Friday, May 19, 2017
The ongoing influence of Greece and Rome on our time
Inner Impulses of Evolution. Lecture 1.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, September 16, 1916:
During the coming days I shall endeavor to continue the study we have made of the relationship of man with the universe. I want to take you today into a new and more general domain and speak to you of forces that are operative in human evolution, especially those that are working in the development of our own age. First, however, I must begin with a historical introduction that will, of course, accord with the points of view presented in the science of the spirit. We have, as you know, often emphasized the extent to which the ordinary method of observing the stream of history is no more than a fable convenue, and we have shown how it is only from spiritual scientific observation that clarification can be thrown upon the historical evolution of humanity.
You well know that when we study evolution in its main features, we have always to consider among the processes at work in the present, certain elements that have remained from the past. As you will have seen from recent studies, we call them luciferic or ahrimanic, depending upon their nature. Thus, our study will only lead to full comprehension when we take into account what is progressing in a normal and regular manner, and also what has remained from the past.
Today I would like to direct your attention again to the Greco-Latin age, the fourth post-Atlantean age of civilization, and to present certain things that can open the way to an understanding of how this earlier age works over into our own. Thus may we perceive how the forces of that age are still active today. This will help us to understand how man, standing in the midst of present evolution, can find his way through the various influences that are at work. Only when he does find his way, and is thus in a position to know how to act aright at each moment of this life, is he worthy of being called a man.
Where actual concrete events are concerned, I am, of course, in a strange position today because of the possibility of misunderstanding, and, as we have frequently experienced lately, even a deliberately intentional one. Within the last three months I have been regarded by one party as a rabid Germanophile, whereas others say I have no understanding of the German nature and am able only to understand the classical world, the only world whose strengths I feel within myself. Accordingly, you will not be surprised to see that I am quite aware that there may be some difficulties in understanding me. Regardless of how it may be received, I continue to speak what I know to be the truth.
Today, then, we will turn our attention to the Greco-Latin age, which shines in all that has found its way into the present from Greece and Rome. Let us try to picture to ourselves what the Greek world means to us. So many ardent souls have a longing for this world, which has been the object of deep study by so many distinguished minds. In fact, everyone knows something of this world either from history or from the many remains of Greek culture. We know on the one side something of Greece from history books in which the deeds of the Greeks and their social organizations are recorded. Such descriptions often start with the Trojan War and then proceed further to the Persian War, to the Peloponnesian War, and so on, leading finally to the fall of Greece to the Romans.
All such history is, however, only one chapter of the great world book of history that speaks to us of Greece that I have so often spoken of. Another chapter includes the poems of Homer, the poetical works of Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus insofar as they have come down to us, the songs of the great Pindar, our memories of the great art of Greece, and what is left of the Greek philosophy. That is the other chapter, which speaks about an infinite treasure of human experiences, feelings, points of view, and ideas relating to the structure of the world. And running through all this, like light shining over it all, are the Greek myths, those divine sagas that express so wonderfully in pictures what the Greeks were able to perceive of the secrets of the cosmos. And something from the Greek Mysteries has also come down to us, and belongs indeed to this other chapter of Greek history. Here, anyone who wants to lift his soul into the sphere of the spirit will find far more to interest him than he will in the first chapter. Today, when we ask what the Greeks mean to us, we must give far more attention to this chapter than the first, which can only provide information of the past deeds for which the heroes became famous, but little of this remains that is of real significance for the soul at the present time. The contents of the second chapter, however, can become living for us, who enter willingly into that enthusiastic and creative element of the Greeks. This is the one side of the Greco-Latin epoch we can put before our soul.
