excerpts of World History lectures by Dr. Steiner
“Among the mysteries of ancient times, Ephesus holds a unique position. You will remember that in considering the part played by Alexander in the evolution of the West, I had to mention also this Mystery of Ephesus. Let us try to see wherein lies the peculiar importance of this Mystery.
We can only grasp the significance of the events of earlier and of more recent times when we understand and appreciate the great change that took place in the character of the Mysteries (which were in reality the source whence all the older civilisations sprang) in passing from the East to the West, and, in the first place, to Greece. This change was of the following nature.
When we look back into the older Mysteries of the East, we have everywhere the impression: The priests of the Mysteries are able, from their own vision, to reveal great and important truths to their pupils. The farther back we go in time, the more are these Wise Men or Priests in a position to call forth in the Mysteries the immediate presence of the Gods themselves, the Spiritual Beings who guide the worlds of the planets, who guide the events and phenomena of Earth. The Gods were actually there present.
The connection of the human being with the macrocosm was revealed in many different Mysteries in an equally sublime manner to that I pictured for you yesterday, in connection with the Mysteries of Hibernia and also with the teachings that Aristotle had still to give to Alexander the Great. An outstanding characteristic of all ancient Oriental Mysteries was that moral impulses were not sharply distinguished from natural impulses. When Aristotle points Alexander to the North-West, where the Spirits of the element of Water held dominion, it was not only a physical impulse that came from that quarter — as we to-day feel how the wind blows from the North-West and so forth — but with the physical came also moral impulses. The physical and the moral were one. This was possible, because through the knowledge that was given in these Mysteries — the Spirit of Nature was actually perceived in the Mysteries — man felt himself one with the whole of Nature. Here we have something in the relation of man to Nature, that was still living and present in the time that intervened between the life of Gilgamesh and the life of the individuality Gilgamesh became, who was also in close contact with the Mysteries, namely, with the Mystery of Ephesus. There was still alive in men of that time a vision and perception of the connection of the human being with the Spirit of Nature. This connection they perceived in the following way. Through all that the human being learned concerning the working of the elementary spirits in Nature, and the working of the Beings of Intelligence in the planetary processes, he was led to this conclusion: All around me I see displayed on every side the plant-world — the green shoots, the buds and blossoms and then the fruit. I see the annual plants in the meadows and on the country-side, that grow up in Spring-time and fade away again in Autumn. I see, too, the trees that go on growing for hundreds of years, forming a bark on the outside, hardening to wood and reaching downwards far and wide into the Earth with their roots. But all that I see out there — the annual herbs and flowers, the trees that take firm hold into the Earth — once upon a time, I, as man, have borne it all within me.
You know how to-day, when there is carbonic acid in the air, that has come about through the breathing of human beings, we can feel that we ourselves have breathed out the carbonic acid, we have breathed it into space. We have therefore still to-day this slight connection with the Cosmos. Through the airy part of our nature, through the air that gives rise to the breathing and other air-processes that go on in the human organism, we have a living connection with the great Universe, with the Macrocosm. The human being to-day can look upon his out-breathed breath, upon the carbonic acid that was in him and is now outside him. But just as we are able to-day to look upon the carbonic acid we have breathed out — we do not generally do so, but we could — so did the initiates of olden times look upon the whole plant-world. Those who had been initiated in the Oriental Mysteries, or had received the wisdom that streamed forth from the Oriental Mysteries, were able to say: I look back in the evolution of the world to an ancient Sun epoch. In that time I bore still within me the plants. Then afterwards I let them stream forth from me into the far circles of Earth existence. But as long as I bore the plants within me, while I was still that Adam Cadmon who embraced the whole Earth and the plant-world with it, so long was this whole plant-world watery-airy in substance. Then the human being separated off from himself this plant-world. Imagine that you were to become as big as the whole Earth, and then to separate off, to secrete, as it were, inwardly something plant-like in nature, and this plant-like substance were to go through metamorphoses in the watery element — coming to life, fading away, growing up, being changed, taking on different shapes and forms — and you will by this imagination call up again in your soul feelings and experiences that once lived in it. Those who received their education and training in the East at about the time of Gilgamesh were able to say to themselves that these things had once been so.
