How is the meaning derived in an encounter

The meeting of Faust and Helena in "Faust II"


1. History of origin

2. Development of the Helena figure - introduction to Helena

3. The Helena act

4. In front of the palace of Menelas in Sparta

5. The union of Faust and Helena

6. Euphorion's Appearance

7. Conclusion

Faust and Helena

The encounter between Faust and Helena is the central theme in “Faust II”, the second part of the tragedy.

1. History:

The Helena motif already belonged to the Faust saga of the folk books. There Helena is an enchanted figure, a creation of the devil. In Goethe, on the other hand, she is represented as a sublime figure, as a heroine. Around 1800 Goethe began to study the Helena figure in more detail. A fragment of 265 verses was created, which already contains the scene and the conversation with Phorkyas. Verses 8707 - 8718 in Faust II are mentioned as an example.1 In it, Helena does not yet meet Faust. The continuation of the Helena Faust theme had to wait. Other works, such as the Elective Affinities, the theory of colors, the first version of the Wanderjahre were predominant. Only in old age, in the creative period from 1825 to 1831, did Goethe continue to work on his Faust II. In his diary he now called the work on “Faust” his “main business.” In a letter, he expresses himself ironically: “You will see how long-suffering I go about in the three-thousand-year-old“ Helena ”, who I have been with for sixty years sneak up on to gain something from her ... "2

First he designed the Helena act, which he published in advance in 1827 under the title “Helena, classical-romantic phantasmagoria,3 Interlude to Faust ”published. "Classic" in the meaning of "antique" and "romantic" in the sense of "medieval". The poetic connection between the two areas of ancient Greece and the German Middle Ages corresponded to Goethe's cultural conception in old age. Goethe considered how he could bring Faust, the Nordic, late medieval figure together with the ancient Greek Helena. Helena was not supposed to come to Faust's study as in the folk book, but to stay on her soil and in her time. Faust is settled in a castle in the Peloponnese, near Sparta. Goethe researched works on medieval culture, such as Raumer's “History of the Hohenstaufen”. Western crusaders who had built castles on the Peloponnese - one of them was Mistra near Sparta - offered Goethe a motif for his Faust castle.

In order to make the leap in time and the union of the two protagonists credible, several tricks were necessary. On the one hand the transition of the linguistic style, ancient Greek poetics to the medieval rhyme form, on the other hand the form of the first encounter of the classical Helen with Faust.

After the Helena act, he wrote the first act and the "Classical Walpurgis Night".4 In a letter to Zelter he said: “The first two acts by Faust are finished. At the beginning of the third act, Helena does not appear as an interlude, but as a heroine without further ado, [...] The extent to which the gods will help me with the fourth act is a question. The fifth to the end of the end is already on the paper. "

Actually, Goethe did not want Faust II to be published during his lifetime, he apparently feared unfavorable assessments and sealed the manuscript in 1931,5 to occasionally bring out short changes.

2. Development of the Helena figure - introduction to Helena

Faust switches between remembering and forgetting in “the second part of tragedy”. Paradoxical memory theater, of the three thousand years of cultural history from the Trojan War to the industrial revolution, are included in the work.6 His regenerating sleep at the beginning of Act 1 erases the memory of the Gretchen tragedy temporarily from his memory, but Mnemosyne, the mother of all muses, gives him other memories. This includes the scene “Hexenküche” in the first part of the drama, when Faust sees the most beautiful picture of a woman in a magic mirror (verse 2435 - 2440). And after Faust's rejuvenation, Mephisto notes:

With this drink in your body you will soon see Helens in every woman. (V. 2603-2604).

Arrived on their world tour in the "imperial Palatinate", Faust and Mephisto act as entertainers and entertain the emperor and his court with the "Mummenschanz", a masked procession consisting of allegorical figures. After the magic with the creation of paper money, the emperor wishes to see a special spectacle. This wish of the ruler gives Faust a headache.


The Emperor wants, it must happen immediately, / wants to see Helena and Paris in front of him; The model image of men and women in clear shapes willer to look. (V. 6181 f.)

Mephisto regrets not being able to serve him because:

The heathen people are none of my business / they dwell in their own hell / but there is a means (v. 2609 - 2611)

Faust has to go to the underground realm of the mothers - goddesses of origin - to bring up Helena and Paris. Faust is startled by the term "mothers."

Mephisto gives him a magical key that is supposed to help him get into the realm, to get a glowing tripod there to make the desired people visible. He alone has to go deep, there is no specific way, it goes “into what has not been stepped on, what cannot be stepped on” (v. 2224 f.). The mothers episode is a scene that has been puzzled over a lot. In a conversation with Eckermann, Goethe reveals that he had found the mother goddesses in Plutarch. The three original deities are Proserpina, Demeter, Rhea. According to Rudolf Steiner, they are embodiments of earlier stages of world development.7 The Orphics also have three original principles of the world, which they call Zeus, Chronios and Chaos. In Pherecydes of Syros there are three original principles, Chronos, Zeus and Chthon, which are equated with time, space and matter.