Then we begin to see how Greece moves rapidly toward its full ripening in spiritual spheres. It is a wonderful experience to follow this in detail. Take Greek philosophy, that extract of the spiritual life of Greece. See how it develops from the great philosophers belonging to what Nietzsche called “The Tragic Age” — Thales, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Anaximander, Anaxagoras — to Socrates, who heralded a new age, and finally to Plato, who raised man in such a wonderful way to spiritual ideals and ideal points of view. Then we come to Aristotle, who formed the most comprehensive and penetrating ideas so strongly that, centuries later, men who have had to rethink his thought after him are still unable to make full and right use of his ideas. We know that Goethe later changed the phrase “Faust's entelechy”, in the last scene of Faust, into “Faust's immortal part.” The original Aristotelian idea found in “entelechy” expresses in a far more intimate way than “immortal part” the element of man's soul that passes through the gate of death. “Immortal part” is a negative expression, whereas “entelechy” is positive. Goethe, however, realizing that “entelechy” would not give a clear idea of what was meant, later changed it to the more common term “immortal part.” Nevertheless, he had a feeling for the depth of the idea of entelechy. We are not yet done with this and similar ideas of the Greeks. They elaborated them in a truly plastic manner, taking them right out of reality, but the men of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, and also the early Middle Ages, had enough to do trying to understand the coarser ideas of outer material reality. Those more refined ideas, which according to Aristotle unite outer material reality with spiritual reality, were somewhat beyond their grasp.
Thus we see something wonderful and beautiful unfold in Greek life and culture. As this culture continued to progress, becoming almost overripe in part, it was conquered, in an outer sense, by Rome. An extraordinary process, this so-called conquest of Greece by Rome! In these two streams of civilization we have what constitutes the fourth post-Atlantean age. An understanding of them can throw a flood of light in an external, exoteric way on what works and weaves inwardly during this epoch. Externally, Greece was subjected to Rome in such a way that the chronicle of their relationship forms a wonderfully interesting chapter in world history.
Now, let us look at Rome, which stands in a different relation to our present age than does Greece. Many souls among us are seeking the Greek world. But we must look for it. We have to draw it up from the gray depths of the spirit, so to speak. It is not so with Rome, which survives in the whole European present with far more living strength than is usually believed. Recall, for example, how long the whole thinking of the peoples of European civilization and culture, and of those peoples who lived with it, was carried on in Latin. What vast significance Latin, this crystallized Romanism, still has today for those who have to prepare to take leading positions in life! How very many of the ideas and conceptions that we form in our souls are taken from the Roman world! To a large extent we still think in the style of the Romans. Nearly all legal thought, and a great many of our other concepts and ideas, are conveyed in this way. Those who prepare themselves for leading positions in life have, in the course of their education, to absorb along with Latin a whole host of feelings and ideas belonging to the Roman age. The result is that our public life today is everywhere permeated with concepts and ideas that spring from Rome. People little realize the extent to which this is true.
The peasant may mutter against all this Latin influence but he, too, accepts it in the end. After all, he allows the Mass to be said to him in Latin. This Roman-Latin influence is, as it were, injected into the blood of those who are preparing themselves to take leading positions, and thus the thinking of the European upper classes who are involved in history, politics, law, and government is permeated to a high degree by Rome. This is true not only in the names and terms used, but also in the method and character. So you see that a European stands in a different relationship to the Roman stream, the other stream in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, than to the first, the Greek stream.
Let us now place ancient Rome side by side with ancient Greece, which we must do if we really want to understand things rightly. Placed side by side, we can hardly find among the factors of recent evolution (I am taking Greece and Rome as belonging to modern times) a greater contrast in the sphere of the spirit. As we look at Greece from a certain distance in time, it seems to us to be immersed in fantasy, art, and philosophy, radiant in its forms and inner significance, eloquent of soul and spirit. Rome, on the contrary, had nothing in its own nature of what is so deeply characteristic of Greece. The Romans were a people devoid of fantasy. Unlike the Greeks, their souls were not steeped in a profound realization of the directly cosmic nature of human life. In spite of the fact that the Greeks kept slaves, as a civilization Greek life reveals itself as one of exceptional freedom. Then we see this marvelously free Greek life made subject to Rome, a civilization utterly devoid of fantasy and imagination in every sphere of law, military, and political culture. Were they to speak from knowledge and not from a lack of it, even those who love the Roman element in modern history would confess that neither in the sphere of science nor of art was Rome in any way original. When Rome conquered Greece politically and militarily, it acquired Greek art and science. Even if we think of the greatest poets of Rome, compared with the greatness of Greek art and poetry, they are nothing but imitators.