And when they looked abroad upon the meadows and beheld all the growth of green and flowers, then they said: We have separated the plants from ourselves, we have put them forth from us in an earlier stage of our evolution; and the Earth has received them. The Earth it is that has lent them root, and has given them their woody nature; the tree-nature in the world of plants comes from the Earth. But the whole plant-nature as such has been cast off, as it were, by the human being, and received by the Earth. In this way man felt an intimate and near relationship with everything of a plant-nature.
With the higher animals the human being did not feel a relationship of this kind. For he knew that he could only work his way rightly and come to his true place on the Earth by overcoming the animal form, by leaving the animals behind him in his evolution. The plants he took with him as far as the Earth; then gave them over to her that she might receive them into her bosom. For the plants he was upon Earth the Mediator of the Gods, the Mediator between the Gods and the Earth.
Men who had this great experience acquired a feeling that may be put quite simply in a few words. The human being comes hither to the Earth from the World-All. The question of number does not come into consideration; for, as I said yesterday, they were all and each within the other. That which afterwards becomes the plant-world separates off from man, the Earth receives it and gives it root. The human being felt as though he had folded the Earth about with a garment of plant growth, and as though the Earth were thankful for this enfolding and took from him the watery-airy plant element that he was able, as it were, to breathe on to her.
In entering into this experience men felt themselves intimately associated with the God, with the chief God of Mercury. Through the feeling: We have ourselves brought the plants on to the Earth, men came into a special relation with the God Mercury.
Towards the animals, on the other hand, man had a different feeling. He knew that he could not bring them with him to Earth, he had to cast them off, he had to make himself free from them, otherwise he would not be able to evolve his human form in the right way. He thrust the animals from him; they were pushed out of the way and had then to go through an evolution on their own account on a lower level than the level of humanity. Thus did the man of olden times — of the Gilgamesh time and later — feel himself placed between the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom. In relation to the plant kingdom he was the bearer, who bore the seed to the Earth and fructified the Earth with it, doing this as Mediator for the Gods. In relation to the animal kingdom he felt as though he had pushed it away from him, in order that he might become man without the encumbrance of the animals, who have consequently been stunted and retarded in their development.
The whole animal-worship of Egypt has to do with this perception. The deep fellow-feeling, too, with animals that we find in Asia is connected with it. It was a sublime conception of Nature that man had, feeling his relationship on the one hand with the plant world and on the other hand with the world of animals. In relation to the animal he had a feeling of emancipation. In relation to the plant he felt a near and intimate kinship. The plant world was to him a bit of himself, and he felt a sincere love for the Earth inasmuch as the Earth had received into herself the bit of humanity that gave rise to the plants, had let these take root in her, had even given of her own substance to clothe the trees in bark. There was always a moral element present when man took cognisance of the physical world around him. When he beheld the plants in the meadow, it was not only the natural growth that he perceived. In this growth he perceived and felt a moral relation to man. With the animal man felt again another moral relation: he had fought his way up beyond them.
Thus we find in the Mysteries over in the East a sublime conception of Nature and of Spirit in Nature. Later there were Mysteries in Greece, too, but with a much less real perception of Nature and of Spirit in Nature. The Greek Mysteries are grand and sublime, but they are essentially different from the Oriental Mysteries. It is characteristic of these that they do not tend to make man feel himself on the Earth, but that through them man feels himself a part of the Cosmos, a part of the World-All. In Greece, on the other hand, the character of the Mysteries had changed and the time was come when man began to feel himself united with the Earth. In the East the spiritual world itself was either seen or felt in the Mysteries. It is absolutely true to say that in the ancient Oriental Mysteries the Gods themselves appeared among the priests, who did sacrifice there and made prayers. The Mystery Temples were at the same time the earthly Guest Houses of the Gods, where the Gods bestowed upon men through the priests what they had to give them from the treasures of Heaven. In the Greek Mysteries appeared rather the images of the Gods, the pictures, as it were, the phantoms, — true and genuine, but phantoms none the less; no longer the Divine Beings, no longer the Realities, but phantoms. And so the Greek had a wholly different experience from the man who belonged to the ancient Oriental culture. The Greek had the feeling: There are indeed Gods, but for man it is only possible to have pictures of these Gods, just as we have in our memory pictures of past experiences, no longer the experiences themselves.
