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The Arts and Their Mission
GA 276

Lecture I

27 May 1923, Dornach

Today I propose to carry further certain points made in recent lectures concerning the evolution of humanity since the time of Christ.

Looking back, in survey, over the evolution of mankind, we see that the epochs described in anthroposophical spiritual science take their shape from the particular soul constitution of the human beings alive at any given time. This differs greatly from epoch to epoch. Today, however, there is little inclination to look beyond man's present day makeup. Although civilization has developed in a way describable in outer documents, in general mankind is regarded as having always had the same soul nature. This is not true. It has changed; and we know the dates at which it underwent transformations externally plain and distinguishable.

The last of these turning points has often been designated as the fifteenth century after Christ; the one preceding it occurred during the eighth pre-Christian century; and we might in this way go still further back. I have often emphasized how correct the art historian Herman Grimm is when he points out that the full historical comprehension of the people of the present age reaches back no further than the Romans, at which time the ideas now prevalent settled into men's souls. Or approximately the same ideas. They still operate, though at times in a detrimental way — for example, concepts of Roman law no longer in harmony with our society. The very manner in which contemporary man takes part in social life shows a comprehension for something reaching back to the Roman period.

If, on the other hand, we describe the external historical events of ancient Greece like modern events, we do not penetrate into the real soul-nature of the Greeks. Herman Grimm is right in saying that, as usually described, they are mere shadows. Precisely because ordinary consciousness can no longer see what lived in those souls, it is unable to understand the Greeks' social structure.

Still more removed from our soul life is that of the human beings of the Egyptian-Chaldean period prior to the eighth century before Christ; more different still that in ancient Persia, and completely different that of the ancient Indian epoch following the great Atlantean catastrophe.

When with the help of spiritual science we mark the stages in the changing constitution of the human being, it becomes clear that our way of feeling about the human being, our way of speaking of body, soul and spirit, of the ego in man, our sense of an inner connection between the human being and the earth planet, arose in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. Gradually, in the course of time, life has become so earth-bound that human beings feel estranged from the cosmos, and see the stars and their movements, even the clouds, as lying outside our earthly dwelling place; therefore of little significance.

Prior to the Graeco-Latin period, people's feelings and indeed their will-impulses were, if I may use the expression, elementary-cosmic. Man did not need a philosophy in order to feel himself a member of the whole universe, especially the visible universe. It was natural for him to feel himself not only a citizen of the earth but also a member of the cosmos, especially during the first epoch, that of ancient India. If we go back to the seventh or eighth millennium of the pre-Christian era, we find that the human being — I cannot say spoke but felt — that the human being felt quite differently than we do today about the ego, the self. To be sure, the human beings of that ancient time did not express themselves as we do, because human speech did not have the same scope as today. But we must express things in our own language, and I shall put it thus: In ancient India man did not speak of the ego in our modern way; it was not, for him, a point comprising all his soul experiences. On the contrary, when he spoke of the ego it was to him self-evident that it had little to do with earth and earth events. In experiencing himself as an ego, man did not feel that he belonged to the earth; but, rather, that he was connected with the heaven of the fixed stars. This was what gave him the sense and security of his deepest self. For it was not felt as a human ego. Man was a human being only through the fact that here on earth he was clothed by a physical body. Through this sheath-for-the-ego he became a citizen of earth. But the ego was regarded as something foreign to the earthly sphere. And if today we were to coin a name for the way the ego was experienced, we would have to say: man felt not a human but a divine ego.

He might have looked outward to the mountains, to the rocks; he might have looked at everything else on earth and said of it all: This is, this exists. Yet at the same time he would have felt the following: If there were no other existence than that of earth's plants, rivers, mountains and rocks, no human being would have an ego. For what guarantees existence to earthly things and beings could never guarantee it to the ego. They are in different categories.

