he is not anxious to do so:
|Das Heidenvolk geht mich nichts an,
Es haust in seiner eignen Hölle.
[[ The heathen race is hardly my affair,
It occupies its own particular hell. ]]
Greek myth is something different from the sphere in which he operates. Its values are of another kind. It does not possess the reality with which he is familiar in everyday earthly life. He deals in illusions, but not in myths, and he has no power over the mythical creatures that haunt the human mind. It is not so much the Greek world as its unreality that repels him. He cannot enter it. It is also the case that he fears the power that it might exercise over Faust by taking away his attention from the present, and it is clear from what follows that it certainly will do. His words do not, of course, mean that evil has no place in Greece, for, in spite of his reluctance, Mephistopheles is able to accommodate himself to it, as we learn later. However, he falls in with Faust’s wishes. The Greek world is that which first begins to give the latter power over the devil and to make him his servant. Hellenism, it appears, may aid man to control evil.
|Doch gibt’s ein Mittel.
[[ Yet aids there are. ]]
He will not, or cannot, himself conjure up Helen, but he can show Faust
how he can do it. The way to Greece is thus opened, though unwillingly,
by the power of evil. Faust’s conquest of his companion’s reluctance is
therefore a turning point in the relationship of the two. Mephistopheles
explains that it is necessary for Faust to approach the realm of the Mothers:
|Ungern entdeck’ ich höheres Geheimnis. --
Götinnen thronen hehr in Einsamkeit,
Um sie kein Ort, noch weniger eine Zeit
Von ihnen sprechen ist Verlegenheit.
Die Mütter sind es!
[[ Loth am I now high mystery to unfold:
Goddesses dwell, in solitude, sublime,
Enthroned beyond the world of place or time;
Even to speak of them dismays the bold.
These are The Mothers! ]]
First Mephistopheles’ resistance and now his mention of these sublime,
unheard-of figures arouse Faust’s curiosity. He shudders when the word
‘Mütter’ is mentioned, with its strange inscrutable meaning. Mephistopheles
|Das ist es auch. Götinnen, ungekannt
Euch Sterblichen, von uns nicht gem genannt.
Nach ihrer Wohnung magst ins Tiefste schürfen;
Du selbst bist schuld, daß ihrer wir bedürfen.
(ll. 6218 -- 6221)
[[ True, goddesses unknown to mortal mind,
And named indeed with dread among our kind.
To reach them, delve below earth’s deepest floors;
And that we need them, all the blame is yours. ]]
The way to their dwelling is no mortal way. Its steps are in the lonely
recesses of the spirit. Faust is not deterred. He has lived far too long
in spiritual emptiness and desolation:
|Du spartest, dächt’ ich, solche Sprüche,
Hier wittert’s nach der Hexenküche,
Nach einer lägst vergangnen Zeit.
Mußt’ ich nicht mit der Welt verkehren?
Das Leere lernen, Leeres lehren? --
Sprach ich vernünftig, wie ich’s angeschaut,
Erklang der Widerspruch gedoppelt laut;
Mußt’ ich sogar vor widerwärtigen Streichen
Zur Einsamkeit, zur Wildernis entweichen;
Und um nicht ganz versäumt, allein zu leben,
Mich doch zuletzt dem Teufel übergeben.
[[ You could dispense with speeches of this kind,
Which bring the Witches’ Kitchen back to mind,
An echo of far distant days renewed.
Was not my fate to mix with earthly vanity,
Learn the inane, and then impart inanity?
And when I ventured what I could of sense
Dislike and protest grew the more intense.
Was I not driven, under strain and stress,
To seek for comfort in the wilderness?
And not to live foredoomed, alone, apart,
At last I have to give the devil my heart. ]]
He cannot be made to be afraid of the eternal void which Mephistopheles
|Und hättest du den Ozean durchschwommen,
Das Grenzenlose dort geschaut,
So sähst du dort doch Well’ auf Welle kommen,
Selbst wenn es dir vorm Untergange graut.
Du sähst doch etwas. Sähst wohl in der Grüne
Gestillter Meere streichende Delphine;
Sähst Wolken ziehen, Sonne, Mond und Sterne;
Nichts wirst du sehn in ewig leerer Ferne,
Den Schritt nicht hören, den du tust,
Nichts Festes finden, wo du ruhst.
[[ And if to ocean’s end your path should lead,
To look upon enormity of space,
Still would you see that waves to waves succeed,
Ay, though you have a shuddering doom to face,
You’d still see something. For in the green
Of silenced depths are gliding dolphins seen;
Still cloud will stir, and sun and moon and star;
But blank is that eternal void afar:
There eyes avail not, even your step is dumb,
No substance there, when to your rest you come. ]]
He boldly declares:
|In deinem Nichts hoff’ich das All zu finden,
[[ For in your Nothing may the All be found. ]]
|Doch im Erstarren such’ ich nicht mein Heil,
Das Schaudern ist der Menschheit bestes Teil;
Wie auch die Welt ibm das Gefühl verteure,
Ergriffen, fühlt er tief das Ungeheure.
