‘Fairer than the evening air’: Marlowe’s Gnostic Helen of Troy and the Tropes of Belatedness and Historical Mediation

First published in Fantasies of Troy: Classical Tales and the Social Imaginary in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, eds. Alan Shepard and Stephen D. Powell (Toronto: CRRS, 2004), pp. 39-62.


War ich das alles? bin ichs? werd ichs künftig sein, 
Das Traum- und Schreckbild jener Städteverwüstenden?

(Was I all that? Am I that now? Shall I be that in future, 
The dream image and the dread image of those destroyers of cities.)

Goethe, Faust, Der Tragödie zweiter Teil, III, ll. 8840-41.1


1. Goethe's belated Helen

Helen of Troy, whom the chorus of Aeschylus’ tragedy Agamemnon punningly names “helenas, helandros, heleptolis” (“the ruin of ships, men, and the city”),2 is a figure at once of desolation and desire. The city to whose name hers is forever attached, and for the destruction of which this choral speech blames her, is an emblem of historical memory, of unassuageable loss, and in successive embeddings of the matter of Troy from Virgil to the vernacular poets of Western Europe, an emblem of a translation of empire and a concomitant transference of cultural legitimacy.

In Goethe’s Faust, these motifs are commingled in those scenes where Faust chivalrously rescues Helen from the anger of Menelaus and teaches her to speak in rhyming couplets,3 thereby giving dramatic expression to a belief in intimate correspondence between classical Greece and Germany that remained a prominent element in German culture from Winckelmann's celebrated Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (1764) and Hölderlin's odes and hymns to the writings of Martin Heidegger. There is a delicate magic to Helen's acquisition of the trick of rhyming—though what might seem the more difficult feat of speaking in German she has already accomplished without noticing it. That must be the point: Heidegger, a century after Goethe, insisted that the classical Greek and German languages share a deep, and elsewhere unparalleled, ontological adequacy,4 and he found Hölderlin's expression of a classicizing spirituality convincing to the extent that he saw no incongruity in citing the third stanza of the hymn “Wie wenn am Feiertage” (understood as a poetic exposition of the concept die Natur) as an authoritative guide to the meaning of Aristotle's term physis.5

Although my principal concern in this essay is with the earlier raptus Helenae performed by Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, I would like briefly to pause, for purposes of comparison, over Goethe's and Hölderlin's acts of affiliation to and appropriation of classical Greece. What one might think of as the characteristic mood of Hölderlin's poetic incantations, a passionate Hellenism in which divine presences summoned up by an uncanny apostrophic magic brighten the spring air and the orchards of his native Swabia,6 was also accompanied by a powerful intuition of belatedness:

Aber Freund! wir kommen zu spät. Zwar leben die Götter,
     Aber über dem Haupt droben in anderer Welt. 

(But, my friend, we have come too late. The gods do live,
     But on high, over our heads, in another world.)

The urgency of Hölderlin's invocations of immanent divinities is arguably motivated by this sense of ontological separation and historical distance, and a corresponding feeling of vastation and abandonment:

Nemlich, als vor einiger Zeit, uns dünket sie lange,
     Aufwärts stiegen sie all, welche das Leben beglükt, 
Als der Vater gewandt sein Angesicht von den Menschen,
     Und das Trauern mit Recht über der Erde begann….

(For, when some time ago now—to us it seems ages—
     All those gladdened by life mounted up from this world, 
When the Father turned his countenance away from men,
     […] mourning rightly broke out over the earth….)7

In his hymn “Die Wanderung,” Hölderlin opens up the question of historical difference by inquiring how it is that the Graces, the daughters of heaven, have come to “barbarians”: “wie kommt / Ihr, Charitinnen, zu Wilden?” His suitably paradoxical response is to say that all that is divinely born (“alles Göttlichgeborne”) becomes a mere dream for anyone who would make it his by stealth, and punishes the one who would liken himself to it by force—while often taking by surprise him who had it least in mind:

Zum Traume wirds ihm, will es Einer
Beschleichen und straft den, der
Ihm gleichen will mit Gewalt; 
Oft überraschet es einen, 
Der eben kaum es gedacht hat.8

In the lines preceding these, the spiritual forces that Hölderlin evokes in this poem are very clearly gendered, as “Gratien Griechenlands,” “Himmelstöchter,” “Dienerinnen des Himmels” (the Graces of Hellas, heaven's daughters, the servant girls of heaven)9: these are the powers who resist the stealthy appropriations of latecomers by fading into the insubstantiality of dreams. There are overtones of serpentine as well as human cunning in the verb beschleichen (“to steal up upon,” “to surprise,” “to cheat”); and this verb, while rhyming with the forceful declaration of likeness or equality (gleichen … mit Gewalt) which these same heavenly powers punish, is also contrasted in these lines with another form of surprise: an unasked gift of the divine, which manifests itself in lively impetuousity (überraschen, “to take unawares,” has these connotations, and is cognate with the English “rashness”). Those of the implicitly masculine Wilden who retain what one might take to be a barbarian propensity for stealth and force receive only a dream or simulacrum; the feminized divine bestows itself in a manner that anticipates desire.

This poem participates in a hermeneutical discourse that is more fully unfolded and explicated in Goethe's Faust. In that play's first scene, Faust proclaims equality with the Earth Spirit he has so vehemently invoked (“Ich bins, bin Faust, bin deinesgleichen”), and is devastatingly rebuked for his presumption: “Du gleichst dem Geist, den du begreifst, / Nicht mir!”10 (“You are equal to that spirit you can grasp—not me!”). Faust will shortly discover that another less tremendous spirit—one that has attempted to take him by surprise, and that is determined to cheat him—can also evade his control. Mephistopheles, who contemptuously remarks, “Du bist noch nichts der Mann, den Teufel festzuhalten!” (“You're not the man to hold the devil in your grasp!”), instructs the subordinate spirits who have sung Faust asleep to “Play on him with sweet dreams, plunge him into a sea of delusions!” (“Umgaukelt ihn mit süßen Traumgestalten, / Versenkt ihn in ein Meer des Wahns!”).11

Goethe's Prologue in Heaven evokes in its opening lines an abyssal sublimity of space and time (“Die Sonne tönt nach alter Weise / In Brudersphären Wettgesang…” [“The sun resounds among the singing spheres with its ancient music…”])—which Mephistopheles, though himself a primordial being, undercuts with cynical colloquialisms: “I like to see the old man from time to time,” he says (“Von Zeit zu Zeit seh ich den Alten gern…”). He possesses a synoptic awareness of human history from its beginnings, but only as an endless repetition of the same: “Der kleine Gott der Welt bleibt stets von gleichen Schlag / Und ist so wunderlich als wie am ersten Tag” (“These little lords of creation haven't changed in the least. They're just as queer as they were on the first day”).12

Faust's encounter with the Earth Spirit, who is likewise a quasi-originary being, puts him up against a force that looks rather like temporality itself: “Geburt und Grab, / Ein ewiges Meer, / Ein wechselnd Weben, / Ein glühend Leben: / So schaff ich am sausenden Webstuhl der Zeit / Und wirke der Gottheit lebendiges Kleid” (“I am birth and the grave, an eternal ocean, a changeful weaving, a glowing life. And thus I work at the humming loom of time, and fashion divinity's living garment”).13 Following his rejection by this spirit (but prior to his meeting with the demonic power of negation), Faust declares to his famulus Wagner the impossibility of recapturing the past: “Past ages, my friend, are a book with seven seals. What you all call the spirit of the times is just your own spirit with the times reflected in it”:

Mein Freund, die Zeiten der Vergangenheit
Sind uns ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln. 
Was ihr den Geist der Zeiten heißt, 
Das ist im Grund der Herren eigner Geist, 
In dem die Zeiten sich bespiegeln.14

The Helen sequence in Part Two of Faust returns to this hermeneutical thematic, adding to it the question of gender. Even before their magical translation from the palace of Menelaus to Faust's castle, Helen and her attendants are, as Mephistopheles says, no more than ghosts, ironically fearful of leaving a daylight that is no longer theirs.15 As Faust himself had been, they are to be played upon by sweet dreams and delusions—though once Helen has consented to a translation to Faust's castle, a neverland construct of Romantic medievalism that with deliberate naiveté conflates the period of barbarian invasions with the high-medieval Frankish conquest of the Pelopponese seven centuries later,16 she is pointedly aware of her multiplication in the mirroring minds of her abductors and appropriators:

Einfach die Welt verwirrt ich, doppelt mehr; 
Nun dreifach, vierfach bring ich Not auf Not.

(When there was only one of me, I caused trouble in the world. More trouble when there were two. Now that I am threefold, fourfold, it's one calamity after another.)17

But what exactly are the consequences of this Faust's cohabitation with Helen? He repeats with her the legend of Helen's afterlife cohabitation with Achilles on the white island of Leuke, down to the detail of their son Euphorion18—who in Goethe's dramatic allegory becomes, at the moment of his death and disappearance, Lord Byron: an image at once of aspirations for the restoration of freedom to modern Hellenes and of the poetic, erotic, and ethical power to be gained from an affiliation to Greek culture. After a last embrace, Helen is also de-corporealized, leaving in Faust's arms her garment and her veil, which Mephistopheles predicts will “sweep [Faust] through the ether, above all that is commonplace” (“Es trägt dich über alles Gemeine rasch / Am Äther hin…”).19

The verb which for Hölderlin signified the surprising and unanticipated nature of the feminized divine's gift of itself (überraschen) recurs here, though in disseminated form (über … rasch). And like the gods whose presence is invoked and intuited in Hölderlin's odes, Helen's choral attendants disperse themselves as blessings of fertility, divine presence and Bacchic potential into a landscape that is finally as much German as it is Arcadian.20


2. Marlowe's Helen and the 'sin of demoniality'

Two centuries earlier, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus also made Helen of Troy his paramour—but with less happy consequences, for the male protagonist at least. In this play, if we can trust a preponderance of its critics, the motifs from the matter of Troy that Goethe makes explicit in his re-working of the legend of Faustus, in particular the sense of historical depth and the play with questions of historical difference and belatedness, seem to be largely absent. I want to propose that this view arises from a reductive and narrowly demonological contextualizing of Marlowe’s Helen within what was until recently a dominant tendency in Marlowe scholarship, and to outline other more rewarding contexts (still largely neglected by most critics of the play)—in the writings of Jean Calvin; in the intriguingly problematic representations of Helen by Herodotus, Euripides, and other classical writers; and finally, in the use made of Helen by Gnostic sectarians whom Marlowe appears to have read about during his years of theological study at Cambridge.21

However we contextualize the Helen sequence in Marlowe's play, one of our focal points must be Faustus's enraptured apostrophe, which contains a great deal more than the cloying eroticism of the best-known filmed version of the play, in which Richard Burton aims the lines, through much flapping about of veils and streamers, in the direction of a smug Elizabeth Taylor:

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? 
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss;22 
Her lips suck forth my soul, see where it flies! 
Come Helen, come, give me my soul again; 
Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips, 
And all is dross that is not Helena. 
I will be Paris, and for love of thee
Instead of Troy shall Wittenberg be sack’d…

Forgive the interruption, but is there a scholar anywhere who does not respond to this Wittenberg man’s notion of his alma mater in flames, or cannot take pleasure in imagining one or two close colleagues at the heart of a similar conflagration? But the thought of long-haired Achaeans running bronze-clad through Wittenberg, spearing astonished academics in the streets of their plundered and burning city, is perhaps not uppermost in Faustus’s mind. He seems rather to be supplying his erotic raptures with a medievalized chivalric frame:

Instead of Troy shall Wittenberg be sack’d, 
And I will combat with weak Menelaus
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest; 
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel
And then return to Helen for a kiss.23

One may be tempted to remember that “weak Menelaus” was strong enough, in Book Three of Homer’s Iliad, to disgrace the “godlike” Paris, or Alexandros, as Homer prefers to call him, in single combat. Yet that episode also ends with a kiss: Aphrodite, goddess of love, wraps her favourite rapist in a cloud, carries Paris back within the walls of Troy, and delivers him to Helen’s boudoir.

But who or what is Marlowe's Helen? What is the meaning of her appearance in this play? To these questions Marlowe scholars have had a very direct and simple answer ever since the publication in 1946 of Sir Walter Greg’s frequently reprinted and much-cited essay on “The Damnation of Faustus.” In Greg’s belief, “'Helen' … is a 'spirit,' and in this play a spirit means a devil. In making her his paramour Faustus commits the sin of demoniality, that is, bodily intercourse with demons”—and “the nice balance between possible salvation and imminent damnation is upset” once he has fallen into “the direst sin of which human flesh is capable.”24 In other words, the appearance of Helen in this play marks the decisive point at which Faustus becomes unredeemable. As Roma Gill put it, more melodramatically, “Helen’s lips 'suck forth' [Faustus's] soul in more than metaphor. The kiss signals the ultimate sin, demoniality, the bodily intercourse with spirits. Now the Old Man gives up hope of saving Faustus; the Good Angel leaves him. After such knowledge there is no forgiveness.”25

This view of the matter has not gone unopposed. T. W. Craik objected in 1969 that “The case, reduced to this summary form, is ludicrous”; in his view, “the literal-mindedness with which it has been invented and applied, and the materialistic view of sin which it implies … make the theory of Faustus' damning demoniality … repugnant to the whole nature of Marlowe’s play.”26 But despite objections to the interpretive or theological reductiveness of Greg’s essay, his invocation of “demoniality” seemed to many mid- and late-twentieth century critics to provide the obviously appropriate context to the appearance of Helen in the play.27 A cursory reading of the seventeenth-century theologian and demonologist Ludovico Maria Sinistrari, from whose work De daemonialitate et incubis et succubis Greg derived the term daemonialitas, might have inclined them to think otherwise.