To repeat: Within himself man felt not a human but divine ego: a drop from the ocean of divinity. And when he wanted to speak about his ego (I say this with the previously-made reservations) he felt it as a creation of the fixed stars; the heaven of the fixed stars was the one sphere sharing its reality. Only because the ego has a similar existence is it able to say, “I am.” If it were able to say “I am” merely according to the level of existence of stone or plant or mountain, the ego would have no right to speak so. Only its starlike nature makes it possible for the ego to say, “I am.”

Again, the human beings of this primeval epoch saw how the rivers flowed and the trees were driven by the wind. But if we regarded the human ego which dwells in the physical body and has an impulse to move about on the earth hither and thither — if we regarded this ego as the active force in movement, as wind is the active force in moving trees, or as anything else of earth is an active force, we would be wrong. The ego is not this kind of outer cause of motion.

In ancient times the teacher in the Mysteries spoke to his pupils somewhat like this: You see how the trees sway, how the river water flows, how the ocean churns. But from neither the moving trees, the flowing rivers, nor the heaving ocean could the ego learn to develop those impulses of motion which human beings display when they carry their bodies over the earth. This the ego can never learn from any moving earthly thing. This the ego can learn only because it is related to the planets, to starry motion. Only from Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and so forth, can the ego learn motion. When the ego of its own volition moves upon the earth, it achieves something made possible by its relation to the wheeling world of the stars.

Further, it would have seemed incomprehensible to a man of this ancient epoch if somebody had said: Look how thoughts arise out of your brain! Let us travel backward in time and imagine ourselves with the soul constitution we once had (for we have all passed through lives in ancient India); then confronted by the present-day soul condition, the one which makes people assume that thoughts arise out of the brain. All that modern man believes would appear as complete nonsense. For the ancient human being knew well that thoughts can never spring from brain substance; that it is the sun which calls forth thoughts, and the moon which stills them. It was to the reciprocal action of sun and moon that he ascribed his life of thoughts.

Thus in the first post-Atlantean epoch, the ancient Indian time, the divine ego was seen as belonging to the heaven of the fixed stars, to the planetary movements, to the reciprocal action of sun and moon; and what came to it from the earth as transient, the essence of the ego being cosmic-divine.

In 1Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science, an Outline. Anthroposophic Press, Inc., New York. I call the second epoch Ancient Persian. By then the perception of the cosmic ego had grown less vivid; it was subdued. But the people of that age had an intensive experience of the recurrent seasons. (I have recently and repeatedly lectured on the year's course.) Pictorially speaking, the modern human being has become a kind of earthworm, just living from day to day. Indeed he is not even that, for an earthworm comes out of his hole when it rains, while the human being — just lives along. He experiences nothing special; at best some abstract differences: in rain he is uncomfortable without an umbrella, he adjusts himself to snow in winter and sunshine in summer, he goes to the country, and so forth. But he does not live with the course of the year; he lives in a dreadfully superficial way; no longer puts his whole humanness into living.

In the ancient Persian epoch it was different. Man experienced the year's course with his whole being. When the winter solstice arrived he felt: Now the earth soul has united with the earth. The snow which for present-day man is nothing but frozen water was at that time experienced as the garment the earth dons in order to shut itself off from the cosmos and develop an individually-independent life within that cosmos. The human being felt: Now, indeed, the earth soul has so intimately united with the earth, man must turn his soul-nature to what lives in the earth. In other words, the snow cover became transparent for man's soul. Below it he felt the elementary beings which carry the force of plant-seeds through winter into spring.

When spring arrived in ancient Persia, man experienced how the earth breathed out its soul, how it strove to open its soul to the cosmos; and with his feelings and sensations he followed this event. The attachment to the earth developed during the winter he now began to replace with a devotion to the cosmos.

To be sure, man was no longer able to look up to the cosmos as he did during the immediately preceding epoch; no longer able to see in the cosmos all that gave existence, movement and thought to his ego. He said: What in winter unites me with the earth summons me in spring to raise myself into the cosmos. But though he no longer had so intensive a knowledge of his connection with the cosmos as formerly, he felt it as by divination. Just as the ego in the ancient Indian time experienced itself as a cosmic being, so in the ancient Persian time the astral element experienced itself as connected with the course of the year.