[[ And yet in torpor see I no salvation:
To feel the thrill of awe crowns man’s creation.
Though feeling pays the price, by earthly law,
Stupendous things are deepest felt through awe. ]]
The efforts to deflect Faust have merely strengthened his resolve. Mephistopheles
gives him a key that grows and flashes as he holds it. It acts as a kind
of divining-rod. As he descends, or rises, into the new sphere it will
be his guide. He is to leave the world of what is for the world of what
is no more, and he will be enveloped as by a cloud:
|Versinke denn! Ich könnt’ auch sagen: steige!
’s ist einerlei. Entfliehe dem Entstandnen
In der Gebilde losgebundne Reiche!
Ergetze dich am längst nicht mehr Vorhandnen;
Wie Wolkenzüge schlingt sich das Getreibe,
Den Schlüssel schwinge, halte sie vom Leibe.
[[ Then to the deep! - I could as well say height:
All’s one. From Substance, from the Existent fleeing,
Take the free realm of Forms for your delight;
Rejoice in things that long have ceased from being;
The busy brood will weave like coiling cloud:
Wield then your key, drive back from you the crowd. ]]
The key will draw him to the central mystery, helping him to move among
the ghostly shades that surround his course without his falling victim
to them, until he sees the Mothers themselves busy around a tripod. They
will not see him for they see only phantoms. He will touch the tripod with
his key, bring it back with him on his return and the objects of his search
will be disengaged from the embers:
|Ein glühnder Dreifuß tut dir endlich kund,
Du seist im tiefsten, allertiefsten Grund.
Bei seinem Schein wirst du die Mütter sehn,
Die einen sitzen, andre stehn und gehn,
Wie’s eben kommt. Gestaltung, Umgestaltung,
Des ewigen Sinnes ewige Unterhaltung,
Umschwebt von Bildern aller Kreatur.
Sie sehn dich nicht, denn Schemen sehn sie nur.
Da fass’ ein Herz, denn die Gefahr ist groß,
Und gehe grad auf jenen Dreifuß los,
Berühr’ ihn mit dem Schlüssel!
[[ A burning tripod bids you be aware,
The deep of deeps at last awaits you there.
And by that glow shall you behold The Mothers.
Some of them seated, some erect, while others
May chance to roam: Formation, Transformation,
Eternal Mind’s eternal recreation.
Around them float all forms of entity;
You they see not, for wraiths are all they see.
Pluck up your heart, for peril here is great:
Go to the tripod well resolved, and straight
You touch it with your key. ]]
Goethe told Eckermann that the name Mothers is to be found in Plutarch. He warded off further inquiry. He used the name and created around it a myth of his own to suit the purpose of his drama. The Mothers are the guardians of the past, keepers of immortal images which once came forth into life and now exist as recollected ideals. They live in the contemplation of shadows, memories, dreams, among what was and is no longer. The present is unseen to them. Theirs is an endless realm of ghostly unreality. And unreality is dangerous. That is why Mephistopheles is anxious about Faust.
It is not necessary to probe into the recesses of primitive myth, or
into Goethe’s nature philosophy, or into Platonic or other thought, in
order to explain the function of these creatures. When Faust addresses
the Mothers afterwards, he says:
|In eurem Namen, Mütter, die ilar thront
Im Grenzenlosen, ewig einsam wohnt,
Und doch gesellig! Euer Haupt umschweben
Des Lebens Bilder regsam, ohne Leben.
Was einmal war in allem Glanz und Schein,
Es regt sich dort; denn es will ewig sein.
[[ In your dread name, ye Mothers, where you throne
In infinite space, eternal and alone,
And yet at one, in presence that is rife
With stir of lifeless images of life.
What once has been, in light and lustre vernal,
Is there astir: it seeks to be eternal. ]]
And that is all we need to know. Death is not the end. Great figures,
after their transitory existence, live on as ideals, dreams, visions and
myths, charged with immense possibilities. These visions are preserved
until they gain new life or are, as here, conjured up. Faust goes on to
|Und ihr verteilt es, allgewaltige Mächte,
Zum Zelt des Tages, zum Gewölb’ der Nächte.
Die einen faßt des Lebens holder Lauf,
Die andern sucht der kühne Magier auf;
In reicher Spende läßt er voll Vertrauen,
Was jeder wünscht, das Wunderwürdige schauen.
[[ And ye allot its fate, in sovereign might,
To day’s pavilion, or the vault of night.
And some in life’s most lovely course are caught,
And others by the bold magician sought;
Sure of himself, he grants what most we prize,
Revealing the miraculous to our eyes. ]]
These visions are energies that can determine and control life. In a sense they are more real than life itself.