That was the fundamental feeling that took rise in the Greek Mysteries. The Greek felt that he had, as it were, memories of the Cosmos, not the appearance of the Cosmos itself, but pictures; pictures of the Gods, and not the Gods themselves. Pictures, too, of the events and processes on Saturn, Sun and Moon; no longer a living connection with what actually took place on Saturn, Sun and Moon, — the kind of living connection the human being has with his own childhood. The men of the Oriental civilisation had this real connection with Sun, Moon and Saturn, they had it from their Mysteries. But the Mysteries of the Greeks had a pictorial or image-character. There appeared in them the shadow-spirits of Divine-Spiritual Reality. And something else went with this as well that was very significant. For there was yet another difference between the Oriental Mysteries and the Greek.
In the Oriental Mysteries, if one wanted to know something of the sublime and tremendous experience that was possible in these Mysteries, one had always to wait until the right time. Some experience or other could perhaps only be found by making the appropriate sacrifice, the appropriate super-sensible ‘experiments’ as it were, in Autumn, — another only in Spring, another again at Midsummer, and another in the depth of Winter. Or again it might be that sacrifices were made to certain Gods at a time determined by a particular constellation of the Moon. At that special time the Gods would appear in the Mysteries, and men would come thither to be present at their manifestations. When the time had gone by one would have to wait, perhaps thirty years, until the opportunity should come again when those Divinities should once more reveal themselves in the Mysteries. All that related to Saturn, for example, could only enter the region of the Mysteries every thirty years; all that was concerned with the Moon about every eighteen years. And so on. The priests of the Oriental Mysteries were dependent on time, and also on place and on all manner of circumstances for receiving the sublime and tremendous knowledge and vision that came to them. Quite different manifestations were received deep in a mountain cave and high on the mountain top. Or again, the revelations were different, according as one was far inland in Asia or on the coast. Thus a certain dependence on place and time was characteristic of the Mysteries of the East.
In Greece the great and awful Realities had disappeared. Pictures there still were. And the pictures were dependent not on the time of year, on the course of the century, or on place; but men could have the pictures when they had performed this or that exercise, or had made this or that personal sacrifice. If a man had reached a certain stage of sacrifice and of personal ripeness, then for the very reason that he as a human being had attained thus far, he was able to have view of the shadows of the great world-events and of the great world-Beings.
That is the important change in the nature of the Mysteries that meets us when we pass from the ancient East to Greece. The ancient Oriental Mysteries were subject to the conditions of space and locality, whilst in the Greek Mysteries the human being himself came into consideration and what he brought to the Gods. The God, so to speak, came in his phantom or shadow-picture, when the human being, through the preparations he had undergone, had been made worthy to receive the God in phantom form. In this way the Mysteries of Greece prepared the road for modern humanity.
Now, the Mystery of Ephesus stood midway between the ancient Oriental Mysteries and the Greek Mysteries. It held a unique position. For in Ephesus those who attained to initiation were able still to experience something of the tremendous majestic truths of the ancient East. Their souls were still stirred with a deep inward experience of the connection of the human being with the Macrocosm and with the Divine-Spiritual Beings of the Macrocosm. In Ephesus men could still have sight of the super-earthly, and in no small measure. Self-identification with Artemis, with the Goddess of the Mystery of Ephesus, still brought to man a vivid sense of his relation to the kingdoms of nature. The plant world, so it taught him, is yours; the Earth has only received it from you. The animal world you have overcome. You have had to leave it behind. You must look back on the animals with the greatest possible compassion, they have had to remain behind on the road, in order that you might become Man. To feel oneself one with the Macrocosm: this was an experience that was still granted to the Initiate of Ephesus, he could still receive it straight from the Realities themselves.
At the same time, the Mysteries of Ephesus were, so to speak, the first to be turned westward. As such, they had already that independence of the seasons, or of the course of years and centuries; that independence too of place on Earth. In Ephesus the important things were the exercises that the human being went through, making himself ripe, by sacrifice and devotion, to approach the Gods. So that on the one hand, in the content of its Mystery truths, the Mystery of Ephesus harked back to the Ancient East, whilst on the other hand it was already directed to the development of man himself, and was thus adapted to the nature and character of the Greek. It was the very last of the Eastern Mysteries of the Greeks, where the great and ancient truths could still be brought near to men; for in the East generally the Mysteries had already become decadent.”
