Stephen Vincent Benet

Brief History of Compacts with the Devil

Faust and Mephisto in Fausts's study, engraving by Tony Johannot after “Faust” by Goethe (1845-47).

Faust and Mephisto in Fausts’s study, engraving by Tony Johannot after “Faust” by Goethe (1845-47).

“When did you compact with the Devil?” So does the Reverend John Hale storm in his fierce inquisition of the slave Tituba in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Under threat of being whipped to death, she replies:

He say, “You work for me, Tituba, and I make you free! I give you pretty dress to wear, and put you way high up in the air, and you gone fly back to Barbados!”

Pacts with the Devil have an ancient lineage. An early example of a diabolical offer refused is recorded in Matthew’s gospel. In the desert, the Devil offers the Messiah “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,” if only Jesus would worship him. (4:8) (more…)