Rome, however, became great in quite another sphere, one in which the Greeks were not much interested. Because of the peculiar constitution of the Romans, they developed such forceful perceptions and feelings in the legal, political, and military domain that they still continue to work in the present.
This distinction between Greece and Rome is especially revealed when we consider the Greek and Roman languages in their inward spiritual aspects. Men who have looked more deeply into these things — as, for instance, Herbart in the nineteenth century — were anxious that secondary education should not be so overwhelmed by the waves of that powerful stream of Rome as it has become. He wanted college students to learn Greek first rather than the customary Latin because in his opinion Latin deadened a man's soul to the more inward and intimate working of the Greek idiom. Nothing has as yet come of his suggestion, but it is still an ideal held by many teachers with insight today. As you know, our age is not guided by insight and it thus must bear the karma of that failing.
The Greek language repeatedly reveals a stream flowing behind the Greek spiritual life that comes from the old imaginations of the Egypto-Chaldean age. Our modern humanity is certainly not sensitive enough to feel this living element behind every Greek word, but for the Greek soul each word was rather an outer gesture of a full inner experience. Of course, imagination was no longer present to the same degree in the Greek as it was in the men of the Egypto-Chaldean age, but we can still detect in Greek words a strong feeling remaining from the inspiring force of the old imaginative ideation. An utter disregard of the mere word and a saturation of the language with soul can be felt in Greek. This inner soul element can still be sensed in those Greek words which have been transmitted to us in the purest form. We see through the word; we do not just hear it but see through it to a soul process that takes place behind it. This comes to expression in the very sound and grammatical configurations of Greek.
With the Roman-Latin language it is quite another thing. Even in Roman mythology you can recognize a characteristic of the Roman-Latin idiom. In Greek mythology with its traditional names for the gods you will find everywhere behind these divine names the most concrete events of the myth and, living with these events, the gods. The gods themselves stand before us and we watch them pass. They show themselves to us in flesh and blood, as it were. (I am speaking, of course, of the soul.) But the divine names of the Romans — Saturnus, Jupiter, etc. — have almost become abstract concepts. The same is true of the entire Roman-Latin idiom. Much of what lies behind the Greek language has been lost, and attention is now focused on the word as it sounds and forms itself grammatically in speech. One lives in the word. The direct soul element, the kernel, the inner feeling that we sense in Greek, has been cooled in Latin. It was not necessary for the Roman to hear behind his language the echoing of the life of imagination. Indeed it was no longer there. Instead, the Roman needed passions and emotions to bring his word into movement because Latin is essentially logical. For it to be something more than a stream of cold logic, it had to be continually kindled anew by the emotional element that was always behind Roman life and history. The second chapter, as I set it before you for Greece, is not to be found in the same way in the history of Rome. It is the content of the first chapter that essentially takes place here, and it is this that is still studied today by our young people as the determining factor in evolution.
To comprehend law and jurisprudence and to represent human relationships as they develop from the emotions has come to be the secret of Latin. We must observe such things without sympathy or antipathy if we want really to understand them. It is important to understand them because they play so large a part in our cultural life today.
Consider without sympathy or antipathy but purely historically what is absorbed by our youth when Roman history is studied. Of course, much is not put into words, but the unexpressed is received by the astral body and lives on in feeling and sentiments. What we today call “right” existed, no doubt, in one way or another before Roman civilization. Nevertheless, the way in which we understand right was, in a sense, a Roman discovery. The right that lends itself to being written down, that can be laid out in paragraphs, that can be minutely defined, etc., is an invention of the Romans.
Why should the Romans not have proclaimed to the world what right is and how to act in a right manner? This failure is directly illustrated by the fact that the Romans trace their history back to Romulus, who killed his brother and then collected all the available discontented persons and criminals and made them his first Roman citizens. They then propagated themselves through the rape of the Sabines. Therefore, it does seem that the Romans, thanks to the force that works by striving for the opposite, were indeed the people who were called to invent rights and extirpate wrongs. Here is a nation whose men trace themselves back to robbers, and the women to a rape! Many things in world history find their explanation in opposites.