“Of peculiar importance for the understanding of the history of the West in its relation to the East is the period that lies between three or four hundred years before, and three or four hundred years after, the Mystery of Golgotha. The real significance of the events we have been considering, events that culminated in the rise of Aristotelianism and in the expeditions of Alexander to Asia, is contained in the fact that they form, as it were, the last Act in that civilisation of the East which was still immersed in the impulses derived from the Mysteries.
A final end was put to the genuine and pure Mystery impulse of the East by the criminal burning of Ephesus. After that we find only traditions of the Mysteries, traditions and shadow-pictures, — the remains, so to speak, that were left over for Europe and especially for Greece, of the old divinely-inspired civilisation. And four hundred years after the Mystery of Golgotha another great event took place, which serves to show what was still left of the ruins — for so we might call them — of the Mysteries.
Let us look at the figure of Julian the Apostate [Flavius Claudius Julianus, called the Apostate by the Christians, was Roman Emperor from 361–363.]. Julian the Apostate, Emperor of Rome, was initiated, in the 4th century, as far as initiation was then possible, by one of the last of the hierophants of the Eleusinian Mysteries. This means that he entered into an experience of the old Divine secrets of the East, in so far as such an experience could still be gained in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
At the beginning of the period we are considering, stands the burning of Ephesus; and the day of the burning of Ephesus is also the day on which Alexander the Great was born. At the end of the period, in 363AD, we have the day of the death — the terrible and significant death — of Julian the Apostate far away in Asia. Midway between these two days stands the Mystery of Golgotha.
And now let us examine a little this period of time as it appears in the setting of the whole history of human evolution. If we want to look back beyond this period into the earlier evolution of mankind, we have first to bring about a change in our power of vision and perception, a change that is very similar to one of which we hear in another connection. Only we do not often bring the things together in thought.”
“At this point a seemingly chance event is of great spiritual significance in the evolution of the world. We have already mentioned it in our circle, indeed we mentioned it many years ago. When the Temple of Ephesus was burning it was the hour of Alexander’s birth. But as the Temple burned something was really taking place.
How infinitely much had happened in the course of centuries for those who had belonged to this Temple. How much of spiritual light and wisdom had passed through these Temple spaces! Now that the flames broke forth from the Temple, all that had gone on in these Temple spaces was communicated to the cosmic ether. Thus we may truly say: The continuous Easter Festival at Ephesus which had been contained within these Temple spaces has since been written — albeit in letters less clearly visible — written in the great orb of the heavens inasmuch as the heavens are ethereal.”
“You will now be in a position to appreciate the resolve that Alexander made in his soul: to restore to the East what she had lost; to restore it at least in the form in which it was preserved in Greece, in the phantom or shadow-picture. Hence his idea of making an expedition into Asia, going as far as it was possible to go, in order to bring to the East once more — albeit in the shadow form in which it still existed in the Grecian culture — what she had lost.””And now we see what Alexander the Great is really doing, and doing in a most wonderful way, when he makes this expedition. He is not bent on the conquest of existing cultures, he is not trying to bring Hellenism to the East in any external sense. Wherever he goes, Alexander the Great not only adopts the customs of the land, but is able to enter right into the minds and hearts of the human beings who are living there, and to think their thoughts. When he comes to Egypt, to Memphis, he is hailed as a saviour and deliverer from the spiritual fetters that have hitherto bound the people. He permeates the kingdom of Persia with a culture and civilisation which the Persians themselves could never have produced. He penetrates as far as India.
He conceives the plan of effecting a balance, a harmony between Hellenic and Oriental civilisations. On every hand he founds academies. The academies founded in Alexandria, in Northern Egypt, are the best known and have had the greatest significance for later times. Of the first importance however is the fact that all over Asia larger and smaller academies were founded, in which the works of Aristotle were preserved and studied for a long time to come. What Alexander began in this way continued to work for centuries in Asia Minor, repeating itself again and again as it were in feebler echoes. With one mighty stroke Alexander planted the Aristotelian Knowledge of Nature in Asia, even as far as India. His early death prevented his reaching Arabia, though that had been one of his chief aims. He went however as far east as India, and also into Egypt. Everywhere he implanted the spiritual Knowledge of Nature that he had received from Aristotle, establishing it in such a way that it could become fruitful for men. For everywhere he let the people feel it was something that was their own, — not a foreign element, a piece of Hellenism, that was being imposed upon them. Only a nature such as Alexander’s, able to fire others with his own enthusiasm, could ever have accomplished what he did. For everywhere others came forward to carry on the work he had begun. In the years that followed, many more scholars went over from Greece. Apart from Edessa it was one academy in particular, that of Gondi-Shapur, which received constant reinforcements from Greece for many centuries to come.
