Wagner is in his alchemist’s chamber, a laboratory that is filled with a cumbersome apparatus designed for fantastic purposes. He is at the hearth, excited. In the inmost vial of his apparatus something glows like a living ember. Mephistopheles enters and Wagner explains that he’s making a human being, not by means of procreation but a process he calls crystallization. The vial vibrates, clouds up, and then clears. Success seems certain.
Wagner is a representative of Enlightenment science, which holds that the world is knowable only by reason and experiment. But he, too, is disconnected from the world, and troublingly thinks life is reducible to mere matter. Note that his experiment succeeds only when the devil enters, suggesting that evil magic is required to bring life out of inorganic materials.
Inside the vial is Homunculus, a very small human or humanoid creature, making dainty gestures. It speaks, addressing Wagner as its daddy and stating that it would like to begin working right now. Mephistopheles tells it to demonstrate its talents by interacting with Faust, who is still asleep in the other room. Homunculus hovers over to the magician and magically eavesdrops on his dreams: Helen is there, along with woodland springs and swans. It would kill the dreamer to wake into this moldy, ugly room from such beauty, says Homunculus. He says they should get Faust out of here.
Wagner, with the devil’s quiet aid, succeeds in breaking nature’s laws and bringing Homunculus into the world, just as Faust has broken nature’s laws with his rampant criminality. Homunculus is the great Enlightenment achievement, the reduction of the miracle of life into mere mechanical processes. Faust’s dream is both sensual and spiritual, as his love for Gretchen was.
Homunculus suggests that Faust be taken to Classical Walpurgis Night, which Mephistopheles has never heard of. Homunculus explains that Satan prefers Romantic specters, the North, and the gloominess of sin, but that Classical Walpurgis Night is like the southwest in Greece, full of the creatures of classical myth and sensual pleasures. The devil is skeptical, but intrigued when Homunculus says that Thessalian witches will be there, as Mephistopheles has a lecherous interest in them. So it’s decided: Wagner will stay and attend to his studies while his creature escorts the devil and the still-sleeping Faust to Classical Walpurgis Night. They all exit.
As Homunculus intuits, to properly possess Helen, Faust must not remove her from her historical context, but must instead learn to understand Classical Greece and its culture intimately. The only way for him to achieve such an understanding is by going to Classical Walpurgis Night. The devil has no knowledge of, or power over, Greek cultural resources—he knows only the ugly, and Greece promotes the beautiful. Ironically, Wagner’s invention is more human than its inventor in desiring to experience the world.