Flight and falling


The earliest pattern of imagery to emerge in the play is that of flight and falling, which is related to Faustus' aspiration and overweening pride. On most of the occasions when this image occurs, the idea of rising is accompanied by its opposite, as in this example from the Chorus' opening speech:

Till swollen with cunning of a self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And melting heavens conspired his overthrow.
Chorus 1, 20-22

The allusion here is to the story of Icarus, whose father Daedalus made for them both wings fixed to their bodies by wax so that they could escape from the island of Crete. Despite his father's warning, Icarus flew too close to the sun, the wax holding his wings melted and he fell to his death, drowning in the Aegean Sea.

The story was often interpreted as a warning about individual aspiration, involving in particular a defiance of the limits placed on humanity's knowledge and physical capacities. In this sense, the story is clearly relevant to Faustus' daring and dangerous search for knowledge.


The story of Lucifer, the brightest of God's angels (his name means ‘bringer or bearer of light'), who defied God's power and was thrown into Hell, is also alluded to in the play. His story is told by Mephastophilis, who shares his fate and is painfully conscious of the loss they have suffered (see Characterisation > Mephastophilis and Critical approaches > Analysing a passage):

O, by aspiring pride and insolence,
For which God threw him from the face of heaven.
Scene 3, 67-68

Later in the play, Faustus, at a moment of regret for what he has done, applies this experience to himself:

Homo fuge. Whither should I fly?
If unto God, he'll throw thee down to hell.
Scene 5, 77-78

For more on the theme of descent, see Big ideas from the Bible, Ascent and descent.

Olympus and Phaethon

Nonetheless, Faustus continues with his aspirations, which are expressed in the Chorus' second appearance by another image of flying or rising. Once again, the reference is to Faustus' intellectual aspirations and once more it draws on allusions to Greek mythology:

Learned Faustus
To know the secrets of astronomy
Graven in the book of Jove's high firmament,
Did mount himself to scale Olympus' top,
Being seated in a chariot burning bright,
Drawn by the strength of yoky dragons' necks.
Chorus 2, 1-6

Olympus was the home of the gods of Ancient Greece, so Faustus, a mortal, intrudes upon the world of the immortal in search of knowledge. From the Chorus' description, he appears to do so in a regal manner, with his bright chariot and harnessed dragons.

The Chariot of Phaethon. photo by Laurom available through Creative Commons

The bright chariot might also be a reference to the story of Phaethon, son of Helios the sun-god, who stole his father's chariot and rode it across the sky, but fell to his death.

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