Thus man lived with the changing seasons. When in winter his soul perceived the snow blanket below, his mood turned serious; he withdrew into himself; searched (as we express it today) his conscience. When spring returned, he again opened himself to the cosmos with a certain gaiety. At midsummer, the time we now associate with St. John's Day, he surrendered with rapture to the cosmos, not in the clear way of the ancient Indian time, but with the joy of having escaped from the body.

Just as in winter he felt connected with the clever spirits of the earth, so in midsummer he felt connected with the gay spirits dancing and jubilating in the cosmos, and flitting around the earth. I am simply describing what was felt.

Later, during August, and more especially September, the human soul felt it must now return to earth with the forces garnered from the cosmos during its summer withdrawal. With their help it could live more humanly during the winter season.

I repeat: It is a fact that during those ancient times man experienced the year's course with his whole being; considered its spiritual side as his own human concern.

He also felt the importance of training himself, at certain points of the year, in this intensive experience of the seasons; and such training bred impulses for the seasonal festivals. Later on, man would experience them only traditionally, only outwardly. But certain aspects would linger on. For example, the festivals of the summer and winter solstices would keep traces, but merely traces, of ancient, mighty and powerful experiences.

All this is connected with a revolution in the innermost consciousness of man. For ancient India it was quite impossible to speak of a “people,” a “folk.” Today this seems paradoxical; we find it hard to imagine that the feeling for such a thing arose only gradually. To be sure, the conditions of the earth made it necessary, even in the ancient Indian epoch, for inhabitants of the same territory to have closer ties than those living apart. But the concept of a people, the feeling of belonging to a folk, did not exist during the ancient Indian epoch.

Something different prevailed. People had a very vivid feeling for the succession of generations. A boy felt himself the son of his father, the grandson of his grandfather, the great-grandson of his great-grandfather. Of course, things were not dealt with the way we have to describe them with current concepts; but the latter are still appropriate. If we look into the mode of thought of that ancient time, we discover that within a family circle great emphasis was laid on an ability to enumerate one's forebears, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, right down the line to very remote ancestors. A man felt himself as standing within this succession of generations.

As a consequence, the sense of living in the present was little developed. To human beings of the ancient Indian time, an intimate connection with past generations (retained as a caricature in aristocracy's present-day stress on ancestry) seemed self-evident; they needed no family records. Indeed human consciousness itself, instinctively clairvoyant, made connections with a man's ancestry by remembering not merely his own personal experiences, but — almost as vividly — the experiences of his father and grandfather. Gradually these memories grew dim. But human consciousness would continue to experience them through the blood ties.

Thus in ancient times the capacity for feeling oneself within the generations played a significant role. Parallel to it there arose — though slowly — the folk concept, the sense of being part of a people. In ancient Persia it was not yet very pronounced. When a living consciousness of life within the generations, of blood relationship coursing through the centuries, had gradually faded, consciousness focused, instead, on the contemporary folk relationship.

The folk concept rose to its full significance in the third post-Atlantean or Egypto-Chaldean period. Though, during that epoch, awareness of the year's course was already somewhat deadened, there lived, right into the last millennium of the pre-Christian age, a vivid consciousness of the fact that thoughts permeate and govern the world.

In another connection I have already indicated the following: For a human being of the Egyptian period the idea that thoughts arise in us and then extend over things outside would have seemed comparable to the fancy of a man who, after drinking a glass of water, says his tongue produced the water. He is at liberty to imagine that his tongue produced the water, but in truth he draws the water from the entire water mass of the earth, which is a unity. It is only that an especially foolish person, unaware of the connection between the glassful of water and the earth's water mass, overestimates the abilities of his tongue. The people of the Egypto-Chaldean epoch made no similar mistake. They knew that thoughts do not arise in the head; that thoughts live everywhere; that what the human being draws into the vessel of his head as thought comes from the thought ocean of the world.