If Sinistrari’s dates (1622-1701) were only slightly later, and his other writings less well substantiated, one might suspect this learned casuist to be an invention of Jonathan Swift. By paragraph 49 of De daemonialitate he is earnestly debating the question of whether incubi and succubi cultivate the arts and letters, have possessions, and make war among themselves (he decides, in each case, that they do).28 Although he is unsure whether they are subject to Original Sin, Sinistrari concludes that since they are rational beings, Jesus Christ came to save them also; they must therefore have sacraments like those of the human church (paras. 61-62).29 By paragraph 114 he seems almost to be an advocate of demoniality, finding little if any crime against religion in the act, and professing himself unable to understand why it should be understood as more wicked than bestiality and sodomy—the former being definitely worse than the latter, since it involves conjunction with a lower species, and hence a debasing of human dignity. Coitus with an incubus, on the other hand, joins us with an entity who is, like us, rational and immortal—but who, “being nobler in body, and certainly more subtle, is more perfect and more worthy than man; and thus a man who joins himself with an incubus does not degrade, but rather dignifies his nature….”30

If Sinistrari is to be our guide in matters demonological, Faustus’s union with Helen looks more like an act of spiritual self-improvement than clear evidence that he is, in Hart Crane’s wonderful phrase, a “bent axle of devotion.”31 We might of course seek out a less visibly unbalanced guide to such matters than Sinistrari. And yet the discursive contexts inscribed within this play are not merely demonological: they involve an actively revisionary engagement with other more ancient discourses—as is emblematically made evident when Faustus tells how with “sweet pleasure” he has “conquer’d deep despair”: “Have I not made blind Homer sing to me / Of Alexander’s love and Oenon’s death?” (This is an element of the tale of Troy that was narrated in the post-Homeric Kypria, but passed over in silence by Homer himself: Faustus would have been the first to hear it from his lips.) “And hath not he that built the walls of Thebes / With ravishing sound of his melodious harp / Made music with my Mephastophilis?”32 (The Amphion-Mephastophilis String Band: how much further can we take world-music cross-overs?)

Given this evidence of discursive hybridity, shall we then seek out wider contexts, keeping in mind that there remains something ineradicably uncanny about the notion of sexual commerce between corporeal and disembodied beings?


3. Spiritual fornication

What Sir Walter Greg was—forgive the term—groping towards in his reflections on “the direst sin of which human flesh is capable” is a category explicitly linked to Helen of Troy by that magisterial reformer and Elizabethan best-seller Jean Calvin, whose spirited account of what he called “spiritual fornication” occurs in a passage of his Institutes of the Christian Religion devoted to “the abomination of the Mass”:

Offered in a golden cup, it has so inebriated all kings and peoples of the earth, from highest to lowest, and has so stricken them with drowsiness and dizziness, that, more stupid than brute beasts, they have steered the whole vessel of their salvation into this one deadly whirlpool. Surely, Satan never prepared a stronger engine to besiege and capture Christ’s kingdom. This is the Helen for whom the enemies of truth today do battle with so much rage, fury, and cruelty—a Helen indeed, with whom they so defile themselves in spiritual fornication, the most abominable of all.33

The stupefying contents of a golden cup, a deadly whirlpool which engulfs the victims of that poisonous pharmakon, a siege engine, a temptation to defilement and spiritual fornication: as the frenzy of shifting metaphors may suggest, the danger of this Mass, this Helen, is a function of its uncontrollable instability and supplementarity. Through their very promiscuity, Calvin's metaphors might be said to enter into a metonymic relationship with the central shift or slippage that makes the Mass an “abomination”: that transgression of ontological categories and of differences in material substance which occurs when the wine in the elevated cup undergoes a purported transubstantiation into the blood of Christ.

There is of course a Homeric intertext to Calvin’s words: he is remembering those lines in Book IV of the Odyssey in which Helen removes the grief of Menelaus, Telemachus and Peisistratus by casting into their wine a medicine she obtained in Egypt,

                    … free of gall, to make one forget all sorrows, 
and whoever had drunk it down once it had been mixed in the wine bowl, 
for the day that he drank it would have no tear roll down his face, 
not if his mother died and his father died, not if men
murdered a brother or a beloved son in his presence….34

But Calvin’s conflated allusion to this passage and to the siege of Troy produces undeniable confusions. The drugged potion of forgetfulness with which Helen obliterates sorrow is the offering of the Mass; these liquids are also “a Helen” (with the suggestion of a potential plurality of Helens). The “enemies of truth,” the Roman Catholics who do battle for this Helen and defile themselves with her, are implicitly equated with the defenders of Troy, thus aligning the Reformers with the Achaean or Greek besiegers—whose primary aim was to recover possession of Helen. But if Helen is also a siege engine being used against Christ's kingdom, are the Reformers now the defending Trojans and the Roman Catholics the besieging Greeks? Helen is bewilderingly both inside and outside the walls, the object of siege warfare and its primary instrument.

Calvin's initial focus is upon the soporific and stupefying power of the abomination that he equates with Helen; “spiritual fornication,” whatever precisely that may involve, appears to follow as the defiling consequence of a drugged or inebriated condition. In an analogous manner, Marlowe's Faustus, having given his fellow scholars a glimpse of “Helen of Greece,” only comes to desire her as his paramour after the Old Man's denunciation of his “most vile and loathsome filthiness” has brought him to a more powerful than ever sense of his desperate spiritual condition—an awareness which he tells a menacing Mephastophilis he wishes to “extinguish”:

One thing, good servant, let me crave of thee
To glut the longing of my heart's desire: 
That I might have unto my paramour
That heavenly Helen which I saw of late, 
Whose sweet embracings may extinguish clean
These thoughts that do dissuade me from my vow
[…] to Lucifer.35

If Marlowe's Helen is a figure not just of desire but also of a willed forgetfulness of grief, this may reflect the poet's awareness both of Homer and of more contemporary texts by which Homer's had been mediated. But his relationship to such mediations is unlikely to have been one of mere acquiescence. There is evidence in Doctor Faustus that Marlowe's six years of theological study at Cambridge had given him a thorough understanding of Calvin's doctrines36—and evidence both there and elsewhere that he detested them. On the issue of the sacrament that so agitated Calvin, Marlowe is reported by the spy Richard Baines to have held scandalously unorthodox opinions:

That if there be any god or any good Religion, then it is in the papistes because the service of god is performed with more Cerimonies, as Elevation of the mass, organs, singing men, Shaven Crownes & cta. That all protestantes are Hypocriticall asses [….]

