Goethe's Faust: Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum.
A few days ago, I quoted lines 2038-39 in the first part of Goethe's Faust:
Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie,I offered this translation:
Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.
Grey, dear friend, is all theory,I then explained:
And green the golden tree of life.
The original promise in the Garden of Eden was that eating from the Tree of Knowledge would make one god-like, and perhaps it did, but that proved unsatisfactory for the scholar Faust, as the first scene of him in his study makes clear, for he decries the futility, the sterility, of all the scholarly knowledge that he has accumulated.To add a few points to that . . . Mephistopheles was disguised as Faust in this scene in order to meet with one of Faust's students and offer 'academic' advice, which is what he has done above. I decided to find the passage in Faust, which is how I came to know the precise line numbers above, and I read on to discover that scarcely nine lines later, Mephistopheles writes the following, possibly contradictory advice for the student in line 2048:
Mephistopheles therefore offers 'fruit' from the Tree of Life, presumably, the experience of living life to its fullest. He happens not to be speaking to Faust at the moment that he makes this offer in these particular words (for he's chatting with a student at the time), but that's also what he offers Faust in return for Faust's soul.
"Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum."The line is from Genesis 3:5 in the Latin Vulgate. The King James Version has:
"Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."Mephistopheles then advises, in lines 2049-50:
Folg nur dem alten Spruch und meiner Muhme, der Schlange,This translates somewhat as follows:
Dir wird gewiß einmal bei deiner Gottähnlichkeit bange!
Only follow the old proverb and my cousin, the snake:If this knowledge is theoretical knowledge, then Mephistopheles has contradicted his earlier advice about partaking of the "golden tree of life" rather than partaking of "grey . . . theory." Of course, he could simply be speaking this way to confuse the student whom he's misleading. Or he might mean that knowledge from the tree of knowledge is really experiential knowledge, knowledge gained by living life to its 'fullest' -- and thus be speaking consistently. I have previously noted this in John Milton's Paradise Lost:
You'll surely become anxious sometime through your God-likeness!
A distinction has been drawn between an abstract, conceptual knowledge of evil and a concrete, experiential knowledge of evil.But I don't know if Mephistopheles knows enough of Milton's Paradise Lost to play with this concept in this way.