Summary and Analysis Part 2: Act II: Classical Walpurgis Night: Pharsalian Fields, By the Upper Peneus, By the Lower Peneus, By the Upper Peneus (II), Rocky Caves of the Aegean



This series of connected scenes begins on the plain in Greece where the spirits of mythology have gathered for their annual festival on the eve of August 9th (the day of the battle of Pharsalus in which Caesar defeated Pompey), but the action takes place in several other locations also. A profusion of historical and mythical characters appear in a dreamlike sequence of events. There are many references to a wide variety of philosophical and metaphysical ideas, on both didactic and allegorical levels. For the sake of brevity and clarity these scenes will not be summarized. Instead their main themes and events will be pointed out.


There are three interconnected strands of action in the Classical Walpurgis Night — Faust searching for his idealized vision of Helen, Homonculus searching for the way to become a real human being, and Mephistopheles looking for erotic adventures. The three characters move in and out of the action, as they separate and then rejoin each other at various points. Their adventures develop independently, but the experiences of each mirror the quest and aspirations of the others. The things that take place and the mystical figures that appear can be interpreted on various allegorical levels, but in general are related to the poem's exploration of ways to end Faust's alienation and to form a synthesis of the Romantic and Classical ideals.

At the end, despite many diversions, Faust is no longer trying to escape from reality. He retains his determination, now more enlightened and mature, to find Helen. Homonculus has discovered that the ocean is the ultimate source of all life. He throws himself into the water, among the sea gods and nymphs, where he is transformed into a potent life spirit with the prospect eventually of developing real manhood through Nature's evolutionary scheme. Mephisto is forced to face the enormous disparities between his Germanic Christian outlook and the Greek view of life. He finally finds amorous satisfaction only among the most repulsive and ugly spirits.

In all these scenes Goethe demonstrates his high regard for the free and courageous Greek spirit, and the harmonious Classical outlook on life. In addition, there are philosophical examinations of various beliefs about the origin of life in which Goethe supports a theory of gradual evolution that on a physical level reflects Faust's slow moral evolution. In effect Goethe uses these scenes to conduct a scientific and theological survey of the universe. Many of the incidents and characters also mirror earlier happenings in the poem or foreshadow coming ones. They provide deeper insights into the meaning and function of the episodes and the overall purpose of the second section of Faust.