U&me & the😈makes２
Today, I will take you on a literary journey. I’ll sing songs and tell tales along the way, introducing you to some characters with very exotic names.
A single word from Wednesday night’s episode of PBS’s Frontline series inspired me. That word, Faustian, is the silk from which my tapestry is woven.
Here is our overture, sung by David Lee Roth, backed by Van Halen:
“Yeah, yeah, ah, yeah
I live my life like there’s no tomorrow
And all I’ve got, I had to steal
Least I don’t need to beg or borrow
Yes I’m livin’ at a pace that kills”
— Runnin’ with the Devil, Van Halen
Theophilus (we’ll call him Theo) was an actual cleric in what is now Turkey, who lived in the 6th Century — about 1,500 years ago. Beyond the historical Theo, we have a legend that grew up around him.
It is perhaps the earliest instance of a tale with a person making a deal with the Devil.
It seems that Theo was a well respected and pious archdeacon, unanimously elected to be elevated Bishop. Theo was very humble, though, and turned down the honor. “Dudes, I appreciate the thought” he told his priestly buddies, “but that other guy would be way more-betterer than me.”
When the other guy (I have no idea what his name was let’s call him Joey Bishop) took the promotion, he booted Theo out of his comfy archdeacon’s Barcalounger.
According to legend, Theo rang up a wizard pal to help him get in touch with Satan. In exchange for Satan’s assistance, Theo agreed to renounce Jesus, Mary, and everybody else and signed the agreement in his own blood. Old Scratch held up his end of the bargain, pulling strings so that Theo retook the bishopric to which he’d been originally elected.
Not much later, Theo got to feeling guilty about his choices. Then too, he was rather fearful of a future full of fire and brimstone.
So, he phoned the Virgin Mary whom he’d earlier dissed in blood and asked for her help. He fasted for 40 days to demonstrate his contrition. Finally, after Mary figured he was sufficiently miserable, she slid into her light blue hoodie and headed over to Theo’s palace in a Holy Uber.
Mary gave him a royal ass-reaming. “The fuck, Theo?” she blessed him out. “I thought you was our ride-or-die homey! JC ain’t none to happy with this neither!”
Theo begged for her forgiveness and asked Mary if she would put in a good word for him with The Man.
Mary gave Theo some serious side-eye and snipped, “I’ll think about it. Lemme get back to you.”
Poof! she vanished.
The Uber driver was somewhat used to being left hanging, but what could he do? He cranked up his baby blue Jetta and headed over by the airport to pick up another fare.
After an additional month of Gatorade and stale hotdog buns, Mary decided Theo had suffered enough and messaged him:
OK. But you bettah’ not let this shit happen again, k? 😇
Theo instantly texted agreement, then phoned-in an order to Domino’s. (Sardines & onion, it was Friday.)
Three days later, Satan got the news that Theo wanted to welsh on their contract and was having none of it.
“Nuh uh, gurl!” he snarled, clicking his forked tongue. Satan appeared in a swirl of thick black smoke in Theo’s bedroom, and stood over him fast asleep. “A deal’s a deal!” Satan grumbled, and left a copy of the blood-signed contract on his naked chest.
Theo woke up the next day scared as shit!
He ran straight-away, tears streaming down his face, to the home of the true bishop, Joey.
He immediately called himself out, confessing to all his shady business dealings with Satan and such.
Theo fell to his knees, begging for Joey’s help. “Dude, I’m so sorry — I done really fucked up.”
Joey took the bloody papers from Theo’s hands and began to rip them in two. The pages burst into flame as the wails of a million demons echoed throughout the Turkish hills.
“Nooooooooooooo!” the voice of Satan rumbled while the ground shook. Things finally settled into a still silence.
Theo, now ecstatic and relieved of the terror of losing his immortal soul, dropped dead on the spot.
“Who knew?” Joey muttered.
I may have taken a tiny bit of liberty with the dialogue, but that’s the gist of the legend of Saint Theophilus the Penitent.
The ending caters to 6th Century sensibilities, a relatively happy ending, all things considered.
Fast-forward to the year 1590-or-so A.D.
Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare, stages his smash-hit, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.
Marlowe took the story of Theo and updated it for an Elizabethan English audience with the following important changes:
- Instead of a church-man, Faustus is a University professor who signs on for 24 years of diabolical power in exchange for his soul
- Instead of a wizard, Demons arrive, providing some really interesting commentary. Angels too — in fact, this is perhaps the beginning of the good-angel vs bad-angels fighting to influence the protagonist trope
- Faustus gets plenty of fore-warning from all the devils, demons, and angels but nobody steps in to save him at the last minute
- There is lots of black magic, spells, incantation, necromancy, etc.
- Lots of dead celebrities make cameo appearances; chief among them is Helen of Troy
- In the end, Dr. Faustus loves his powers too much to repent and is dragged off-stage to Hell. In some versions of the play, demons actually rip his body apart and scatter the pieces all over the stage.
The primary demonic character of Dr. Faustus is the very interesting:
(whom we’ll nickname Mephisto)
Now this cat is interesting.
At first, Faustus thinks that he has summoned Mephisto because of his special knowledge and powers. He also thinks he can control the demon when it changes from an initially hideous form into something more pleasing to Faustus. Mephisto corrects his assumptions, explaining that his role is to show up whenever anybody abandons the Holy Scriptures and do what he can to to lay claim that person’s soul.
