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April 4, 1966

A Medical Version of the Faust Legend

JAMA. 1966;196(1):36-40. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03100140090025

Although the legend of Faust, the scholar who sold his soul to the devil, has been a popular subject for literary works since the 16th century, it was not until mid-20th century that a medical interpretation was given to the story. Previous writers had portrayed the devil as an actual personification of evil or as an imaginary symbolic character. They made no attempt to interpret Faust's behavior in psychiatric terms. Thomas Mann, the German novelist, in his Doctor Faustus, showed the devil as imaginary or hallucinatory, but the pact with him as real, in that the protagonist willingly accepted syphilis of the central nervous system as a means to greater artistic creative power.

Early Versions  Dr. Johannes Faustus was evidently a real individual who lived in the 15th and early 16th centuries, about whom many odd stories were told. Between 1570 and 1587, these were gathered in manuscript form, and

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