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     Literature Goethe: Faust III. The cattle-type-person and Faust

Exercise: Goethe, Faust

  III. The cattle-type-person and Faust

Later we will talk about details. Now we will try to give an overview over the piece. In the scene "Prologue in Heaven" there is a discussion between the Lord and Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles is a cynic, who does not want to, and is not able to understand the conception of humanity as the Lord has created it. In the eyes of Mephistopheles, mankind would live better if Lord had not given them reason.

Der kleine Gott der Welt bleibt stets von gleichem
Und ist so wunderlich als wie am ersten Tag.
Ein wenig besser würd er leben,
Hättst du ihm nicht den Schein des Himmelslichts gegeben;
Er nennt's Vernunft und braucht's allein,
Nur tierischer als jedes Tier zu sein.
Earth's little god retains his same old stamp and ways

And is as singular as on the first of days.
A little better would he live, poor Wight,
Had you not given him that gleam of heavenly light.

He calls it Reason, only to pollute
Its use by being brutaler than any brute.

In another mode one could say that Mephistopheles does not see any sense in the desire of man to know, to advance, because it is not only useless, but it makes man suffer even more. In the eyes of Mephistopheles a cow lives a lot better than man because it has no problems. You may say that in the real world there are no cattle-type-people, or people like Mephistopheles. However, the author believes that this is not the case. There are many people, who are not interested in anything, who laugh at other people, who try to do something new. There many people of the Mephistopheles-type, who say that it is not worth it starting something new and for that reason is useless. These people may also say 'it is better that things stay as they are'. The problem is, that people who are searching, who try to change things often do not know, what they want. People like Faust are not satisfied, they are searching for something, but they do not know what it is they are looking for. In the eyes of the Lord, this is exactly what makes Faust an example for all mankind. Faust's search is a 'complete search'. If the cattle-type-person (if we may call it that way) does not search for anything and is satisfied is the ideal of Mephistopheles. For the Lord the ideal is the person who searches and is never satisfied.

  Kennst du den Faust?
  Do you know Faust?
  Den Doktor?
  The Doctor?
  Meinen Knecht!
  Yes, my servant!
Fürwahr! er dient Euch auf besondre Weise.
Nicht irdisch ist des Toren Trank noch Speise.
Ihn treibt die Gärung in die Ferne,
Er ist sich seiner Tollheit halb bewußt;
Vom Himmel fordert er die schönsten Sterne
Und von der Erde jede höchste Lust,
Und alle Näh und alle Ferne
Befriedigt nicht die tiefbewegte Brust.
Forsooth, he serves you most peculiarly.
Unearthly are the fool's drink and his food;
The ferment drives him forth afar.
Though half aware of his insensate mood,
He asks of heaven every fairest star
And of the earth each highest zest,
And all things near and all things far
Can not appease his deeply troubled breast.
  Wenn er mir auch nur verworren dient,
So werd ich ihn bald in die Klarheit führen.
Weiß doch der Gärtner, wenn das Bäumchen grünt,
Das Blüt und Frucht die künft'gen Jahre zieren.
  Although he serves me now confusedly,
I soon shall lead him forth where all is clear.
The gardener knows, when verdant grows the tree,
That bloom and fruit will deck the coming year.
  Was wettet Ihr? den sollt Ihr noch verlieren!
Wenn Ihr mir die Erlaubnis gebt,
Ihn meine Straße sacht zu führen.
  What will you wager? Him you yet shall lose,
If you will give me your permission
To lead him gently on the path I choose.

Mephistopheles is not stupid, he is just a cynic. He understands that Faust desires the unreachable, but in this attitude cannot see his greatness. On the contrary the Lord who calls Faust his servant. The ideal of Mephistopheles is the cattle-type-person, content if the stomach is full. The Lord on the other hand sees perfectly, that the behaviour of his servant is confusing, but he sees the greatness in this behaviour. Faust does, in a certain way, also has the problem of identity. The cattle-type-person evidently does not have any problem with his identity, because his structure is so simple, his aim is so well defined, that he knows not the problem of wanting something, which is impossible to have. However the more complex a person is, the more contradictory he is. Faust is, as we will see, a very complex person.