A marvellous feat was thus performed! The light that had come over from the East, — extinguished in Ephesus by the flaming torch of Herostratus, — this light, or rather its phantom shadow, now shone back again from Greece, and continued so to shine until the dramatic moment when beneath the tyranny of Rome [Justinian, Byzantine Emperor from 527–565, son of a peasant, sent an edict to Athens in 529 forbidding the teaching of philosophy and law. Thereupon the last seven Athenian philosophers left the Roman Empire and emigrated to Persia.] the Schools of the Greek philosophers were ultimately closed. In the 6th century A.D. the last of the Greek philosophers fled away to the academy of Gondi-Shapur.”
“In the older Grecian time there was no need to make written history. Why was this? Because men had the living shadow of everything of importance that had happened in the past. History could be read in what came to view in the Mysteries. There one had the shadow-pictures, the living shadow-pictures. What was there then to write down as history?
But now came the time when the shadow pictures became submerged in the lower world, when human consciousness could no longer perceive them. Then came the impulse to make records. Herodotus [Herodotus of Halicarnassos, the first Greek historian, lived in the fifth century B.C. Wrote history of the Persian Wars.], the first prose historian, appeared. And from this time onward, many could be named who followed him, the same impulse working in them all, — to tear mankind away from the Divine-Spiritual and to set him down in the purely earthly. Nevertheless, as long as Greek culture and civilisation lasted, there is a splendour and a light shed abroad over this earth-directed tendency, a light of which we shall hear to-morrow that it did not pass over to Rome nor to the Middle Ages. In Greece, a light was there. Of the shadow-pictures, even the fading shadow-pictures of the evening twilight of Greek civilisation, man still felt that they were divine in their origin.”
“What Julian (the apostate – Roman emperor Born: 330 AD, Constantinople, Turkey), however, is able to receive in these Mysteries has no longer the force of knowledge. And what is more, he belongs to a world where men are no longer able to grasp in their soul the traditions from the Mysteries of the East.
Present-day mankind would never have come into being if Asia had not been followed first by Greece and then by Rome. Present-day mankind is built up upon personality, upon the personality of the individual. Eastern mankind was not so built up. The individual of the East felt himself part of a continuous divine process. The Gods had their purposes in Earth evolution. The Gods willed this or that, and this or that came to pass on the Earth below. The Gods worked on the will of men, inspiring them. Those powerful and great personalities in the East of whom I spoke to you — all that they did was inspired from the Gods. Gods willed: men carried it into effect. And the Mysteries were ordered and arranged in olden times to this end, — to bring Divine will and human action into line.
In Ephesus we first find a difference. There the pupils in the Mysteries, as I have told you, had to be watchful for their own condition of ripeness and no longer to observe seasons and times of year. There the first sign of personality makes its appearance. There in earlier incarnations Aristotle and Alexander the Great had received the impulse towards personality.
But now comes a new period. It is in the early dawn of this new period when Julian the Apostate experiences as it were the last longing of man to partake, even in that late age, in the Mysteries of the East. Now the soul of man begins to grow different again from what it was in Greece.
We may therefore say that we are here dealing with a period when in Ephesus man was able to experience the secrets of the Universe. The human soul had memory of the far-past ages of the Cosmos.
This remembering was preceded in evolution by something else: it was preceded by an actual living within those earlier times. What remained was a looking back. In the time, however, of which the Gilgamesh Epic relates, we cannot speak of a memory of past ages in the Cosmos, we must speak of a present experience of what is past.
After the time of cosmic memory came what I have called the interim time between Alexander and Julian the Apostate. For the moment we will pass by this period. Then follows the age that gave birth to the western civilisation of the Middle Ages and of modern times. Here there is no longer a memory of the cosmic past, still less an experience in the present of the past; nothing is left but tradition.
- Memory of the Cosmic Past.
- Present Experience of the Past.
