Who was Faust?

   Faust is the name of a 16th-century charlatan, who pretended a knowledge of magic. Letters written during the lifetime of the real Faust describe him as wicked, dishonest, and unlearned. According to a historian of the time, Johann Faust was born about 1480 in a little town in Germany and studied magic in Krakow, in Poland. Faust traveled from place to place in Germany practicing astrology, fortunetelling, and alchemy. Although his magical effects were accomplished by trickery, he produced an immense impression on those who saw him. Faust was an excellent showman. He was accompanied on his journeys by a performing horse and dog, which the superstitious believed to be evil spirits.
   After Faust's death his life was elaborated upon by storytellers, and he became a legend. His knowledge of magic was said to have come from a pact with the Devil. At fairs throughout Germany books that described Faust's adventures were sold. In fact, books on Faust were among the bestsellers of the time. Puppet plays based on the imaginary life of Faust were also presented at these fairs. In the puppet play Faust was supposed to have been a student of religion, who gave up this study to learn from the Devil about magic. The Devil kept his part of the bargain and even allowed Faust to meet Helen of Troy. However, at the end of the time agreed upon, the Devil returned to claim the soul of the frightened Faust.
   The Faust legend has been the basis of many literary and musical works, well-known ones being Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe; Faust, a tragedy by Goethe; and Faust, an opera by Gounod.