"The citizenry made address to the governor but he was much like the sorcerer’s apprentice who could indeed provoke the imp to do his will but could in no way make him cease again."
Illustration of Der Zauberlehrling from Goethe's Werke (1882)
Public DomainIllustration of Der Zauberlehrling from Goethe's Werke (1882) - Credit: Ferdinand Barth

The legend of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice comes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1797 ballad poem Der Zauberlehrling, possibly inspired by a similar tale recounted by Lucian in his Philosopseudes (written c. AD 150).

Goethe’s poem tells the story of an old sorcerer who leaves his apprentice to perform some chores in his workshop. Tired of fetching water by pail, the apprentice, using magic in which he is not yet fully trained, enchants a broom to do the work for him. The floor is soon awash with water, and the apprentice, lacking the power to make it stop, splits the enchancted broom in two with an axe. To the apprentice’s horror, each of the pieces then becomes a new broom, each one taking up a pail and continuing to fetch water, now at twice the speed. Eventually, the old sorcerer returns and quickly breaks the spell. The poem finishes with the sorcerer’s statement that powerful spirits should only be called by the master himself.