Sunday, June 7, 2015

Science, art, and religion in the ancient Oriental human soul

Rudolf Steiner:

We come upon a period in the evolution of the ancient Orient when the divine-spiritual — or, as Goethe called it, the sensible-supersensible — that man beheld was exceedingly lofty and gloriously beautiful. People's feelings and fantasy were powerfully stirred by their perception of it. But because techniques for dealing with material media were still so rudimentary, artistic creations of the period were but primitive symbolical or allegorical expressions of the far greater beauty human beings perceived with spiritual eyes. An artist of those ancient times describing his work with the feeling-nuance we have today would have said: “What the spirit reveals to me is beautiful, but I can bring only a weak reflection of it to expression in my clay or wood or other media.”
Artists in those days were people who beheld the spiritual in all its beauty and passed on their vision in sense-perceptible form to others who could not behold it for themselves. These latter were convinced that when an artist embodied what he saw spiritually in his symbolical or allegorical forms, these forms enabled them, too, to find their way into the world beyond the Earth, a world that a person had to enter to experience his full dignity as a human being.
This relationship to the divine-spiritual was so immediate, so real, so concrete that people felt that the thoughts they had were a gift of the gods, who were as present to them as their fellow humans. They expressed it thus: “When I talk with human beings, we speak words that sound on the air. When I talk with the gods, they tell me thoughts that I hear only inside me. Words expressed in sounds are human words. Words expressed in thoughts are communications from the gods.”
When human beings had thoughts, they did not believe them to be products of their own soul activity. They believed that they were hearing thoughts whispered to them by divinities. When they perceived with their ears, they said they heard people. When they heard with their souls, when their perception was of thoughts, they said they heard spiritual beings. Knowledge that lived in idea form was thus communication from divine sources in the experiencing of ancient peoples, perception of the Logos as it spoke directly through the gods to men.
We can say, then, that men's beholding of the gods became the inner life of the religious ideal. Their symbolical-allegorical expression of divine forms through the various media was the life underlying the ideal of art. In their re-telling of what the gods had told them lived the ideal of science. These three ideals merged into one in ancient Oriental times, for they were at bottom one and the same.
In the first ideal, men looked up to divine revelation. Their whole soul life was completely suffused with religious feeling. Science and art were the two realms in which the gods shared mankind's life on earth. The artist engaged in creative activity felt that his god was guiding his hand, poets felt their utterance being formed by gods. “Sing to me, Muse, of the anger of the great Peleid, Achilles.” It was not the poet speaking; it was, he felt, the Muse speaking in him, and that was the fact. The abstract modern view, which attributes such statements to poetic license, is a grotesque piece of the childish nonsense so rampant today. Those who adopt it do not know how truly Goethe spoke when he said, “What you call the spirit of the times is just your own spirit with the times reflected in it.”

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