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Faust: the new paradigm of alchemy

Said’s argument that medieval notions of Islam did not originate in knowledge about its beliefs, but were constructed as an evil imitation of Christianity seems particularly resonant in Goethe’s version of alchemy in Faust. The experiments in metallurgy and ur-chemistry so central to alchemy are not represented in the play; rather, Faust, the alchemist, practices a form of devil worship. The prime emblem in the play, the pentagram, is designed to hold the devil in its space and Faust begins his journey to damnation on the day of the quem queritis. Unlike Jonson, who still retained some of the actual terms of alchemy in his play, Goethe’s sources are more from the philosophy of religion, with fragments of Latin rather than Arabic. Goethe organized a new paradigm for the “fallen” scientist in his Faust plays, not only by overwriting the Arab traditions, but also by locating the scientist within a binary metaphysical space of transcendence/damnation.