Johann Georg Faustus (1480–1540) has the distinctive honor of bearing a name that is practically synonymous with devilish deal-making. When most people hear the term "Faustian," their immediate thought isn't of the historical figure himself, but rather his infamous – and now eponymous – pact with the Devil, in which he bargained his everlasting soul in order to gain limitless knowledge. Faust is undeniably the most notorious on the list of historical figures who've struck deals with the Big Man Downstairs, but there are several others whose bargaining history may surprise you.
The concept of selling your soul to the Devil for fortune and fame is hardly recent. In fact, while not the first, the legend of Faust has largely served as a progenitor of this cultural motif. More recent developments to this trend could be the Internet-wide conspiracy that many celebrities are actually members of the Illuminati and the much more somber online theory of the 27 Club. Whatever form this recurring legend of soul-selling takes, the names of those below are thought to belong to a very elite list.
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa was one of the most influential writers of the Renaissance era. Though he never obtaining a degree, he was a scholar of law and medicine. To most, he was known as a magician, alchemist, and astrologer. With his knowledge of the law, he frequently defended women accused of witchcraft and wrote three books on the occult that are still heralded as primary sources on the subject today.
In 1535, Agrippa was accused of heresy and condemned to death. He escaped, but died shortly after. After his death, rumors circulated about him consorting with demons. In the most famous of these stories, Agrippa kept a demonic black dog as his familiar. The dog (known as schwarze Pudel in German) later made appearances in numerous legends about Johann Faust, another Renaissance thinker who was rumored to be in cahoots with the devil.see more on Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
A 15th-century aristocrat, Gilles de Rais was left with massive amounts of wealth and power in his youth upon his father's passing. Despite these advantages, he had no one to teach him how to care for them properly, and he quickly squandered his family’s assets. In a desperate attempt to regain his lost fortune, he began to experiment with the occult under the direction of Antonio Francisco Prelati, a former priest who assured him that he would regain his wealth if he sacrificed children to a demon named Baron.
After the alleged deal, Gilles de Rais embarked on a violent spree, killing and torturing anywhere between 80 and 200 children. He was later caught, tried, and found guilty for his countless crimes. He was executed in 1440.see more on Gilles de Rais
Giuseppe Tartini wrote over 400 works over the course of his career, and unlike most of his contemporaries, he composed no church music, focusing instead on violin concerti and sonatas. The story of his alleged deal with the Devil originates in his most famous piece, “Devil’s Trill Sonata.”
Tartini allegedly dreamed that the Devil had come to him asking Tartini to be his servant. Tartini gave the Devil his violin, who immediately began to play with such skill that he took Tartini’s breath away. When the composer rose from his dream, he immediately wrote down the sonata from memory, and thus wrote the most popular piece of music of his career.
Despite the sonata's success, the composer knew that the piece was still far from the Devil's original rendition. What Tartini himself had written was, in his own words, “So inferior to what I had heard, that if I could have subsisted on other means, I would have broken my violin and abandoned music forever.”see more on Giuseppe Tartini
The first French pope, and perhaps the most significant pope of his era, Pope Sylvester II was known to be well-versed in mathematics, mechanics, and astronomy. He is credited with inventing the pendulum lock and the hydraulic organ, as well as introducing Arabic numerals to the Western world.
The rumors of his Satanic deal-making only began after he passed in 1003. Rumors swirled that his great intelligence and inventive ability were a result of a pact with the Devil; however, this was likely due to his regular contact with the Eastern world and the fact that he tried to root out corruption and bribery within the church.see more on Pope Sylvester II