It follows that Faust is setting out to bring forth not the real Helen but her image, a phantom Helen, without life and without any of the environment of Greek antiquity that she would have had to have around her if she were real. The historical Helen must be sought, as she is sought later, elsewhere than from the Mothers and by other means.
The way to the Mothers is beset with dangers. It passes beyond the realm of reason, involves a withdrawal from reality and demands spiritual isolation. It is accompanied by the allurements of other phantoms that such withdrawal and isolation will bring. The mind, living within itself and upon its own imaginings, may well, without guidance, find itself assailed by delusion. The key of illumination is thus a necessary safeguard against the mind’s breakdown, a protection against factors that would overwhelm and destroy. The whole life of Faust’s mind and body is at stake in this new adventure.
All the more notable, therefore, is Faust’s resolve to make the journey. It is a journey that must be made, however perilous it may be, if greatness is to be called forth; a journey of the mind into the things of the mind, beyond the boundaries of reason, space and time, a lonely and mystical journey of which the devil can only be a spectator. This is how Goethe transforms the story of those supernatural visits into the firmament which the Faust of popular legend undertook. The human spirit must face solitude and terror when it goes in search of the shadows of the past, whose summoning into the world is fraught with peril. Goethe’s hero is equal to the risk. His mighty urge to know all the mysteries and the experiences of life is unimpaired.
As we have remarked, Faust knows nothing yet of Helen. He determines to discharge the task imposed by the Emperor and to dare unknown dangers in so doing, not for a mighty ideal of which he has no knowledge, but simply because it is yet another of those adventures of the human spirit which he has not yet experienced. It may be also that for one brief moment he puts aside his own personal desires in favour of satisfying the Emperor’s. But any sinking of his ego that this may mean is at once extinguished as Mephistopheles utters his breath-taking warning, and curiosity takes command. A significant advance, however, should be noted, inasmuch as Mephistopheles’ attempt to restrict him to the sphere of actuality is here dealt a mortal blow. Faust cannot be turned away from the impalpable forces of the spirit, and he hopes to compel them to do his will. He has risen from the level of charlatanry to that of searching for timeless human ideals, even though in his quest for them he is still content to employ magic aid.
While Faust is away in the mysterious sphere of the Mothers, Mephistopheles, in an amusing scene, acts the part of a quack and dispenses remedies to various members of the Court who complain of such things as freckles, chilblains and unrequited love. The lights are then dimmed, and all the courtiers assemble in the ancient castle hall which is adorned with tapestries and suits of armour. The Emperor takes his seat facing the wall, which, to the accompaniment of a fanfare of trumpets, magically rolls apart to reveal a stage in the form of a Greek temple. Mephistopheles plays the role of prompter. Garbed as a priest, Faust rises from the depths bringing with him the tripod of the Mothers. As he touches it with his key, a vapour fills the hall and the whole temple seems to be filled with melody and the smell of incense. Despite all the hocus-pocus of magic there is a religious character, we are asked to suppose, about the service of Greece.
Faust reminds us that memories and visions of what has been can materialize from time to time as life itself calls them forth, or they can be conjured up by a magician’s power. In the latter case, however, as soon becomes clear, they do not possess the reality which they gain when they manifest themselves by normal means.
The figure of Paris appears, moving in time with the music. The spectators
receive him without understanding. The women are attracted, the men criticize
his uncourtly manners as he stretches himself out to sleep. The conventional
reaction to Greek beauty, we see, is lacking in sympathy and reverence.
That the standards by which it should be measured must be other than those
of everyday life is the inference which we must no doubt draw. Helen next
comes forth. Mephistopheles is the first to comment upon her appearance.
She means nothing to him. He has nothing in common with beauty. She bears
no resemblance to the lascivious image of the ‘Hexenküche’, the type
to which Mephistopheles’ thoughts normally turn:
|Das wär’ sie denn! Vor dieser hätt’ ich Ruh’;
Hübsch ist sie wohl, doch sagt sie mir nicht zu.
[[ So this is she! I’d lose no sleep for her:
Pretty, but not the kind that I prefer. ]]
Faust, on the other hand, is enraptured. He who has never known what
ideal beauty is feels that his priestly descent into history has opened
up for him a new life that is highly desirable:
|Hab’ ich noch Augen? Zeigt sich tief im Sinn
Der Schönheit Quelle reichlichstens ergossen?
Mein Schreckensgang bringt seligsten Gewinn,
Wie war die Welt mir nichtig, unerschlossen!
Was ist sie nun seit meiner Priesterschaft?
Erst wünschenswert, gegründet, dauerhaft!
Verschwinde mir des Lebens Atemkraft,
Wenn ich mich je von dir zurükgewöhne!