The Romans gradually built a mighty empire, and we see how the seven kings, who were more than myths, ruled and met their ends finally through pride. We move on to the time of the Republic. This is the period that still plays such a large part in the education of our youth. The fights between the patricians and the plebeians, the somewhat revolting struggle between Marius and Sulla, Rome trembling under Catiline, the endless and most terrible slave wars — this whole string of unpleasant events still largely provides the material for the education and culture of our young. Then we see how, while all this is taking place on Roman soil, Roman rule gradually spreads, until Rome is transformed into an empire that strives to embrace the entire known world and, as a matter of fact, finally succeeds.
We also find how alone the Roman feels, a quality of his soul that is apt to be overlooked. How do the deeds of a Caracalla or anyone else accord with the discovery of right for the good of humanity? We tend to forget that these Romans combined their sense of right and their self-control with a terrible slavery to which they subjected their colonies and the peoples they conquered. Looking at Rome from this standpoint for once, we see that we must not correct the facts, but rather many of the feelings we have acquired in our study of Roman history. If one were looking at the matter with sympathy or antipathy, but in such a way that one was biased by the too frequent sympathies and antipathies that prevail today, one might ask “Did not the Romans later give Roman citizenship to their colonials?” Now, however, if you look at the motive behind this, you will see it in another light. It was Caracalla who did this, and he was not a man to whom one could attribute selfless motives. He was a man of characteristically Roman egoism. That says enough about the soul's life in ancient time. There were, of course, upright lawyers who devoted themselves to jurisprudence with all their souls. Papinian, for instance, was a noble man, but Caracalla had him murdered. One could go on to present many such examples that could correct our usual feelings.
In such ways as it could, this Roman civilization now took over Greece. Spiritually, Rome was conquered by Greece, but Greece had to pay for this conquest with its own downfall as a political community — one cannot say, “unity,” for that Greece never was. Bossuet rightly says — he marvels at his words but words can still be correct however one feels them, “One only hears of the greatness of the name of Rome.” In the very best time of Roman rule it was the greatness of the name, what had gone into the word and was felt as its quality that was important. As for social conditions, Rome shows us the infinite riches and treasures that flowed into it from its colonies, and side by side with this wealth, the terrible poverty of a large part of the population.
In the first era of its conquests Rome took over Greece. Then we see how Christianity pervaded Roman civilization, allowing itself to be over-spread with the formal element that belonged to Rome. All the institutions of early Christianity were received into the structure of Roman legal administration and, perpetuating the ancient Roman element, preserved in the forms of the Church. Everywhere it shows in its institutions forms that have developed in Rome. It also adopted Latin as a language and thus came to Latinize its thinking. With the expansion of Christianity, this Latin-Roman element spread over all of Europe.
As you know, after she had absorbed Greece and Christianity, a time came when Rome could no longer understand what she had received, and she no longer desired to understand them. They were felt to be foreign elements. At the time when Greece was conquered, the Grecian influence worked powerfully on Rome, but the Romans gradually strengthened their legal and political power. The Greek element was then felt to be a foreign body that it no longer wanted. As a final consequence, the Athenian schools of philosophy were closed by the Emperor Justinian, the sixth-century ruler of the eastern Roman empire who codified the legal and political principles of Rome in the Corpus Juris Civilis. Justinian, who was a sort of incarnation of the Roman-Latin element, was the emperor who finally closed the schools and put an end to Greek philosophy, categorically forbidding its pursuit. He also put a stop to the original free expansion of Christianity by having the works of Origen, who united the wisdom of Greece with the depths of Christianity and also brought semi-occult communications into it, condemned by the Church.