But let's get back to the last part of the quote above:
  What will you wager? Him you yet shall lose,
If you will give me your permission
To lead him gently on the path I choose.

... path I choose. What is Mephistopheles actually saying with this? Mephistopheles bets that it is possible to "break" Faust, that it is possible to bring him to a point that he abandons his search, that it is possible to convert Faust into a cattle-type-person. That is, what he calls "the path I choose". Once signed the contract Faust says to Mephistopheles.

Werd ich beruhigt je mich auf ein Faulbett legen,
So sei es gleich um mich getan!
Kannst du mich schmeichelnd je belügen,
Daß ich mir selbst gefallen mag,
Kannst du mich mit Genuß betrügen-
Das sei für mich der letzte Tag!
Die Wette biet ich!
  If ever I lay me on a bed of sloth in peace,
That instant let for me existence cease!
If ever with lying flattery you can rule me
So that contented with myself I stay,
If with enjoyment you can fool me,
Be that for me the final day!
That bet I offer!


  Und Schlag auf Schlag!
Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen:
Verweile doch! du bist so schön!
Dann magst du mich in Fesseln schlagen,
Dann will ich gern zugrunde gehn!
Dann mag die Totenglocke schallen,
Dann bist du deines Dienstes frei,
Die Uhr mag stehn, der Zeiger fallen,
Es sei die Zeit für mich vorbei!
  Another hand-clasp! There!
If to the moment I shall ever say:
"Ah, linger on, thou art so fair!"
Then may you fetters on me lay,
Then will I perish, then and there!
Then may the death-bell toll, recalling
Then from your service you are free;
The clock may stop, the pointer falling,
And time itself be past for me!

In other words Faust suffers from his desire to achieve the unachievable. Mephistopheles is amused by this desire and for the Lord, this is his greatnes. The Lord does not believes that it will be possible for Mephistopheles to 'break' Faust and that he would then lose his bet. The Lord wants man to continually advance, to search, to reach for the stars. The Lord wants man as a being that does not fall asleep. In this way Faust can be seen as a representative of the entire mankind, as an example for the man that the Lord has created.

We can also see in Faust a person who defends himself against any kind of limitation no matter what his personal limitation, or social conditions or circumstances. Evidently people who pass the limitations run the risk of committing a crime or doing things that cannot be morally justified. Faust commits crimes like Mephistopheles mentions in the quote above. The Lord is not impressed by this argument. The most important for him is that man and mankind does not fall asleep.

Des Menschen Tätigkeit
kann allzu leicht erschlaffen,
er liebt sich bald die unbedingte Ruh;
Drum geb ich gern ihm den Gesellen zu,
Der reizt und wirkt und muß als Teufel schaffen
  mankind's activity can languish all too easily,

A man soon loves unhampered rest;
Hence, gladly I give him a comrade such as you,
Who stirs and works and must, as devil, do.

One should not see Faust as a person only in search for his own personal happiness, he is a much more complex personality. He is presented as a person, who is not only unsatisfied with his personal situation but also with the condition of mankind in general.

Soll ich vielleicht in tausend Büchern lesen,
Daß überall die Menschen sich gequält,
Daß hie und da ein Glücklicher gewesen? -
Shall I perchance in a thousand volumes read
That men have tortured themselves everywhere,
And that a happy man was here and there?-

Although his search for personal happiness fails, although he commits crimes, like for instance pushing Gretchen in the abyss of prison, he is in the bottom of his heart a responsible person. His imprecise search of the unknown includes the whole of mankind. There is another Faust in German literature, the one by Nicholaus Lenaus. There appears a verse that describes the state of mind of Faust quite precisely.

O greife weiter, weiter, Sturm,
Und nimm auf deine starken Schwingen
Den höchsten Stern, den tiefsten Wurm,
Uns endlich alle heimzubringen!

Oh, go on further, further storm,
and take on to your strong wings
the highest star, the lowest worm,
to take us all home.


These verses do not describe the state of mind of a person in search of his personal happiness. These verses describe that state of mind, who tries to improve the whole world.