In that time, though man no longer experienced the visible cosmos in his divine ego, nor the course of the year in his astral nature, he did experience cosmic thoughts, the Logos, in his etheric body. If a member of the Egypto-Chaldean epoch had spoken our language, he would not, like us, have referred to man's physical body as of prime importance. To him it was the result of what lives as thought in the etheric body; was merely an image of human thought.

During that period the folk concept became more and more definite; the human being more and more an earth citizen. The connection between the starry world and his ego had, in his consciousness during this third post-Atlantean cultural period, dwindled greatly. Though astrology still calculated the connection, it was no longer seen in elemental consciousness. The course of the year, so important for the astral body, was no longer sensed in its immediacy. Yet man was still aware of a cosmic thought element.

He had arrived at the point where he sensed his relation to earthly gravity. Not exhaustively so, for he still had a vivid experience of thinking, but perceptibly.

During the Graeco-Latin period this experience of gravity developed more and more. Now the physical body became paramount. Everything has its deep significance at its proper time, and in all the manifestations of Greek culture we see this full, fresh penetration into the physical body. Especially in Greek art. For the early Greeks their bodies were something to rejoice over; the Greeks were like children with new clothes. They lived in their bodies with youthful exuberance.

In the course of the Graeco-Latin period, and particularly during Roman civilization, this fresh experience of the physical body gave way to something like that of a person in a robe of state who knows that wearing it gives him prestige. (Of course, the feeling was not expressed in words.) A Roman individual felt his physical body as a ceremonial robe bestowed by the world order.

The Greek felt tremendous joy that he had been allotted such a body and, after birth, could put it on; and it is this feeling that gives to Greek art, to Greek tragedy, to the epics of Homer, in their human element, insofar as they are connected with the outer physical appearance of man, their particular poetic fire. We have to look for the inner reasons for all psychological facts. Try to live into the joy that gushes forth from Homer's description of Hector or of Achilles. Feel what immense importance he attached to outer appearance.

With the Romans this joy subsided. Everything became settled; men began to grasp things with ordinary consciousness. It was during the fourth post-Atlantean cultural epoch that man first became an earth citizen. The conception of ego, astral body and ether body of earlier times withdrew into indefiniteness. The Greeks still had a clear sense for the truth that thought lives in things. (I have discussed this in Raetsel der Philosophie.) [In English: Riddles of Philosophy, e.Ed.] But the perception was gradually superseded by a belief that thought originates in man. In this fashion he grew more and more into his physical body.

Today we do not yet see that this situation began to change in the fifteenth century, at the start of the fifth post-Atlantean cultural epoch; that, since then, we have been gradually growing away from our bodies. We fancy that we feel as the Greeks felt about the human shape, but actually our feeling for it is dull. We have no more than a shadowlike sensation of the “quickfooted Achilles,” and little understanding of how this expression roused Greeks to a direct and striking perception of the hero; so striking that he stood before them in his essential nature. Indeed in all art we have gradually lost the experience of the permeation of the physical body by the soul; whereas in the last pre-Christian centuries the Greek felt how cosmic thought was disappearing and how thought could be taken hold of only by reflecting upon the human being. Presentday man is completely uncertain in regard to the nature of thought; he wavers.

A Greek of the sixth pre-Christian century would have considered it comical if somebody had asked him to solve the scientific problem of the connection of thought with the brain. He would not have seen it as a problem at all. He would have felt as we would feel if, when we picked up a watch, somebody demanded that we speculate philosophically about the connection between watch and hand. Say I investigate the flesh of my hand, then the glass and metal in my watch; then the relation between the flesh of my hand and the glass and metal in my watch; all in order to obtain philosophical insight into the reason why my hand has picked up and holds the watch. Well, if I were to proceed thus, modern consciousness would consider my gropings insane.