That if Christ would have instituted the sacrament with more Ceremoniall Reverence it would have bin had in more admiration, that it would have bin much better being administred in a Tobacco pipe.37


4. Helen’s spectrality

An unstable and uncanny figure in Calvin’s muddled allegory, Helen is only marginally less so in classical texts. As the daughter of Zeus, she is consistently represented in classical Greek writings as a numinous figure, whose beauty and (in many versions) ethical irresponsibility are alike quasi-divine attributes. “[T]he only woman in Homer who clearly has distinctive epithets of her own,”38 her close linkage to the powers of Olympus is made evident in a variety of ways—in the favoured afterlife as an inhabitant of the Isles of the Blest that Homer confers upon Menelaus for the sole virtue of being her consort,39 or in the story that Stesichorus was blinded as a punishment for abusing Helen in one of his poems, and only recovered his sight after publishing a palinode in which he declared that she was never at Troy, but only a phantom image of her.40

Two rather obvious things need to be said about the classical Helen. The first is that this most hauntingly desirable of all women undergoes a repeated dematerialization, not just in Stesichorus, or in the Helen of Euripides, in which the trope of Stesichorus’ palinode becomes the subject of an entire play, but in other sources as well—among them Herodotus, in whose Histories the story that Helen spent the years of the Trojan War in Egypt is narrated in circumstantial detail, backed with the authority of the temple priests of Memphis, and supported by the claim that although Homer rejected this true story “as less suitable for epic poetry than the one he actually used, he left indications that it was not unknown to him.”41 Roberto Calasso can thus claim that “Helen is the power of the phantom, the simulacrum—and the simulacrum is that place where absence is sovereign.”42

Secondly, Helen very clearly becomes, in post-Homeric Greece, a vehicle for thinking about divine justice, another kind of sovereign absence. Euripides, reflecting on the catastrophe of Troy in the wake of Stesichorus and Herodotus (and in the midst of the unfolding catastrophe of the Peloponnesian War), seems to have recognized the strategic power of Helen-as-simulacrum in the sustaining of any poetic legitimation of the justice of divine power. Such a theodicy would seem to require one of two diametrically opposed moves: either that Helen be separated from affiliation to Olympian Zeus and reattached to her human paternity in Sparta, or else that she be altogether disconnected, except as bodiless image or eidolon, from the siege of Troy.43 Euripides proceeds to demonstrate the futility of both moves.

In The Trojan Women, Andromache, crying out against the Hellenes who are about to murder her son Astyanax, also denounces the casus belli: “Helen, Tyndareos’ daughter! You were never daughter of Zeus!” But detaching Helen from her divine father and making her the daughter, rather, of Tyndareos of Sparta, results in an immediate proliferation of phantom paternal agencies of devastation:

You had many fathers; the Avenging Curse was one, 
Hate was the next, then Murder, Death, and every plague
That this earth breeds. I’ll swear Zeus never fathered you
To fasten death on tens of thousands east and west!44

The repeated denial of any link between Helen and Zeus does not absolve that god of responsibility: when Hecabe calls out to Zeus, with a counter-claim to affiliation and to justice—

Zeus, our maker, begetter, Lord of our land! 
We are Dardanus’ children! See: is our torment just?

—the chorus answers: “He sees, and the flames burn on.”45

In his Helen, Euripides dramatizes a version of what Herodotus and the penitent Stesichorus had represented as the ‘true’ story: in the protagonist’s own words,

The Helen who went to Phrygia as a prize for Troy to defend and the Greeks to fight for—that Helen was not I, only my name. Zeus did not forget me: I was taken by Hermes, wrapped in a cloud, borne through the secret places of the upper air, and set down here in the palace of Proteus, whom Zeus picked out as the most honourable of all men, so that I might preserve my chastity inviolate for Menelaus.46

But the problem of theodicy re-emerges in the words of the Messenger when, only a few lines after declaring that “The ways of the gods are involved and mysterious … and all is for the best,” he appears to contradict himself by remarking on the ways in which their priests and prophets withheld what would seem to be vital information:

Calchas saw his friends dying in battle for the sake of a phantom, yet he gave them neither word nor sign; no more did the Trojan Helenus—his city was sacked for nothing. You may say it was because the god did not wish them to speak….47

The sophist Gorgias, Euripides’ contemporary, adds another dimension to the ethical-theological discourses surrounding this phantasmatic Helen when in his Encomium of Helen he argues that—even assuming she did indeed abandon her husband and accompany Alexandros to Troy—she can in no way be blamed. For if Helen acted by the will of fate and of the gods, they are at fault; and if she was carried off by violence she is to be pitied rather than condemned.

But if it was logos which persuaded her and deceived her heart, not even to this is it difficult to make an answer and to banish blame as follows. Logos is a powerful lord, which by means of the finest and most invisible body effects the divinest works: it can stop fear and banish grief and create joy and nurture pity.48

Poetry provides a proof of this: “Fearful shuddering and tearful pity and grievous longing come upon its hearers….” And other kinds of ordered speech reinforce the argument:

Sacred incantations sung with words are bearers of pleasure and banishers of pain, for, merging with opinion in the soul, the power of the incantation is wont to beguile it and persuade it and alter it by sorcery. There have been discovered two arts of sorcery and magic: one consists of errors of soul and the other of deceptions [apatemata] of opinion. All who have and do persuade people of things do so by molding a false argument…. What cause then prevents the conclusion that Helen similarly, against her will, might have come under the influence of logos, just as if ravished by the force of the mighty?49

Helen is here the victim of logos—but she might also be said to merge with it, as another body, in some accounts almost invisible, in others an insubstantial shining-forth, but always “effect[ing] the divinest works.” In writing this Encomium, Gorgias was without doubt remembering that same passage of Book IV of the Odyssey which Herodotus cited as evidence that Homer knew of Helen’s Egyptian sojourn, and which Calvin would allude to in his rant against “spiritual fornication”—for Gorgias also notes that “The effect of speech upon the condition of the soul is comparable to the power of drugs over the nature of bodies.”50 Like the incantations of which the old sophist speaks, Helen in Book IV of the Odyssey brings pleasure and banishes pain, beguiling her auditors with drugs—and also with the stories she proceeds to tell them: “Sit here now in the palace,” she says, “and take your dinner and listen / to me and be entertained.”51

