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Mephistopheles (short: Mephisto ) is the name of the or a devil in the fist material . It is a subservient spirit that has been summoned for assistance or magically brought in as a Paredros (spiritus familiaris) .

Drawing of Mephistopheles on Wittenberg by Eugène Delacroix


The etymological origin of the name is not exactly clear. In the Historia by D. Johann Fausten and in Christopher Marlowe , the form Mephostophilis is found , while in William Shakespeare in the Merry Wives of Windsor it is Mephistophilus . In the old folk books and puppet shows there are different variants such as Mephostophiles , Mephostophilus , but also the most common form Mephistopheles used today and used by Johann Wolfgang Goethe .

This results in different origins:

  1. A derivation from the Hebrew is very obvious, namely a connection of the two participles mephir , also mefir (destroyer, corrupter) and tophel (liar).
  2. The older form Mephostophiles can (with the Greek μή ( ) - "not", and φῶς, φωτός ( phōs, photós ) - "light") be interpreted as "who does not love light".
  3. Mephistophiles could go back to Latin mephitis (“harmful evaporation of the earth”) and ancient Greek φίλος ( phílos - “friend”, “loved”, “loving”) (“the one who loves the stench ”).

Possibly the folk book Historia by D. Johann Fausten from 1587, in which the legend appears for the first time in printed form, also refers to Mephitis , the Italian goddess of sulphurous evaporation.

Mephistopheles figures in literature

Johann Faust

Postage stamp from 1979 : Johannes Faust with Homunculus , Mephistopheles

In the legends about the historical person Johann Georg Faust , Mephistopheles is a devil who enters into a devil's pact with Faust : Mephisto undertakes to serve Faust until he says a certain sentence or until the negotiated period of time has expired (cf. Volksbuch). Only then do they switch roles and Faust is indebted to the devil. The devil is a relatively undefined figure without a personality of his own, he only serves as an explanation for Faust's magic arts.

Christopher Marlowe

In Christopher Marlowe's drama The tragic history of Doctor Faustus from 1589, Mephistopheles appears alongside Beelzebub as Lucifer's envoy and concludes a pact with the devil.


As an antagonist in Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Faust tragedy ( Urfaust , Faust I , Faust II ) , Mephisto tries to make a bet with God . He says he will succeed in turning Doctor Heinrich Faust off the right path. After a subsequent agreement with Faust himself, this would have succeeded if Faust found a moment so beautiful that he would like to hold onto it permanently.

This representation of Mephisto has little to do with the Christian dogmatic conception of the devil. Goethe's Mephisto embodies the principle of negation, without salvation, fear of hell, etc. Goethe lets Mephisto say of himself: “I am the spirit that always denies! / And rightly so; because everything that arises / is worth it to perish; / So it would be better if nothing happened. / So everything you call sin, / destruction, in short, evil , / is my real element. "(V. 1338-1344)

Already in the prologue Mephistopheles reveals himself as an element of the world and thus also as a “creation” of the Lord. As such a creation, he is involved in the divine plan. This consists in eternal change, which includes both creation and destruction. Mephisto, as the principle of negation, is therefore imperative for the functioning of the world and is therefore also valued in heaven. In Goethe's tragedy, he describes himself as “a part of that power / which always wants evil and always creates good” (v. 1336-1337)

However, he can never achieve his actual goal, the destruction or negation of the entire creation, because he is basically guided by God (as a symbol of the whole). And although Mephisto is fully aware of his role, he always goes about his work with all his might. He is considered to be the most impressive character in Goethe's Faust.

One can never see what drives him; but he does his best in a competition, the result of which has long been determined.

Another approach is to see the dramatic figure of Mephistopheles as an alienation of Faust's inner being. He represents the destructive part of Faust (and thus also of humans).

Klaus Mann

The novel Mephisto by Klaus Mann (published in 1936 in exile) tells the story of the actor Hendrik Höfgen (based on the real person Gustaf Gründgens ), who came to terms with the rulers during the Nazi era . The role of Mephisto in Goethe's Faust is one of Höfgen's (like Gründgens') prime roles. In 1981 the novel by István Szabó was made into a film with Klaus Maria Brandauer in the leading role (see Mephisto (film) ).

Other uses

In addition to the examples given above, the figure of Mephistopheles appears elsewhere:

  • In the Marvel comic film version Ghost Rider, for example, she is played by the American actor Peter Fonda .
  • A character named Mephisto Pheles appears in the Japanese anime Ao No Exorcist .
  • In the anime suite Precure , the villain is called Mephisto .
  • In Walter Moers ' book The City of Dreaming Books there is a Phistomefel Smeik . His first name is an obvious anagram of Mephistofel , which is typical of Moers, as he has also chosen names for other figures in his works that represent anagrams of real or fictional people. In his second film, The Little Asshole and the Old Sack - Dying is Shit , Mephisto is also quoted by the devil depicted there.
  • In the computer game Diablo II , Mephisto is the master of hatred and one of the three evils.
  • In the computer and console game The Sims 3 , the Grim Reaper is called: Mephisto Schauder
  • The song Mephisto by the German rapper Bushido was released on September 14, 2018 . In the song the devil's pact is mentioned and Bushido's former business partner Arafat Abou-Chaker is compared to Mephisto.
  • The band Rosenstolz wrote a song called Mephisto.
  • In 1992 Falco released a song on his album " Nachtflug " entitled: Dance Mephisto

See also


  • Irene Gerber-Münch (1997): Goethe's Faust . A depth psychological study of the myth of modern man .
  • Carl Gustav Jung: Psychology and Alchemy .
  • Carl Gustav Jung: Symbolism of the Spirit .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Andrea Komp: Faust I - content, background, interpretation. Verlag Mentor, Munich 2008, p. 42.
  2. entry mephistis in Albert Martins Latin dictionary