The figures presented to the emperor are admired and commented on by the court, but when Faust, drawn to Helena and jealous, points the magic key at Paris, the whole phenomenon dissolves in an explosion.

After Faust's return to the study, the creation of the luminous test tube being Homunculus, it is time to transfer the protagonists to Greek soil. Faust, Mephisto and Homunculus reach the Greek landscape of Thessaly as pilots. One of Faust's first questions is: “Where is she?” (V. 7055). To Mephistopheles, who feels uncomfortable in the world of Greek myths and wants to part with Faust temporarily, Faust expresses himself effusively:

"If it weren't for the clod that carried you / not the wave that hit you / that's the air that spoke your language. / Here, by a miracle, here is Greece! (V. 7070-7075)

In the classic Walpurgis Night, on the upper Peneios, where Mephistopheles makes his own experiences with the mythological creatures, the sphinxes, the griffins, and other hybrid beings, Faust meets the centaur or horse man Chiron, who raised Hercules and was the teacher of the healing god Asclepius. Faust learns from him that he once carried ten-year-old Helena on his back in order to save her from Theseus with the help of her twin brothers Castor and Pollux. Helena, who was coveted by many Greek heroes such as Theseus, or later by Achilles, in her early youth because of her legendary beauty.

Faust wonders:

Only ten years! ... (v. 7425)


I see, the philologists, / They have deceived you as much as they deceived themselves, / It is very special with the mythological woman, / The poet sings about her as he needs it, flaunting: / She never comes of age, does not get old, / always appetizing figure / is kidnapped young, still wrapped in old age; / Gnug, the poet has no time. (7426)

Chiron brings the stranger who wanders around with “crazy senses” to the seer Manto, who lives in a cave. Manto, the Faust explains: "[...] the dear, who desires the impossible", advises him to do better than Orpheus once did.8 Together they descend "in the hollow of Olympus" to Persephone. (V. 7490). Faust, referred to as a “second Orpheus” in an earlier Faust sketch by Goethe, brings the memory image from the depths of his imagination, thereby making it come alive.9 The processes in the underworld are not shown, so one does not learn how the Helena figure is brought up from the realm of shadows. In his design for this katabasis, Goethe had still intended to let his protagonist speak before the underworld goddess. Like Orpheus, Faust was supposed to persuade Persephone to hand over Helena by means of a speech.10 But by combining himself with the creative forces of mythical images, Faust becomes the new creator of the Helena figure.

While Faust descends into the realm of shadows, Mephisto befriends the Ur-Ugly, the Phorkyads or Graien, three sisters who together have only one eye and one tooth. In order to get involved in the ancient world of action, he takes the form of one of these figures and thereby changes from the male figure of the devil to a female one.

3. The "Helena Act"

The plot of the third act is divided into three scenes. The three-part structure corresponds to both the three phases of the cultural-historical conception and the changing poetic style.

Scenes or locations are:

a. The castle or palace of Menelas (Goethe uses the French form Menelas instead of the Greek Menelaus) at Sparta with the appearance of the ancient, literary Helena.


1 Goethe. Fist. The tragedy first and second part. Urfaust. Edited by Erich Trunz. Publishing house C. H. Beck Munich. Reprinted 2010. p. 662

2 Ibid. To Nees von Esenbeck. P. 453

3 Phantasmagoria: derived from the ancient Greek word "phantasm" i. e. Dream figure, imagination, appearance. Later for the artificial representation of appearances on the stage, magic lantern.

4 Jochen Schmidt: Goethe's Faust. First and second part. Basics - work - effect. 3. Edition. C. H. Beck, 2011. p. 211

5 See ibid. P. 211 f.

6 Cf. Peter Matussek: Faust II - the tragedy of the culture of memory. In: Roswitha Schieb (HG) Peter Stein directs Faust; Cologne 2000, pp. 291-296.

7 Rudolf Steiner: Explanations of the Spiritual Science of Goethe's “Faust”, Volume II: The Faust Problem, GA 273. 1981.

8 Ovid: Metamorphoses

9 Peter Matussek: Faust II - the tragedy of the culture of memory. In: Schieb Roswitha (ed.): Peter Stein stages Faust. Cologne 2000, pp. 291-296

10 See Goethe. Fist. Erich Trenz: Goethe on his "Faust" - sources on the genesis of "Faust". P. 450 -451)

End of the reading sample from 18 pages