8 Wintry Words to Defrost Your Vocabulary
1590s, the evil spirit to whom Faust sold his soul in the German legend, from German (1587), of unknown origin. According to the speculation of eminent Göthe scholar K.J. Schröer (1886) it is a compound of Hebrew mephitz "destroyer" + tophel "liar" (short for tophel sheqer, literally "falsehood plasterer;" cf. Job xiii:4). Klein writes that the names of devils in the Middle Ages "are in most cases derived from Hebrew."
familiar spirit of the Devil in late settings of the legend of Faust. It is probable that the name Mephistopheles was invented for the historical Faust by the anonymous author of the first Faustbuch (1587). A latecomer in the infernal hierarchy, Mephistopheles never became an integral part of the tradition of magic and demonology that predated him by thousands of years. He is mentioned only in the magic manuals attributed to Faust. He belongs essentially to literature. In Doctor Faustus (1604), by the English dramatist Christopher Marlowe, Mephistopheles achieves tragic grandeur as a fallen angel, torn between satanic pride and dark despair. In the drama Faust (Part I, 1808; Part II, 1832), by J.W. von Goethe, he is cold-hearted, cynical, and witty-perhaps a more subtle but certainly a slighter creation. At the end of Goethe's drama, Faust's soul escapes from Mephistopheles while he is making improper advances to the angels that have come to rescue it.