Just so it would have appeared insane to Greek consciousness if anyone had attempted, by reference to the nature of thought and the cerebellum, to explain the self-evident fact that man's being uses his brain to lay hold of thoughts. For the Greek this was a direct perception just as, for us, it is a direct perception that the hand takes hold of the watch; we do not consider it necessary to establish a scientific relation between watch and muscle. In the course of time problems arise according to the way things are perceived. For the Greek what we call the connection between thinking and organism was as self-evident as the connection between a watch and the hand that seizes it. He did not speculate about what was obvious. He knew instinctively how to relate his thoughts to himself.

If someone said: Well, there is only a hand; the watch ought to fall down, what really holds it? For the Greek this would have been as absurd as the question: What is it that develops thoughts in the brain? For us the latter has become a problem because we do not know that already we have liberated our thoughts, and are on our way to freeing them from ourselves. Also we do not know how to deal properly with thoughts because, being in the process of growing away from it, we no longer have a firm hold on our physical body.

I should like to use another comparison. We have not only clothes but pockets into which we can put things. This was the situation with the Greeks: their human bodies were something into which they could put thoughts, feelings, will impulses. Today we are uncertain what to do with thoughts, feelings and will impulses. It is as though, in spite of pockets, all our things fell to the ground; or as though, worried about what to do with then, we lugged them about in our hands. In other words, we are ignorant of the nature of our own organism, do not know what to do with our soul life in regard to it, contrive queer ideas with respect to psycho-parallelism, and so forth. I am saying all this to show how we have gradually become estranged from our physical bodies.

This fact is illustrated by the whole course of humanity's evolution. If we again turn our gaze to the ancient Indian time when the human being looked back through the succession of generations to a distant ancestor, we see that he felt no need to search for the gods anywhere but within the generations. Since, for the Hindu, man himself was divine, he remained within human evolution while looking for the divine in his forebears. Indeed the field of his search was precisely mankind's evolution.

There followed the time which culminated in the Egypto-Chaldean culture, when the folk concept rose to prominence and man beheld the divine in the various folk gods, in that which lived in blood relationships, not successively as before, but spatially side by side.

Then came the Greek period when man no longer felt god-imbued, when he became an earth citizen. Now for the first time there arose the necessity to seek the gods above the earth, to look up to the gods. By gazing at the stars, ancient man knew of the gods. But the Greek needed, in addition to the stars, the involvement of his personality in order to behold those gods; and this need kept increasing within mankind.

Today man must more and more develop the faculty of disregarding the physical, disregarding the physical starry sky, disregarding the physical course of the year, disregarding his sensations when confronting objects. For he can no longer behold his thoughts in matter. He must acquire the possibility of discovering the divine-spiritual as something special above and beyond the physical sense world before he can find it again within the sense world.

To emphasize this truth energetically is the task of anthroposophical spiritual science. Thus anthroposophical spiritual science grows out of the entire earthly evolution of mankind. We must always remember that Anthroposophy is not something arbitrarily created and placed as a program into mankind's evolution but, rather, something suited to our epoch, something resulting from the inner necessities of mankind's long history.

The fact that materialism holds sway over our age is, really, only a lagging behind. Man not only became an earth citizen in the Greek sense; today he is already so estranged from his earth citizenship he no longer understands how to handle his soul-spirit being in relation to his body — it is one of the needs of the age for the human being to behold spirit and soul in himself without the physical. Side by side with this deep soul-need, there exists materialism as an Ahrimanic stopping short at something natural in the age of the Greeks and Romans when one could still behold the spiritual in the physical, but not natural today.

Having remained stationary, we can no longer see the spiritual in the physical; we consider only the physical as such. This is materialism. It means that a current hostile to development has entered evolution. Mankind shuns the coining of new concepts; it prefers to continue on with the old. We must overcome this hostility toward development; must open ourselves to it. Then we shall acquire a quite natural relationship to anthroposophical growth of spirit, and pass over from antiquated needs to the truly modern need of mankind: namely, to raise ourselves to the spiritual.

In today's lecture I have tried to gain a viewpoint from which you can see how, for the present age, in the evolution of mankind, Anthroposophy constitutes a real necessity.