The Helen who was actually in Troy is thus intimately connected with what Gorgias says of “the magic violence of speech”52 and the therapeutic sorcery of poetic incantations. But as Calasso insists, the Helen who was not in Troy is still more scandalously connected to the deceits of poetry. According to the version of events given by Herodotus,

For ten years the war had raged around an absent woman, whom the Trojans would have been more than happy to hand over to the Achaeans, if only they had actually had her. Why on earth did Homer keep quiet about that extraordinary fact in the events leading up to the war? Herodotus answers: “because this story was not suitable for epic composition.” It is an explanation that leaves us dumbfounded. So the centuries-old accusation against Homer, that he was a craftsman of deceit, turns out to be true, does it? For overridingly literary motives, Homer kept quiet about the supreme scandal of the Trojan War: that blood had been spilled for a woman who was not actually there, for an impalpable ghost.53

* * *

Does it seem extravagant to suggest an association between Marlowe’s Helen, the Helens of Euripides, who are bound up with an interrogation of divine justice, and the Helen of Gorgias—who, through a slippage of signifiers that seems to be the mark of her uncanny power, is also to be identified with the deceptive ability of logos and of poetry to “stop fear and banish grief”? Let us remember again that Marlowe’s Faustus does not ask to have Helen for his paramour solely in order “[t]o glut the longing of [his] heart’s desire,” but also because he anticipates that her “sweet embracings may extinguish clean / These thoughts that do dissuade me from my vow /… to Lucifer.”54 Like the medicinal drug which Helen stirred into the wine in the palace of Menelaus, sexual congress with Helen is to make Faustus temporarily oblivious to his anguish and despair. (It is not clear that Faustus wholly believes the trick will work, for an accurate awareness of the reality of his situation burns up through the glamour of his words: “Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter / When he appear’d to hapless Semele….”55 But didn’t Gorgias warn us that the domain of logos, of drug-like incantations, was also one of apatemata, or deceptions?)

It is worth reflecting, in this light, on the poetic and deceptive power that enters Faustus’s speech when he addresses Helen. Only fifteen lines previously he has abjectly renewed his blood-pact with Lucifer and betrayed to demonic assault the Old Man who attempted to correct him. How many critics of the play, after subjecting themselves to the rhetorical splendours of this speech, have been able to notice that Faustus must be supposed to speak these lines with his own blood, the visible sign of his cowardice and shame, still dripping from his arm?

But what did Marlowe know of an ancient writer as obscure as Gorgias? We cannot be sure that he had read the Encomium of Helen—but if he knew the text On Nature or that which is not (Peri tou me ontos), in which Gorgias enunciates a philosophy of paradoxical skepticism, it is possible that he would have sought out Gorgias's closely related pronouncements on rhetoric and poetry in the Encomium. Stephen Greenblatt has described as thoroughly Gorgian both Marlowe’s fascination with “the magic violence of speech”56 and also the recurrent predicament of his protagonists, who are “forever cut off from the knowledge of being, forever locked in the partial, the contradictory, and the irrational,” and hence obliged “through the power of language [to] construct deceptions in which and for which they live.”57 Greenblatt is alluding here to Peri tou me ontos, in which Gorgias supplements his rhetoric of deceptions with what amounts to a skeptical “empty ontology”: in summary form, his argument is “first and foremost, that nothing exists; second, that even if it exists it is inapprehensible to man; third, that even if it is apprehensible, still it is without doubt incapable of being expressed or explained to the next man.”58 Although Greenblatt does not remark on the fact, there is no doubt either that Marlowe was familiar with this formulation of an implicitly tragic epistemological gap between human discourse and its referents: when, in his opening speech, Faustus advises himself to “Bid on kai me on farewell,” he is unmistakably quoting from Gorgias’s Peri tou me ontos.59


5. The Gnostic Helen

These contexts may take us some distance towards answering—or at least complicating—the question of who or what Marlowe’s wordless Helen may be, as well as the further question of the extent to which her appearance in the final act of Doctor Faustus evokes textual mediations and historical depths that may be comparable in significance to those which are much more explicitly in play in Goethe's Faust. The question of why she appears in this play can, on a preliminary level, be more easily explored. As I have argued elsewhere, Helen was drawn into the legend of Faustus as a direct consequence of a logic of legitimation which motivated the Lutheran theologians—Luther himself, his colleague Philip Melanchthon, and Melanchthon’s student Augustin Lercheimer—who were primarily responsible for the elaboration of demonologically inflected narratives about this magician.60 According to patristic writings which Luther and Melanchthon read and cited (among them the apocryphal Acts of Peter and Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions), the apostle Peter engaged in a series of rhetorical and magical contests with the Samaritan magician and antichrist Simon Magus. But Simon's existence is also attested to by the canonical Acts of the Apostles and by refutations of his teachings by patristic apologists and heresiologists including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon, and Hippolytus of Rome.61

According to the view of sacred history expounded in the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions (which Luther adopted in his major work of scriptural exegesis, the Commentary on Galatians),62 the prior appearance of an exponent of the demonically-inspired False Prophecy amounts to a certification of the authenticity of the exponent of True Prophecy whom God then inspires to dissipate falsehood and disseminate his sacred truth. Simon fits this pattern: he preceded St. Peter and was refuted by him. Luther’s and Melanchthon’s immediate predecessors included a magician and astrologer whose titles and claims of expertise suggest affiliations to a number of ancient magicians and prophets—among them Simon Magus. On his earliest recorded appearances in 1506, this “Georgius Sabellicus, Faustus junior, magus secundus” is said to have boasted “that the miracles of Christ the Saviour were not so wonderful, that he could do all the things that Christ had done, as often and whenever he wished.”63 By the time of his death in the late 1530s, Doctor Georgius Faustus, as he came to call himself, had become famous throughout Germany as (in the words of the town council of Nuremberg) a “great sodomite and necromancer.”64

Late in his own life, Philip Melanchthon seized upon the opportunity of authenticating his and Luther’s quasi-apostolic role as Reformers by pointing to the parallel: just as St. Peter had been preceded and opposed by the antichrist Simon Magus, so also he and Luther were preceded and (so he suggested) opposed by Faustus, whom Melanchthon went out of his way to mis-identify as having been born in a village only steps away from his own home-town of Bretten.65 Simon Magus was associated, in the stories told about him by his Christian enemies, in his own theological pronouncements, and apparently also in the flesh, by a woman whom he claimed was Helen of Troy;66 the presence of Helen in the Lutheran legend of Faustus is one sign of its functional derivation from the patristic legend of Simon Magus. This heresiarch claimed to be the originary and supreme divine power; the woman whom he called Helen, and whom he said he had redeemed from prostitution in a brothel in Tyre, was his ennoia or First Thought. Though divine in nature, she was made captive by subordinate powers whom she had engendered, and imprisoned by them in a succession of female forms, including that of Helen of Troy, within the world they made:

Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all sorts of heresies derive their origin, formed his sect out of the following materials:— Having redeemed from slavery at Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, a certain woman named Helena, he was in the habit of carrying her about with him, declaring that this woman was the first conception of his mind, the mother of all, by whom, in the beginning, he conceived in his mind [the thought] of forming angels and archangels. For this Ennoea leaping forth from him, and comprehending the will of her father, descended to the lower regions [of space], and generated angels and powers, by whom also he declared this world was formed. But after she had produced them, she was detained by them through motives of jealousy, because they were unwilling to be looked upon as the progeny of any other being. As to himself, they had no knowledge of him whatever […]. She suffered all kinds of contumely from them, so that she could not return upwards to her father, but was even shut up in a human body, and for ages passed in succession from one female body to another, as from vessel to vessel. She was, for example, in that Helen on whose account the Trojan war was undertaken; for whose sake also Stesichorus was struck blind, because he had cursed her in his verses, but afterwards, repenting and writing what are called palinodes, in which he sang her praise, he was restored to sight. Thus she, passing from body to body, and suffering insults in every one of them, at last became a common prostitute; and she it was that was meant by the lost sheep [Matt. xviii.12].

For this purpose, then, he had come that he might win her first, and free her from slavery, while he conferred salvation upon men, by making himself known to them.67

This theology conflates the Greek myth of the birth of Athena, central motifs of Jewish Wisdom literature, and a proleptic allegorizing displacement of Paris’s rape of Helen; the Trojan War thereby becomes a metaleptic repetition of the true cosmogonic narrative. Like the Helen of some of the classical texts to which I have referred, this Simonian Helen is a shimmeringly ambiguous figure—physically present, but paradoxically so as a mere eidolon of the divine reality which may be intuited as underlying her appearance at the siege of Troy. According to the fourth-century C.E. pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, Simon claimed his consort to be “Wisdom, the mother of all things, for whom, says he, the Greeks and barbarians contending, were able in some measure to see an image of her; but of herself, as she is, as the dweller with the first and only God, they were wholly ignorant.”68

Marlowe activates this Simonian context when (in direct contrast to the treatment of Helen in the prose Faustbook which was his primary source) he integrates elements from Wisdom literature into Faustus’s speech to Helen:

O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars; 
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appear’d to hapless Semele, 
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms, 
And none but thou shalt be my paramour.69

Minus the mythographic allusions, this is a selectively cut synopsis of Solomon's paean to Wisdom in the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon. According to Solomon, Wisdom

is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence that floweth from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing come unto her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the undefiled mirror of the Majesty of God, and the image of his goodness. […] For she is more beautiful than the Sun, and is above all the order of stars, and the light is not to be compared unto her. […] I have loved her, and sought her from my youth: I desired to marry her, such love had I unto her beauty.    (Wisdom of Solomon 7: 25-26, 29, 8: 2; spelling modernized)

What Faustus has deleted is, very significantly, the language that links this celestial beauty to the majesty and power of the Judaeo-Christian God, and that insists on its immunity from defilement. (But the deleted or repressed returns at once in the gender inversions of his allusions to Semele and Arethusa.)

Marlowe, in short, is aware that Helen, before reaching his Faustus, has passed through the embraces, not just of Menelaus, Trojan Paris, and the sophist Gorgias, but of the heretic and antichrist Simon Magus as well. Jean Calvin, whose inheritance Marlowe despised, fought with all his strength against the enticing magic which he denounced under the name of Helen. Marlowe, in contrast, seems to insist on the mental (and possibly corporeal) pleasures of this “spiritual fornication.” But he also, more importantly, opens the way to a recovery of history through an erotic hermeneutic, or hermeneutic of eroticism, that anticipates what we have seen in the writings of Goethe and Hölderlin—and that is certainly no less complex than their evocations of “Gratien Griechenlands,” “Dienerinnen des Himmels,” or of Helen herself, in its recognition of the mediations constituted by prior appropriations of the desired classical form. The further question of whether Marlowe’s Helen is, like the Helens of Euripides, part of a dramatic interrogation of divine justice is not one to engage with here. Let it suffice to say that through this evanescent image of Helen, which is also a fleeting simulacrum of her textually sedimented history, Marlowe has offered us a dangerous taste of eroticized wisdom—perhaps even of the Wisdom of perversity.

* * *

A three-sentence postlude. Thomas Greene, in his classic book The Light in Troy, found “at the heart of the humanist enlightenment” something that he called “necromantic superstition.”70 I would prefer to say that the Homeric nekuia of Book XI of the Odyssey provides us with a necromantic hermeneutic of recovery, of engagement with the past through a gift to the dead of blood—or possibly, to think again of Faustus and Helen, of other bodily fluids as well. Greene eloquently describes the haunting consequences of this hermeneutic of necromancy, or necromantic superstition: “It produced buildings and statues and poems that have to be scrutinized for subterranean outlines or emergent presences or”—he says at last—“ghostly reverberations.”71




1  The translation is Barker Fairley's (p. 151), from Goethe's Faust, Der Tragödie zweiter Teil, III, ll. 8840-8841, p. 256.

2  Aeschylus, Agamemnon, lines 689-90, in Eschyle, vol. 2, p. 34.

3  Goethe, Faust, Part II, Act III.

4  See Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 57: “For along with German the Greek language is (in regard to its possibilities for thought) at once the most powerful and most spiritual of all languages.”

5  See Heidegger, “On the Essence and Concept of Physis,” in Pathmarks, p. 184; for the full text of Hölderlin's “Wie wenn am Feiertage,” see Selected Poems and Fragments, pp. 172-176. Elsewhere Heidegger writes that Nietzsche “understood the great age of Greek beginnings with a depth that was surpassed only by Hölderlin” (An Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 126).

6  See, for one of many possible examples, Hölderlin's ode “Der Zeitgeist,” ll. 13-16: “Wohl keimt aus jungen Reben uns heil'ge Kraft; / In milder Luft begegnet den Sterblichen, / Und wenn sie still im Haine wandeln, / Heiternd ein Gott…” (“True, from young vines we gather a holy strength; / In mild spring air, or when they are wandering / In orchards calmly, men will meet a / Brightening god”; Selected Poems and Fragments, trans. Hamburger, pp. 30-31).