So we see how Rome flowed into the institutions of Europe by way of the Church. The other political institutions fell into line with it — we can even say took their origin from it, because the European rulers set a high value on their title of “Defender of the Faith.” Later on, of course, when they wanted to divorce themselves from the Church, they dropped the title and founded a church of their own. Well, it is not always that people take things in such dead earnest. So the rulers styled themselves “Defender of the Faith,” “the most Christian of Monarchs,” etc. Public institutions developed right out of Roman thought and custom, and Rome infected everything, grafting its own nature onto European culture. After Justinian had laid down the code of Roman legal and political thought, had wiped out Greek philosophy and had had Origen condemned, Rome continued to live on in the institutions of Europe without the Greek content. After it had driven the very sap of its life, its spiritual content, out of itself, only the external remained, petrified in the word and grown strong and stubborn in external institutions. Occultists with insight have always had a certain feeling which still remains today, a feelings shared by those who have no reason to hide it. This is expressed in the statement: “The ghost of ancient Rome still lives in the institutions of Europe.”
Now, we see over and over again in history how what has gone before is carried over into later events, where it springs to life again in them. Thus, we find how Rome was fructified by Greece a second time. During the first time, the Republic was developing into an empire, and Greek art, philosophy, and spiritual life flowed over into Rome. It was the age in which the Romans lived Greece, so to speak. They carried themselves like great lords and thought it an easy thing to take over the whole of Greek culture. They used well-educated Greeks, who indeed were slaves, for teachers of their children, which by Roman standards was the way to acquire a conquered culture.
Then another epoch followed after: an epoch of stagnation, of which even history tells us but little. It was an epoch when right was permeated by the Church, when the Church was impregnated by politics and law. There followed something like a renewal of Greek culture from Dante to the fall of freedom in Florence, the age of the Renaissance when Greece came to life again in Rome, especially through Raphael and others. But it was a re-naissance, not a “naissance,” a birth, and for a long time Europe could do no more than look back to this Renaissance, this rebirth. When Goethe went to Italy, he sought there not Rome but Greece. He tried everywhere to recognize in Roman culture the Greek way of thought and life. During the Renaissance, Christianity and Greece so merged that today we can no longer distinguish Christian from Greek in Renaissance art. In connection with Raphael's famous painting “The School of Athens,” the question is often raised as to whether the central figures represent Plato and Aristotle or Peter and Paul. There are just as good reasons for the one view as for the other. So, in one of the most outstanding paintings of the Renaissance, one cannot tell whether the figures are Greek or Christian. The two elements have merged in such a way that the wonderful marriage between spiritual and material in the Greek life of thought can just as well be expressed by Peter and Paul as by Plato and Aristotle. Plato, whom many would like to see in this painting, is depicted by an old man who points with his hand to heavenly spheres, and by his side stands Aristotle with his conceptual world, who points down into the material world looking for the spiritual in it. We can, however, just as well see Peter in the figure pointing upward, and Paul in the one pointing down.
But during the Renaissance it is always for good reasons that we find this type of dichotomy. After the Renaissance, which was, as we have seen, a revival of Greece, something fresh and original had to come and this could only occur through a higher synthesis. Now, today, the two gestures, one pointing upward to the heavens and the other pointing down to the earth, will be found in the same person. Then we also need the luciferic and the ahrimanic in contrast to each other. What you see divided between two people in one of the greatest works of art of the Renaissance you will have to see in the gestures of the figure of the representative of humanity in our group statue that is to be carved: both gestures!
The Middle Ages or the beginning of our new epoch required that re-animation of ancient Greece, the Renaissance. How many things since have derived their life from it! We see how, in a philosopher like Nietzsche, this Renaissance comes to life again in his best years. We see how wonderfully it lives in all the learning of Jacob Burckhardt. Right into modern times this Renaissance continues its influence, bringing a breath of early Greek times into our modern age.
We can truly say that while Greece was externally annihilated by Rome, much of the spiritual force of Greece has remained. The influence of the Greek heroes of the spirit lasted until about 333 A.D.; their coffin was started in the 4th century, and Justinian later only drove the nails into it. Then, these heroes of the spirit reappear at the time of the Renaissance as impulses of the spiritual world that have remained behind. Just as in the evolution of earth and man certain moon forces light up again at a particular time, thereby making possible the birth of human intelligence and language, so does the Greek world light up again in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to create the Renaissance.