Men can now write down what has happened. History begins. History makes its first appearance in the Roman period. Think, my dear friends, what a tremendous change we have here! Think how the pupils in the Ephesian Mysteries lived with time. They needed no history books. To write down what happened would have been to them laughable. One only needed to ponder and meditate deeply enough, and what had happened would rise up before one from out of the depths of consciousness. Here was no demonstration of psycho-analysis such as a modern doctor might make: the human soul took the greatest delight in fetching up in this way out of a living memory that which had been in the past. In the time that followed, however, mankind as such had forgotten, and the necessity arose of writing down what happened. But all the while that man had to let his ancient power of cosmic memory crumble away, and begin in a clumsy manner to write down the great events of the world, — all this time personal memory, personal recollection was evolving in his inner being. For every age has its own mission, every age its own task.”
“We shall not however be able to judge of its full significance until we look beyond it to something more. We behold again the physical flames of fire flaring up on that night, we see the marvellous way in which the fusing metal of the organ-pipes and other metallic parts sent up a glow that caused that wonderful play of colour in the flames. And then we carry our memory over the year that has intervened. But in this memory must live the fact that the physical is Maya, that we have to seek the truth of the burning flames in the spiritual fire that it is ours now to kindle in our hearts and souls. In the midst of the physically burning Goetheanum shall arise for us a spiritually living Goetheanum.
I do not believe, my dear friends, that this can come to pass in the full, world-historic sense unless we can on the one hand look upon the flames mounting up in terrible tongues of fire from the Goetheanum that we have grown to love so dearly, and behold at the same time in the background that other treacherous burning of Ephesus, when Herostratus, guided by demonic powers, flung the flaming brand into the Temple. When we bring these two events together, setting one in the background and one in the foreground of our thought, we shall then have a picture that will perhaps have power to write deeply enough in our hearts what we have lost and what we must strive our utmost to build again.” – Rudolf Steiner World History lectures
Aristotle’s teachings of the ether and directions to India to Alexander the Great
“Aristotle and Alexander the Great placed themselves in direct opposition to the working of these beings. For what was it they accomplished in history? Through the expeditions of Alexander, the Nature knowledge of Aristotle was carried over into Asia; a pure knowledge of Nature was spread abroad. Not in Egypt alone, but all over Asia Alexander founded academies, and in these academies made a home for the ancient wisdom, where the study of it could still continue. Here too, the wise men of Greece were ever and again able to find a refuge. Alexander brought it about that a true understanding of Nature was carried into Asia.
Into Europe it could not find entrance in the same way. Europe could not in all honesty receive it. She wanted only external knowledge, external culture, external civilisation. Therefore did Aristotle’s pupil Theophrastus take out of Aristotelianism what the West could accept and bring that over. It was the more logical writings that the West received. But that meant a great deal. For Aristotle’s works have a character all their own; they read differently from the works of other authors, and his more abstract and logical writings are no exception. Do but make the experiment of reading first Plato and then Aristotle with inner concentration and in a meditative spirit, and you will find that each gives you quite a different experience.
When a modern man reads Plato with true spiritual feeling and in an attitude of meditation, after a time he begins to feel as though his head were a littler higher than his physical head actually is, as though he had, so to speak, grown out beyond his physical organism. That is absolutely the experience of anyone who reads Plato, provided he does not read him in an altogether dry manner.
With Aristotle it is different. With Aristotle you never have the feeling that you are coming out of your body. When you read Aristotle after having prepared yourself by meditation, you will find that he works right into the physical man. Your physical man makes a step forward through the reading of Aristotle. His logic works; it is not a logic that one merely observes and considers, it is a logic that works in the inner being. Aristotle himself is a stage higher than all the pedants who came after him, and who developed logic from him. In a certain sense we may say with truth that Aristotle’s works are only rightly comprehended when they are taken as books for meditation. Think what would have happened if the Natural Scientific writings of Aristotle had gone over to the West as they were and come into Middle and Southern Europe. Men would, no doubt, have received a great deal from them, but in a way that did them harm. For the Natural Science that Aristotle was able to pass on to Alexander needed for its comprehension souls that were still touched with the spirit of the Ephesian age, the time that preceded the burning of Ephesus. Such souls could only be found over in Asia or in Egypt; and it was into these parts that this knowledge of Nature and insight into the Being of Nature were brought, by means of the expeditions of Alexander. Only later in a diluted form did they come over into Europe by many and diverse ways — especially, for example, by way of Spain, — but always in a very diluted or, as we might say, sifted form.