Faustus tries to enslave Mephisto. We discover this is impossible because he’s already bound by oath to serve Lucifer. In the process, we also learn all about the fall of Lucifer and the origins of the demons and even Hell itself which is explained as a state-of-mind as much an actual location.
The audience even feels a little sorry for the guy when he speaks of the sorrows of his separation from God and paradise:
“Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joy of heaven
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands
Which strikes a terror to my fainting soul!” — Marlowe
Did you catch that last bit? Mephisto tries to dissuade Faustus.
Then again, Mephisto never would have appeared if he were not certain that Faustus would be unable to repent after a taste of power.
All of this brings us to the BIG DEBATE central to any discussion of Faustus: Whether man/woman is predestined to do certain things and if he/she is, what does that mean for the idea of free will? If there’s no free will, the argument goes, then God’s a real bastard for bringing creatures into existence knowing they will end up damned for all time.
Quoting Marlowe again:
“ What doctrine call you this? Che sera, sera,
‘What will be, shall be’? Divinity, adieu!”
(That’s enough philosophy/dogma talk for me . . . discuss amongst yourselves.)
Mephisto is a seasoned liar with particular expertise in playing dumb, evading questions he’d rather not answer, changing the subject when cornered and, when all else fails, spouting off scientific-sounding Latin nonsense.
The German author Goethe’s version is even darker than Marlowe’s tale. This Faust is especially epic in scale, comprising two marathon-length plays; they’re rarely performed all-at-once, as such an event takes a couple of days from start to finish.
The final form, which the author worked on for over 60 years, is considered one of the finest works of German literature.
Here are the big differences:
- Mephistopholes first appears as a stray poodle (no kidding) and follows Faust home
- the Devil makes a bet with Faust that he can satisfy him in ways his own learning cannot, and at first, Faust is reluctant to take him up on the wager
- the deal is, Mephisto has to serve Faust until he is so happy that he just wants to remain forever in a moment; in that instant, Faust is supposed to drop dead and head straight to Hell.
- in this version Margaret (aka Gretchen), a lovely virgin, is a major motivation the Devil uses to win his bet
- Faust woos her with diamonds and jewels, knocks her up & kills her brother, she gives birth to his bastard and drowns the child in shame, is convicted of murder, executed, and depending on the version of the script, ends up either in Heaven or Hell.
- Part Two is an acid-trippy weird fantasy where Faust ends up in Heaven because he only loses half of the bet. (A pretty lame plot twist for 60 years worth of effort, in my opinion. But hey, I’m not German.)
One famous religious scholar and philosopher claimed it had such a wide ranging effect on other works of literature that it influenced, “little less than the bible.”
It’s heavy stuff, especially influential in the German language and culture.
Just two nights ago, while filling in for my buddy Mehul as a limousine driver, I was regaling the folks in the car with this story while I shuttled them to the Eagles concert in Uptown Charlotte. Just as I was explaining the modern-day echoes of this tale . . .
I kid you not . . .
. . . these lyrics, accompanying the screech of a fiddle, came over the radio:
“The Devil went down to Georgia, he was lookin’ for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind, ‘cuz he was way behind and he was willin’ to make a deal.
When he came upon this young man’s son on a fiddle and a’playin’ it hot,
Well the Devil jumped up on a Hick’ry stump and said, ‘Boy, let me tell you what!’
I bet you didn’t know it but I’m a fiddle-player too, and if you care to take a dare, I’ll make a bet with you,
Now you play a pretty good fiddle boy, but give the Devil his due,
I’ve got a fiddle of gold against your soul,
‘cuz I think I’m better than you!” — The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Charlie Daniels
The lyrics are so perfect in rhyme and meter that this song is instantly infections. I remember well sitting on the front steps of my school in the 6th grade, rattling them off with friends. We got a big kick out of singing, “Son of a Bitch” to this hillbilly fiddle-rap.
Now, I want to settle one thing for sure — the Devil won the contest in that song, at least the Charlie Daniels version, hands down! C’mon . . . that walking bass line with the double-stops and screeching fiddle glissando. Johnny got his ass handed to him. The Devil was robbed!
Somebody in Nashville thought he deserved a re-match.
And now we come to the point of my little tour through the many tales of selling one’s soul to Satan.
The Frontline episode that I referenced earlier is entitled, “Trump’s Takeover.”
Here are my questions:
- Who’s soul is up for grabs? Trump? Republicans? Evangelicals? America? Humanity?
- Is Trump playing in the role of Faust, Mephistopholes, or Satan himself?
- If not Trump, is there another Mephisto? Bannon? Gingrich? Kelly-Anne?
- Which ending do we get? The one where Mary steps in, or Faustus is torn to shreds, the murdered bastard/LSD trip half-triumph, or the Golden Fiddle on the ground at Johnny’s feet?
Once again, I’ve typed and philosophized myself into a state of verklemption.
Discuss amongst yourselves.
Here to wrap up my meandering lesson are my favorite musical sista’hs to sing us out with a bizarre answer to Van Halen. You’ll find the lyrics below:
Here are a few of those brilliant, dada lyrics:
“I see you dancing, damn you look good!
I wish I could dance like you but I ain’t got no legs.
I see you having sex, damn you look good!
I wish I could have sex too, but I ain’t got no sexual organs.
I see you defecating, damn you look good!
I wish I could take a shit too, but I ain’t got no anus.
I rode the bicycole of the devil
Driving straight to hell
The bicycle of the devil will take you straight to hell.”
— Bicycling with the Devil, The Scissor Sisters
(apologies for sloppy editing; I rushed to publish on the Eve of Destruction)