Summary and Analysis
Now Mephistopheles brings Faust to the mysterious lair of a witch. A brewing cauldron tended by a weird family of monkeys occupies the center of the room, and the place is filled with the occult symbols and paraphernalia of black magic and sorcery. A strange vapor permeates the air. The mood of the place is grotesque and ugly.
The devil has promised that the witch will concoct a potion to remove thirty years from Faust's age so he can more easily enjoy sensual pleasures. At first Faust is repelled by what he observes around him, but then, in a mirror on the wall, he sees the image of a beautiful young woman and all his ardor is aroused. The restoration of his youth now becomes such an exciting prospect that he soon overcomes his distaste for his surroundings.
After a while the witch returns to her den. Following some repartee with Mephistopheles, she prepares the potion and Faust drinks it. The brew is immediately effective. Faust eagerly looks into the mirror again to recapture his vision. Mephisto repeats his promise to introduce Faust to many new delights and predicts that he will soon meet his vision in the flesh. In an aside the devil remarks that:
With a drink like this in you, take care — You'll soon see Helens everywhere.
The devil's reference is to Helen of Troy, the legendary paragon of womanhood. He implies that Faust's natural desires have been so heightened by the magic aphrodisiac potion that he will be attracted by any woman he meets. The most important point is that Faust's initial desire arose spontaneously before he took the drink.
Throughout this scene there are symbolic allusions to an evolutionary theory of human development. It is implied that in regaining his youth, Faust is moving backward toward the primeval world from which human reason and civilized institutions once developed.
He is abandoning the highest human attainments to find fulfillment in his baser animal instincts. Evolutionary symbolism will be used many times in both parts of the poem to put Faust's personal adventures into a broader perspective that has reference to all humankind.