Mephistopheles over Wittenberg
Public DomainMephistopheles over Wittenberg
A devil that first turned up in the 16th century Faust stories. (See bookmark for page 196, “Dr. Faustus.”) The name appears to have been invented as a pseudo-Greek or pseudo-Hebrew reference. One theory is that the name is made from the Greek me ("not"), phos ("light"), philos ("lover") -- that is, "not a lover of light," which would be a play on Lucifer ("light bearer") -- and that the switch from mephoto to mephist suggests the Latin mephitis ("a noxious gas from the ground, a malaria"). An alternative might be the Hebrew mephiz ("liar") and tophel ("destroyer").

This particular representation of Mephistopheles is by Eugène Delacroix for an 1839 edition of Goethe's Faust. Wittenberg is a German town closely associated with Martin Luther and the birth of the Protestant Reformation (Luther taught at the University of Wittenberg and nailed his 95 theses to a church door in the town), which made it an appropriate setting for a free-thinking scientist like Dr. Faustus to summon a devil. Coincidentally, it is also where Hamlet has been attending school, according to his uncle, King Claudius (Act I, scene ii, lines 112-113).