Die Wohlgestalt, die mich voreinst entzückte,
In Zauberspiegelung beglückte,
War nut ein Schaumbild solcher Schöne! --
Du bist’s, der ich die Regung aller Kraft,
Den Inbegriff der Leidenschaft,
Dir Neigung, Lieb’, Anbetung, Wahnsinn zolle.
[[ Have I yet eyes to see? Now in my soul
Does beauty’s source reveal its rich outpouring!
My fearful quest has reached a glorious goal.
How sterile was my world, my blind exploring!
This world that, since my priesthood, I behold
Desirable, deep-based, of lasting mould!
If ever I prove false, with sense grown cold,
Then may life’s pulse and breath forget their duty.
That comely form enchanting once my mind,
That mirrored magic joy of womankind,
Was but a pale foam-phantom of such beauty.
To you alone I vow my striving art,
My strength, affection, life with passion twined,
My worship, frenzy, love, my inmost heart. ]]
His existence hitherto has been valueless; now he feels that it has
an aim, an objective. Life will be useless if ever he deserts this new
transporting dream. The curse which he had once laid upon human pleasure
is, we observe, in danger of being revoked. Faust is near to affirming
what he declared he never would affirm. In the ‘Hexenküche’ and in
Gretchen’s bedroom he had felt similar spiritual promptings, but none quite
so positive as these. At the same time Helen is a vision, not a reality.
There can be no question of his being satisfied, only of his being more
powerfully, and this time more purposefully, stimulated. The desire she
arouses is without measure. Mephistopheles sees the danger and remarks:
|So faßt Euch doch und fallt nicht aus der Rolle!
[[ Be careful, or you’ll overstep your part. ]]
The Court reacts as it had done to Paris, but this time it is the women
who criticize and the men who approve. Even the scholar, addicted as he
is to textual evidence, understands why the grey beards of Troy were moved
As Helen approaches Paris and is about to be carried off by him, Faust is unable to control himself any longer. He advances to rescue her, grasps her, touches Paris with his key, there is an explosion, he is knocked unconscious, the spirits disappear, and in the darkness and confusion Mephistopheles lifts him on to his shoulders and bears him away. Faust is unable to watch what is merely a spectacle. He wishes to turn what he sees into reality. The vision of beauty is not something which must remain outside real life. Contemplation is insufficient. He must grasp Helen and make her his own. He cries:
|Bin ich für nichts an dieser Stelle?
Ist dieser Schlüssel nicht in meiner Hand?
Er führte mich durch Graus und Wog’ und Welle
Der Einsamkeiten her zum festen Strand.
Hier fass’ ich Fuß! Hier sind es Wirklichkeiten,
Von hier aus darf der Geist mit Gelstern streiten,
Das Doppelreich, das große, sich bereiten.
So fern sie war, wie kann sie näher sein!
Ich rette sie, und sie ist doppelt mein.
Gewagt! Ihr Mütter! Mütter! müßt’s gewähren!
Wer sie erkannt, der darf sie nicht entbehren.
[[ Am I for nothing here?
Is not the key still glowing in my hand,
That led me from the solitudes so drear,
Through terror, surge, and tempest to firm land?
Here foothold is, realities abound,
Here spirit, matched with spirits, holds its ground,
And the great double spirit-realm is found.
Far though she dwelt, now is she near, divine,
Save her I will, and make her doubly mine.
Resolved! Ye Mothers, grant this, I implore!
Who knows her once must have her evermore. ]]
A mere image cannot, however, be imperiously turned into reality as Faust wishes, simply by his laying hold upon it. Other means are required if he is to gain Helen. Egotistic impetuosity will need to be replaced by devotion, reverence, discipline and understanding of her whole environment and historical context, from which she must not be disengaged, as she is disengaged here. Faust, in whom the phantom has opened a new sphere of desire, is the victim of illusion both in behaving as he does and in not understanding that he is henceforth the prisoner of myth, legend and history and is thus escaping into an unreal realm away from the problems of actuality. However, he cannot even hold on to his dream. It eludes him, yet henceforth he deserts all human commitments in order to pursue it, an ideal but still a dream. He fails to see that the past cannot in any case be retained as a complete reality. It is only fruitful when it becomes of value to actual life. Its unnatural evocation is bound to be disastrous, and even a more reverent approach to it is fraught with the danger of neglect of the present.
Faust is still spiritually blind. He has yet to learn that the human
ego is not an adequate guide to the conduct of life and to the experiencing
of its values at the highest level. He who irresponsibly produced the inflation
equally irresponsibly allows himself to be captivated by his new desires.
And yet, although he has forgotten his public duty, he has not even understood
how he is to approach the new object of his interest. As far as he is concerned,
the Empire and its problems can look after themselves until his own private
yearnings are assuaged. It would at least have been something had he known
how to assuage them.
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CHAPTER XIII -->