"They've made them - their two friends, I mean - still cleverer even than nature did"
Twardowski and the devil
Public DomainTwardowski and the devil - Credit: Michał Elwiro Andriolli

Tales of knowledge conferred by satanic agents are widespread in the western world, appearing in religious texts, folklore and fiction alike.

The Book of Genesis tells of Eve being tempted to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Though this has been forbidden by God, she succumbs to the devilish serpent’s promise that “the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3.5).  

In German legend we find Faust, a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and who is eventually damned for his actions. Famous literary renderings of this myth can be found in the work of Goethe, Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Mann, whilst a similar figure, Pan Twardowski, appears in Polish folklore.  A 14th century Dutch play, Mariken van Nieumeghen ("Mary of Nijmegen"), tells of a young woman who enlists a demon, One-Eyed Moenen, to teach her the seven liberal arts. All these stories share the premise that knowledge is what separates mortals from God, and that attempting to gain it signifies a hubristic overstepping of natural human limits that can but lead to damnation.


Read Goethe's Faust below. Marlowe's version can be accessed here.

Illustration from Goethe's Faust
Public DomainIllustration from Goethe's Faust - Credit: Hans Stubenrauch