The mythology surrounding the character Faust has enjoyed a number of pop culture incarnations, including the 1967 film "Dr. Faustus" starring Richard Burton. The film is based on Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus" and provides us with a perfect example of the cycle of arete, hubris, ate, and nemesis. In my view, Marlowe's play is one of the most under appreciated works of English literature. Faust is a brilliant man who seems to have mastered many disciplines (arete). The story opens with Faust rejecting the limitations of traditional sources of knowledge: "Aristotle on logic, Galen on medicine, the Byzantine emperor Justinian on law, and the Bible on religion" (SparkNotes, Doctor Faustus). Faust is not satisfied with the knowledge available to unaided Man and turns to black magic (hubris). Listen to Faust himself:
"All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings
Are but obeyed in their several provinces,
Nor can they raise the wind, or rend the clouds;
But his dominion that exceeds in this [sorcery]
Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man:
A sound magician is a mighty god" (Marlowe 994).
Faust's thirst of the power of knowledge is so great that he sells his soul to Lucifer in exchange for the service of a devil named Mephastophilis for twenty-four years (ate). Mephastophilis reveals the hidden nature of the Universe, but refuses to tell Faust who created the world. Faust travels the world, but instead of using his new found knowledge for the benefit of mankind, is reduced to playing practical jokes (SparkNotes, Doctor Faustus). As the end of the twenty-four years approaches, Faust begins to regret his choice. He begs for deliverance: "O God, if thou wilt not have mercy on my soul, Yet for Christ's sake, whose blood hath ransomed me" (Marlowe, 1022). In the end, a group of devils drag Faust of to hell (nemesis). Here are his chilling last words: "Ugly hell gape not! Come not, Lucifer! I'll burn my books-ah, Mephastophilis!" (Marlowe, 1023).
"Doctor Faustus." SparkNotes.
Marlowe, Christopher. "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Seventh Edition. Vol. I. New York: Norton, 2000.