Faust

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Homunculus Character Analysis

The Homunculus, unnaturally synthesized by Wagner in the laboratory, is a little flame-like man who lives in a glass vial. Ironically, this creature, who represents the highest achievement of Enlightenment science, is more human in his desires than his creator. Rather than sit in a lab all day, Homunculus wants to experience the world, to evolve, and to achieve what he calls a proper existence. To this end, he journeys to Greece with Faust and Mephistopheles for Classical Walpurgis Night, where he rides the shape-shifting Proteus out into the Aegean Sea, the origin of all natural life. In the midst of the waves, the creature learns about nature’s laws and, with fiery passion, he shatters his vial to give his unnatural body to the natural waters, an act of loving sacrifice that makes him one with nature. Homunculus’s reconciliation with nature anticipates Faust’s own reconciliation with the divine order.

Homunculus Quotes in Faust

The Faust quotes below are all either spoken by Homunculus or refer to Homunculus . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Princeton University Press edition of Faust published in 2014.
Part 2: Act 2: Laboratory Quotes

[Homunculus’s vial is] rising, flashing, piling up—
another moment and it’s done!
A grand design may seem insane at first;
but in the future chance will seem absurd,
and such a brain as this, intended for great thoughts,
will in its turn create a thinker too.

Related Characters: Wagner (speaker), Homunculus
Related Symbols: Faust’s Study and Wagner’s Laboratory, Prisons and Keys
Page Number: 6865-6870
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to Homunculus, the tiny man that Wagner, Faust's former pupil and assistant, is developing in his laboratory. Homunculus is a human being, and yet he has no true parents, except for Wagner, who has produced Homunculus using "crystallization," rather than the usual process of procreation.

Homunculus has been interpreted as a symbol for the scientific innovations of Goethe's lifetime, an era during which interest in science exploded. Others have noted that the Homunculus--a bizarre, satanic, motherless human being--might symbolize modern, isolated human beings. Homunculus, in any event, represents the unnatural qualities of Wagner's experiments: Wagner has gone against "God's will" by creating a living, breathing creature on his own (although the devil's presence was seemingly necessary to give him the spark of life). Wagner, one could say, has eclipsed even Faust as a scientist and a thinker--he seems almost as restless and arrogant as Faust in his desire to understand the mysteries of the universe and overreach the bounds of human knowledge and pride.

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Part 2: Act 2: Classical Walpurgis Night: The Pharsalian Fields Quotes

You’ll never learn unless you make mistakes.
If you want to exist, do so on your own!

Related Characters: Mephistopheles (speaker), Homunculus
Page Number: 7847-7848
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mephistopheles watches as Homunculus, the creation of Wagner, proceeds to watch the trial of two philosophers, Anaxagoras and Thales, as they debate the material sources of the natural world. Mephistopheles warns Homunculus that he'll never learn anything about the universe unless he makes his own mistakes--as if to suggest that by latching onto Thales and Anaxagoras, he'll always be a pupil, never a real thinker.

In ancient Greece, Thales and Anaxagoras were two of the most notable early philosophers, who believed they'd found the substances that made up the universe (Thales famously claimed that everything is made out of water). And yet Mephistopheles' exchange with Homunculus isn't about the universe's structure, but rather the structure of education and free will. Mephistopheles seems to believe that the best way to learn is to be free; to be one's "own boss." One should take Mephistopheles' advice with a grain of salt. Mephistopheles' observations could be interpreted as heretical (since they imply that humans shouldn't worship God, but merely live "on their own") or Christian (since the notion of free will and making one's own mistakes is central to salvation in Christian theology). The ambiguous nature of Mephistopheles' advice sums up his identity as a character who may be doing evil, but who also has some intriguing things to say and teach us.

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Homunculus Character Timeline in Faust

The timeline below shows where the character Homunculus appears in Faust. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: Act 2: Laboratory
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
Inside the vial is Homunculus, a very small human or humanoid creature, making dainty gestures. It speaks, addressing Wagner as... (full context)
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
Homunculus suggests that Faust be taken to Classical Walpurgis Night, which Mephistopheles has never heard of.... (full context)
Part 2: Act 2: Classical Walpurgis Night: The Pharsalian Fields
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
From the sky, accompanied by light, enter Homunculus, still in his vial, Mephistopheles, and Faust, who wakes upon landing, refreshed just to be... (full context)
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
...rubble, where he loses his way. A mountain nymph greets him and directs him to Homunculus, who is trying to destroy his vial and achieve a proper existence. (full context)
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
Homunculus tells Mephistopheles that he’s on the trail of two pre-Socratic philosophers, Anaxagoras and Thales, from... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Politics Theme Icon
...an outburst of gas, while Thales holds that it was created without violence, by water. Homunculus introduces himself as one eager to evolve. Anaxagoras says that, for living modestly and like... (full context)
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Politics Theme Icon
...flares, raining down rocks on crane and Pygmy alike. Thales urges the bewildered Anaxagoras and Homunculus not to get worked up, and proposes that the three pleasantly celebrate at the sea. (full context)
Part 2: Act 2: Classical Walpurgis Night: Rocky Inlets of the Aegean Sea
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
...in the sky. Sirens sit on rocks by the sea, fluting and singing. Thales and Homunculus arrive at the shore, the philosopher urging the creature to speak with the prophetic sea-god... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Homunculus and Thales withdraw to speak with Proteus. They lure him over to them by shining... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Proteus transforms into a dolphin, on whose back Homunculus rides to the open waters. There his lamp illuminates the grace and beauty in the... (full context)