Description - Mephistopheles by Jeffrey Burton Russell
Mephistopheles is the fourth and final volume of a critically acclaimed history of the concept of the Devil. The series constitutes the most complete historical study ever made of the figure that has been called the second most famous personage in Christianity. In his first three volumes Jeffrey Burton Russell brought the history of Christian diabology to the end of the Middle Ages, showing the development of a degree of consensus, even in detail, on the concept of the Devil. Mephistopheles continues the story from the Reformation to the present, tracing the fragmentation of the tradition. Using examples from theology, philosophy, art, literature, and popular culture, he describes the great changes effected in our idea of the Devil by the intellectual and cultural developments of modem times. Emphasizing key figures and movements, Russell covers the apogee of the witch craze in the Renaissance and Reformation, the effects of the Enlightenment's rationalist philosophy, the Romantic image of Satan, and the cynical or satirical literary treatments of the Devil in the late nineteenth century.
He concludes that although today the Devil may seem an outworn metaphor, the very real horrors of the twentieth century suggest the continuing need for some vital symbol of radical evil. A work of great insight and learning, Mephistopheles deepens our understanding of the ways in which people in Western societies have dealt with the problem of evil.
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(235mm x 152mm x 21mm)
Cornell University Press
Publisher: Cornell University Press
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Book Reviews - Mephistopheles by Jeffrey Burton Russell
US Kirkus Review »
The last in a series of four books telling the history of the concept of radical evil embodied in the Devil. Earlier volumes were praised for their scholarship and astuteness and also for their sense of the poignancy of the ordinary person's bafflement by the intrusion of evil into their lives. For Luther, the Devil was an immediate presence - see a literal translation of Ein Feste Burg. Shakespeare noticed the heart's desire for evil for evil's sake, an evil transcending our conscious errors and feelings. Milton's Paradise Lost is discussed for 32 pages - "the last convincing full-length portrait of the traditional lord of evil." Thereafter for the atheists, matter produces mind, and mind creates the categories of good and evil. The romantics reversed the symbols - traditional Christianity had created a god who was really an evil tyrant. But the obstinate problem persists. Recently, says Russell, some psychologists have begun to look for a concept akin to the old one of evil to describe some phenomenon they encounter - personalties so completely founded on lies that traditional sociological and psychological understandings are irrelevant. The demonic quality of the arms race becomes clearer, Russell says, when we ask for whose good are these preparations for holocaust. The value of this book by a historian lies not in this last-page comment but in the 300 pages of descriptive analysis of the ways in which this basic question figures in the work of, among others, William Blake, G. Vico, Hume, Schleiermacher, Baudelaire, Mark Twain, William James, Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann, Freud and Jung. The author's use of this issue opens up the works discussed and incites the reader to explore. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Jeffrey Burton Russell
Jeffrey Burton Russell is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara.