"Dr. Faustus"

Dr. Faustus is a fictional character -- brainy, ambitious and overly scientific and rational -- who makes a bargain with the devil for power and knowledge … to his ultimate sorrow, of course.

The legend appears to have begun in Germany in the late 16th century, was popularized in England in Chrisopher Marlowe’s 1592 play, “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” (first published in 1604; the woodcut here depicting Faustus conjuring the devil up through the floor is from a 1620 printing of the play). The story was subsequently reworked by such writers as Goethe, Thomas Mann, Mikhail Bulgakov, and many composers as well.