7  Hölderlin, “Brot und Wein,” stanzas 7. 1-2, 8. 1-4; Selected Poems and Fragments, pp. 156-157. (I have modified Hamburger's translation of these lines.)

8  “Die Wanderung,” stanza 9. 6-7, 11-15; Selected Poems and Fragments, p. 188.

9  Ibid., stanza 8. 9-10, stanza 9. 8; Selected Poems and Fragments, p. 188.

10  Goethe, Faust, Der Tragödie erster Teil, ll. 500, 512-513, p. 21.

11  Ibid., ll. 1509-1511, 1509, p. 47.

12  Ibid., ll. 243-244, 350, 281-282, pp. 13-15. The translation of these lines is Barker Fairley's, from Goethe's Faust, pp. 6-7 (with a small alteration to the translation of line 350).

13  Ibid., ll. 504-509, p. 21. The translation is Fairley's, from Goethe's Faust, p. 10 (with an alteration to the last line—as before, in the direction of literalism).

14  Goethe, Faust, Der Tragödie erster Teil, ll. 575-579, p. 23; Fairley, Goethe's Faust, p. 11.

15  “Gespenster!—Gleich erstarrten Bildern steht ihr da, / Geschreckt, vom Tag zu scheiden, der euch nicht gehört.” Faust, Der Tragödie zweiter Teil, III, ll. 8930-8931, p. 259. (“You ghosts. There you stand like dummies, dreading to leave the daylight that isn't yours.” Goethe's Faust, trans Fairley, p. 153.)

16  The castle courtyard is specified by the stage direction as “umgeben von reichen, phantaschichen Gebäuden des Mittelalters” (“surrounded by rich and fantastic medieval buildings”), Faust, p. 265. Such a building might be taken to evoke the castles built by Villehardouin and other great nobles during the Frankish occupation of the Pelopponese (a period that seems to be remembered in distorted fashion in Faust's speech in ll. 9443-9481, pp. 273-275 [Fairley, p. 161]). Lynkeus' speech to Helen at ll. 9273-9332 [Fairley, p. 159] explicitly evokes the period of barbarian invasions and the fall of the western Roman empire.

17  Faust, Der Tragödie zweiter Teil, III, ll. 9254-9255, p. 268; Goethe's Faust, trans Fairley, p. 159.

18  For a summary account of the legend, see Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, pp. 121-122, 124.

19  Faust, Der Tragödie zweiter Teil, ll. 9952-9953, p. 288; Fairley, p. 168.

20  Goethe, Faust, Der Tragödie erster Teil, ll. 9985-10038; Fairley, pp. 169-170.

21  This latter part of my analysis is in some respects anticipated by Neil Forsyth's essay “Heavenly Helen” (1987); by my own remarks in “Right Eye and Left Heel” (1989), 88-89, and in the introduction to my edition of Doctor Faustus (1991), pp. xxxviii-xlvii; by Roger Emerson Moore in chapter 7 of his doctoral thesis, Aspiring Minds and Lumps of Clay (1995); and by A. D. Nuttall in The Alternative Trinity (1998).

22  Compare Dido Queen of Carthage, IV. iv. 121-123: “If he forsake me not, I never die, / For in his looks I see eternity, / And he’ll make me immortal with a kiss.” The feminizing of Faustus that this echoing of Dido’s words might suggest becomes explicit later in the speech when he identifies Helen with Jupiter, and himself with “hapless Selene.”

23  Doctor Faustus, ed. Keefer, V. i. 91-103, pp. 82-83.

24  W. W. Greg, “The Damnation of Faustus,” in Leech, ed., Marlowe, pp. 105-107.

25  Roma Gill, ed., Doctor Faustus, p. xxvi.

26  T. W. Craik, “Faustus’ Damnation Reconsidered,” pp. 194, 196.

27  Critics who accepted Greg’s 'demoniality' thesis include, in addition to Gill, Helen Gardner, “The Tragedy of Damnation,” pp. 339-340 n. 13; and Györgi Szönyi, “Traditions of Magic,” p. 7 n. 14. For other responses ranging from a qualified and revisionary acceptance to outright skepticism, see Arieh Sachs, “The Religious Despair of Doctor Faustus,” pp. 642-643; Robert Ornstein, “Marlowe and God: The Tragic Theology of Dr. Faustus,” p. 1383; Frank Manley, “The Nature of Faustus,” p. 228; A. L. French, “The Philosophy of Dr. Faustus,” p. 140; Nicolas Kiessling, “Doctor Faustus and the Sin of Demoniality,” pp. 205-211; Bruce Brandt, “Marlowe’s Helen,” p. 120 n. 3; and Ernst Honigmann, “Ten Problems in Dr Faustus,” pp. 174-175. David Bevington offers a survey of responses to Greg’s thesis in “Marlowe and God,” pp. 8-9.

28  Ludovico Maria Sinistrari, De daemonialitate et incubis et succubis, pp. 82-83.

29  Sinistrari, De daemonialitate, pp. 106-111.

30  Sinistrari, De daemonialitate, pp. 200-202: “In coitu autem cum Incubo, in quo nulla habetur qualitas, vel minima, criminis contra Religionem, difficile est rationem invenire, per quam tale delictum Bestialitate et Sodomia gravior esset. Siquidem gravitas Bestialitatis prae Sodomia, prout supra diximus, consistit in hoc, quod homo vilificat dignitatem suae speciei jungendose cum bruto, quod est speciei longe inferioris sua. In coitu autem cum Incubo diversa est ratio: nam Incubus ratione spiritus rationalis, ac immortalis, aequalis est homini; ratione vero corporis nobilioris, nempe subtilioris, est perfectior, et dignior homine; et hoc modo homo jungens se Incubo non vilificat, immo dignificat suam naturam….”

31  Crane, "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen," I, line 52, Complete Poems, p. 29. To be fair, it should be added that Sinistrari does allow for another kind of coitus, which is demoniality with demons rather than with incubi and succubi—though in this work he is very little interested in it. He thinks even coitus with incubi or succubi to be damnable if the person involved believes his partner to be a devil. Greg, however, gives no reason beyond mere assertion for identifying Helen as a devil.

32  Doctor Faustus, ed. Keefer, II. iii. 25-30, p. 41.

33  Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV. xviii.18, vol. 2, p. 1445.

34  The Odyssey of Homer, trans. Lattimore, IV. 221-225, p. 71.

35  Doctor Faustus, ed. Keefer, V. i. 11, 41, 82-88, pp. 78, 79, 81-82.

36  See Stachniewski, The Persecutory Imagination, pp. 17-84, 292-331; my introduction to Doctor Faustus, pp. xlvii-lv; and A. D. Nuttall, The Alternative Trinity, pp. 22-41.

