Which literary character sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power?
And the answer: Faust.
According to a classic German legend, the character known as Faust is highly successful but dissatisfied with his life. He makes a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and power. Since the Middle Ages, writers have been inspired by the legend of Faust, leading to many different versions of the story.
As legend follows, Faust is a sorcerer in search of more. Although fictional, he is said to be based on an alchemist living in 15th century Germany. Faust is trained in theology, and turns to the devil to make a deal: knowledge and power in exchange for his soul. Thus, the essential question is born: can a human wield the power of a god?
While there is no definitive story of Faust, Goethe's Faust is commonly recognized as the most prominent telling of his story. The earliest known published sources of the legend are the Wolfenbüttler manuscript dated around 1580-1587, as well as a printed chapbook circulated around the same time. Meanwhile, Faust's story has made its way into narratives from The Picture of Dorian Grey to The Phantom of the Opera.
At the time of its inception, the Faust narrative was a frightening one in God-fearing Germany. It warned against the evils of magic, godlessness and worldly ambition. Religious salvation at stake, audiences of Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus even reported the devil himself attending a show.
Read more about the legend of Faust and its pertinence to the modern day here.