We have here a living instance of how something that has remained over and continues to work on in a later time, even though luciferically, is nevertheless used for the progress of humanity. The Greece that reappears again in the Renaissance can indeed be called luciferic, for side by side with such figures as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael stand the side-figures of Pope Alexander VI, Caesar Borgia, and the rest! Europe needed the Renaissance, which gave much to it. Thus, from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries onward we have again the two streams with which we began, though now they are disguised. One was called to life again in the Renaissance, the other has always been with us in Romanism, having only undergone many changes of form. The two streams now flow side by side again and both have a profound influence on mankind. In describing these things we must learn to look on the world and life in such a way that we see things quite objectively without associating sympathy or antipathy with the words used.
Many Renaissance ideas and conceptions come to us not so much from school but through our whole spiritual life. People do not think about these things, but Renaissance ideas live in everyone. They are a different element from the ideas and outlook of Romanism that have never disappeared but are always at work. The Renaissance was, in a way, the salvation of the imaginative element. It represents a liberation from the merely logical and the coldness of the Latin element, which, being so cold, always requires an emotional impulse to give it life. In contrast, we see the uprising, imaginative life that was brought to Europe through the Renaissance and that had been brought over from ancient Greece. We shall see tomorrow what it really means that, as the fourth post-Atlantean age was passing over into the fifth, this imaginative life was rekindled. It stood as a kind of godfather to the birth of the fifth post-Atlantean age, which today must liberate itself from the Romanism we have described not through the use of emotional impulses, but through knowledge. We are not here belittling the greatness of this Romanism, but things must be rightly balanced. The salvation and healing of evolution lies in balancing things correctly and not allowing them to go to extremes.
There are many ideas in the intellectual life of Europe that deceive and tempt men. They have remained behind from the civilization of Rome and they evoke complexes of ideas and feelings in the soul of which men are not always fully conscious. As I have said, one cannot say that the Romans absolutely invented political-legal thinking, although they did so in the sense of which we have been speaking today. In contrast to what the Greek saw among men through his living imagination, or from his inheritance of living imaginations, Rome formed a definite concept that first came to life in Romanism. It is a plant that grows entirely on political-legal soil. This is the concept of citizenship; man becomes a citizen, a Roman citizen. Therewith, the concept of man is given a legal-political coloring. What thus passed over into the blood of the European peoples with the citizen concept is intimately connected with what I described in the last lecture [September 11, 1916] as the “politicalization” of the world of thought. There have been lawyers in modern times who have based the connection of modern man with Rome simply on this citizen concept. By virtue of this, when it is livingly experienced, man takes his place in the community in a political and legal sense, even though he may not admit it to himself. Aristotle spoke of the Zöon politikon. He still connected the political with the Zöon, the animal. That was an altogether different kind of thinking, an imaginative thinking that was not yet political thinking, a politicalization of the concept.
So this political-legal element grows in our thought of man. People are often unconscious of how man is placed in a political-legal category through the natural association of ideas. In the word “civilization” — which I would call a monstrous concept since it is something that had its proper meaning only in an earlier time — in this monstrous conception of “civilization” we feel, though often unconsciously, our close connection with the essentially political and legal Roman world. “Civilization” is derived from civis, and within and behind it stands Romanism. All this boasting of civilization that we often hear today is nothing other than an unrealized Romanism that is often felt. It often happens that a man may use a word to express something lofty and great without having any notion of how, in using the word, he connects with the great forces in history. When one is able to perceive the whole political and judicial background of the word "civilization," then to hear it spoken is often enough to make one shudder.
These things must be said, since the science of the spirit is not for the nursery. as some people seem to think, but for revealing earnest knowledge of the world. In the presence of this knowledge many of the ideas man has taken for his idols and to which he prays fall from their altars. It is not the intention of spiritual science merely to bring the beings of the spiritual world near to man so that he may feel a kind of intimate intercourse with them as he might experience with poets, for instance. No, the science of the spirit is here for man himself to draw near to the spiritual world and its forces in all earnestness.