37  MacLure, ed., Marlowe: The Critical Heritage, p. 37 (with u/v silently modernized).

38  Milman Parry, The Making of Homeric Verse, p. 97; cited by Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, p. 91.

39  The Odyssey, trans. Lattimore, IV. 561-570, pp. 79-80.

40  See Plato, Phaedrus 243a-b, in Hamilton and Cairns, eds., The Collected Dialogues of Plato, p. 490.

41  Herodotus, The Histories, II. 116, p. 126. The Helen-in-Egypt story occupies all of II. 112-120 (pp. 124-128).

42  Calasso, Marriage of Cadmus, p. 123.

43  There is a clear parallel between this move and the docetic Christology of some early Christians, usually Gnostics, who claimed that Christ himself did not suffer upon the cross, but only a phantom image of him. See Filoramo, A History of Gnosticism, pp. 124-126, 149, 160-161.

44  Euripides, The Women of Troy, in The Bacchae and Other Plays, trans. Vellacott, p. 115.

45  Euripides, The Women of Troy, p. 132.

46  Helen, in The Bacchae and Other Plays, trans. Vellacott, p. 136.

47  Helen, in The Bacchae and Other Plays, pp. 158-159.

48  Rosamund Kent Sprague, ed., The Older Sophists, p. 52. In this and the following quotation I have made minor emendations, preserving “logos” where the translator gives “speech,” and substituting the gender-neutral “sorcery” for “witchcraft” as a translation of goeteia.

49  Sprague, Older Sophists, p. 52.

50  Sprague, Older Sophists, p. 53.

51  The Odyssey, IV. 238-239, p. 71.

52  This phrase is not Gorgias’s own, but comes from one of his most profound interpreters: Mario Untersteiner, The Sophists, p. 106.

53  Calasso, Marriage of Cadmus, p. 129.

54  Doctor Faustus, ed. Keefer, V. i. 83, 86-88, pp. 81-82.

55  Doctor Faustus, ed. Keefer, V. i. 106-107, p. 83.

56  Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, p. 215 (quoting Untersteiner, p. 106).

57  Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, p. 215.

58  Sprague, The Older Sophists, p. 42. The term “empty ontology” is borrowed from Carol Poster, “Persuasion in an Empty Ontology.” I have surveyed the evidence for knowledge of Gorgias in a forthcoming essay, “Ben Jonson’s Skeptical Friend: Gorgias in the English Renaissance.”

59  Doctor Faustus, ed. Keefer, I. i. 12, p. 6. The quotation is from one of the first sentences of Gorgias’s text: “oute de to on estin … oute to me on … oute to on kai me on….” ([N]either does the existent exist nor the nonexistent … nor the existent and nonexistent….”) See Hermann Diels, ed., Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, vol. 2, p. 243; and Sprague, Older Sophists, p. 43.

60  See Doctor Faustus, ed. Keefer, pp. xxxvii-xlii.

61  In the Acts of Peter the contests between the apostle and Simon Magus are wholly magical in nature (see Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, pp. 282-316).

62  See Recognitions III. 59, 61. Compare the accounts of the historical master-narrative of Luther's Commentary on Galatians provided by Edwards, Luther and the False Brethren, pp. 112-115 and by Headley, Luther's View of Church History, pp. 64-66, 233.

63  This blasphemous boast appears in the earliest surviving account of the historical Dr. Faustus, a letter written by the Benedictine abbot and humanist Johannes Trithemius to Johannes Virdung von Hassfurt in August, 1507. See P. M. Palmer and R. P. More, eds., The Sources of the Faust Tradition, p. 85. For analysis of the letter, see Dieter Harmening, “Faust und die Renaissance-Magie,” and Frank Baron, Doctor Faustus from History to Legend, pp. 23-39.

64  Palmer and More, Sources of the Faust Tradition, p. 90. This characterization of Dr. Faustus, which appeared in the records of the City Council of Nuremberg in May, 1532, echoes the claim of Trithemius that when in the spring of 1507 Faustus was appointed schoolmaster in the town of Kreuznach, “he began to indulge in the most dastardly kind of lewdness with the boys” (“mox nefandissimo fornicationis genere cum pueris uidelicet uoluptari coepit”), and when this was discovered, had to flee (Palmer and More, p. 86).

65  In two posthumously published texts, Melanchthon claims that “Ioannes” Faustus was born near his own birthplace, and that Faustus repeated Simon Magus’s attempt in the apocryphal Acts of Peter (and many derivative texts) to fly up into heaven (see Palmer and More, Sources of the Faust Tradition, pp. 99, 101). Melanchthon’s student Augustin Lercheimer recounted in 1597 an odd little kitchen debate that supposedly took place between Faustus and Melanchthon in the latter’s house in Wittenberg (Palmer and More, pp. 121-122). As I remarked in “Right Eye and Left Heel,” these texts construct a ratio in which Melanchthon’s relationship with a magician who repeated the acts of St. Peter’s antagonist Simon Magus confers an implicitly apostolic status on the Reformer. Earlier sources identify Faustus’s Christian name as Georgius; the name Ioannes and the claim that he studied magic in Cracow suggest that Melanchthon conflated Faustus with Trithemius’s correspondent, the Heidelberg astrologer and magician Johannes Virdung von Hassfurt, who had indeed studied in Cracow, and whom Melanchthon had known in his youth (Virdung cast his horoscope).

66  The full accounts of Simon’s Helen theology provided by Irenaeus and Hippolytus are evidently based upon Simonian materials (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I. xxiii, pp. 87-88; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, VI. Ii-xv, pp. 196-214, especially VI. xiv, pp. 210-212). A much abbreviated version appears in The Clementine Homilies (II. xxii-xxv, pp. 232-233); in the generally parallel Recognitions of Clement, Helen is renamed Luna, though there remains a reference to the Trojan War (II. viii-ix, xi-xii, pp. 98-100). In the apocryphal Acts of Peter, and the much later Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, there are no references to Helen, and only residual traces of Simon’s doctrines.

67  Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I. xxiii, pp. 87-88. In this narrative the notion, made explicit in the second century by Valentinus and his followers, that this Ennoia or divine Wisdom engendered the cosmos either as a kind of abortion or else as the result of rape by the lower powers, is already clearly implicit. For a brief account of the Valentinian cosmogony, see Giovanni Filoramo, A History of Gnosticism, pp. 67-77.

68  Recognitions of Clement, II. xii, p. 100.

69  Doctor Faustus, ed. Keefer, V. i. 104-110, p. 83.

70  Thomas Greene, The Light in Troy, p. 93.

71  Greene, The Light in Troy, p. 93.    




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