Mephistopheles is portrayed in the legend of Faustus, as the name of the Devil to whom Faust sells his soul. This legend was famously recorded in Christopher Marlowe‘s play from the 1590s, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, and in the classic 19th century drama Faust (Part 1 and Part 2) by the influential German writer and humanist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Mephistopheles is known throughout Goethe’s book as a “fallen angel” himself, as he clearly states to Faustus. He rebels against the authority of God and is thrown out of heaven into hell. In a passage from Marlowe’s Faustus, Mephistopheles says “Why this is hell, nor am I out of it./ Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,/And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,/ Am not tormented with ten thousand hells/ In being deprived of everlasting bliss?”
Mefisto is also the title of a book by contemporary Irish writer John Banville. The novel treats the descent of a young math prodigy, and burn victim, Gabriel Swann, into a personal hell, accompanied by various Mephisotopholean characters, including Felix and Mr. Kasperl.
The meaning, if any, of the name “Mephistopheles” is unknown, although the historical evidence suggests that it was invented by the anonymous author of the German chapbook that made the Faust story famous. Many attempts have been made to construct etymologies from Greek or Hebrew, but with no definitive results. Inasmuch as the similarity of the Greek “Me Fausto philos” and the Latin “Ne Fausto filius” goes, who could deny that Mephistopheles was not a friend to Faust? Some believe that the name may mean “He who shuns the light”. It is likely that the name was composed of Latin words ‘mefitis’ (also spelt ‘mephitis’, meaning noxious exhalation from the ground) and ‘fel’ (bile, poison), and orthographically dressed as a Greek name, as if transliterated from an imaginary Greek ‘Μεφιστοφέλης’. Perhaps a rhyme with the name ’Αριστοτέλης Aristotélēs (Aristotle) was also sought, as well as the reverse meaning: while the name ‘Aristotelēs’ means ‘noblest purpose’ in Greek, the rhyming ‘Mephistophelēs’ seems to mean ‘noxious bile’, in a semi-educated, or perhaps deliberately comic, mixture of Greek and Latin.
Mephistopheles in popular culture
- In Marvel Comics, Mephisto is a prominent demon who controls an aspect of Hell and has at times claimed to also be the Biblical Satan.
- In the settings of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, Mephistopheles is an archdevil, one of the nine rulers of the plane of Baator, also called the Nine Hells. His domain is Cania, the eighth level of Baator, a frigid wasteland. In this role, he is the primary villain in the PC game Hordes of the Underdark, an expansion pack to Neverwinter Nights.
- In Xena: Warrior Princess, Mephastophilis is the original ruler of Hell. He is then replaced by Lucifer.
- Mephisto is one of the three ‘Prime Evils’ in Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo series. In Diablo 2, Mephisto, the Lord of Hatred, is one of the primary bosses.
- Mephisto is the core villain of a cluster of maps in Heroes of Might and Magic IV.
- On Beethoven’s Last Night, a concept album from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Mephistopheles represents the devil himself.
- Mephistopheles is referenced in “Wrapped Around Your Finger” from the album Synchronicity by The Police. The lyric says, “Mephistopheles is not your name, but I know what you’re up to just the same.”
- In Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the book’s protagonist, Charlie Marlow, describes a man who claims to be a brickmaker as a “papier-mache Mephistopheles”, meaning that while he seems to be solid, he is really hollow.
- The power metal band Kamelot’s first single from their album The Black Halo is called “March of Mephisto”; the song depicting a Satan-like character enjoying the grief of humans (“I am the urge of the flesh”)
- “The Devil Song” by Marcy Playground (from the soundtrack to the film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) includes the line, “My real name is Mephistopheles, but you can call me baby…”
- “The Sins of Memphisto” by folk singer John Prine came about as a result of an incorrect blending of the names Memphis, Egypt and Mephistopheles.
- The R&B group Spooks referenced Mephisto in their song “Karma Hotel”, in a verse which warned of the dangers of casual sex.
- Death Metal band Deicide has a song on their first album Deicide called “Mephistopheles” wherein Glen Benton screams the line “Satan! Take me Mephistopheles!”
- Japanese Rock and Visual Kei band ‘Moi dix Mois’s album ‘Nocturnal Opera’ contains a song named “Mephisto Waltz” which is referred to as a melody of sorrow.
- In the 2006 film Thank You for Smoking, the central character, a spokesman for Big Tobacco with a questionable sense of morals, is once referred to as a “yuppie Mephistopheles.”
- In the 2005 film Batman Begins, Arrigo Boito’s opera Mefistofele is being performed prior to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
- In the 1987 film Angel Heart, Mickey Rourke figures out that the Satan character “Louis Cyphere” is actually “Lucifer”, and Satan’s (Robert De Niro) response is “‘Mephistopheles’ is such a mouthful in Manhattan, Johnny.”
- In T.S. Eliot’s poetry book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running musical stage adaptation, Cats, there is a cat named The Magical Mr. Mistoffelees.
- In the television series South Park, Dr. Mephesto is the name of a mad scientist who lives on an ominous hill outside of town.
- In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, the resistance group rebelling against the One State is called the Mephi.
- In Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, it is mentioned that Gail Wynand was once asked to sit for a painting of Mephistopheles.
- In the second series of Sky One’s Hex, Mephistopheles (played by Ronan Vibert) takes an active part in guiding the son of Azazeal towards his destiny, to bring about the end of days. In the end he turns against evil and helps the ‘good side’ as he believes the only thing truly worth fighting for is love.
- In the popular Xbox game Phantom Dust, the skill Mephisto’s Pact is named after the demon.
- On Stephen Lynch’s song “Beelz” about Satan from his album The Craig Machine he says the line: “Mephisopheles to some!”
- Mephistopheles is a Death Metal band from Hobart, in Tasmania, Australia.
- In the Magic: The Gathering card game, there is a card called ‘Chains of Mephistopheles’.
- In 1993, Bono, the lead singer of the irish rock band U2, creates an alter-ego character for theirs Zoo TV tour show called “Mr. McPhisto”; which is an irony involving The Devil, Consumerism, Globalization and Stardom.
- Mephistopheles’ Stout is also a brew made by Avery Brewing company in Boulder, CO.
- Mephisto’s Trapezoid is an up and coming Hard Rock band from Glen Burnie, MD.