The writings of Aristotle that came over into Europe direct were his writings on logic and philosophy. These lived on, and found fresh life again in medieval scholasticism.
We have therefore these two streams. On the one hand we have always there a stream of wisdom that spreads far and wide, unobtrusively, among simple folk, — the secret source of much of medieval thought and insight. Long ago, through the expeditions of Alexander, it had made its way into Asia, and now it came back again into Europe by diverse channels, through Arabia, for instance, and later on following the path of the returning Crusaders. We find it in every corner of Europe, — inconspicuous, flowing silently in hidden places. To these places came men like Jacob Boehme [(1575–1624), mystic. See Eleven European Mystics by Rudolf Steiner, Rudolf Steiner Publications, New York, 1971. ], Paracelsus [Theophrastus Paracelsus (1493–1541), physician. See Eleven European Mystics. ] and a number more, to receive that which had come thither by many a roundabout path and was preserved in these scattered primitive circles of European life. We have had amongst us in Europe far more folk-wisdom than is generally supposed. The stream continues even now. It has poured its flood of wisdom into reservoirs like Valentine Wiegel [(1533–1588), mystic. See Eleven European Mystics. ] or Paracelsus or Jacob Boehme, — and many more, whose names are less known. And sometimes it met there, — as for example, in Basil Valentine [Alchemist and Benedictine monk, lived from 1413 onwards in the Monastery of St. Peter in Erfurt. His writings were not discovered or printed till the beginning of the seventeenth century. See Eleven European Mystics.] — new in-pourings that came over later into Europe. In the Cloisters of the Middle Ages lived a true alchemistic wisdom, not an alchemy that demonstrates changes in matter merely, but an alchemy that demonstrates the inner nature of the changes in the human being himself in the Universe. The recognised scholars meanwhile were occupying themselves with the other Aristotle, with a misstated, sifted, ‘logicised’ Aristotle. This Aristotelian philosophy, however, which the scholiasts and subsequently the scientists studied, brought none the less a blessing to the West. For only in the 19th century, when men could no longer understand Aristotle and simply studied him as if he were a book to be read like any other and not a book whereon to exercise oneself in meditation — only in the 19th century has it come about that men no longer receive anything from Aristotle because he no longer lives and works in them. Until the 19th century Aristotle was a book for the exercise of meditation; but in the 19th century the whole tendency has been to change what was once exercise, work, active power into abstract knowledge, — to change ‘do’ and ‘can’ into ‘know.’
“We shall have to see how Alexander the Great and Aristotle lived in a world that was not altogether adapted to them, in a world indeed that held great tragedy for them. The fact is, Alexander and Aristotle stood in an altogether different relation to the Spiritual from the men around them; for although they cannot be said to have concerned themselves very much with the Samothracian Mysteries, they had nevertheless a strong affinity in their souls to what went on with the Kabiri in those Mysteries. And right on into the Middle Ages there were those who understood what this meant. Men of the present day build up altogether false ideas of the Middle Ages: they do not realise that there were individuals of all classes in life, on into the 13th and 14th centuries, who possessed a clear spiritual vision, at any rate in that realm which in the ancient East was designated as ‘Asia.’ The Song of Alexander [Composed about 1125 by the Franconian priest Lamprecht; the first German secular epic poem.] that was composed by a certain priest in the early Middle Ages is a very significant document; in comparison with the account history gives to-day of the doings of Alexander and Aristotle, the poem of the Priest Lamprecht is a sublime and grand conception, still akin to the old understanding of all that had come to pass through Alexander the Great.
Take for instance a passage in the poem where a wonderful description is given after the following style. When Springtime comes, you go out into the woods. You come to the edge of the wood. Flowers are blooming there, and the sun stands where it lets the shadow fall from the trees on to the flowers. And there you may see how in the shadow of the trees in Spring spiritual flower-children come forth from the calices of the flowers and dance in chorus at the edge of the wood.
In this description of Lamprecht the Priest we can perceive distinctly shining through, an old and real experience which was still accessible to men of that time. They did not go out into the woods, saying prosaically: Here is grass, and here are flowers, and here the trees begin; but when they approached the wood while the sun stood behind it and the shadow fell across the flowers, then in the shadow of the trees there came towards them from the flowers a whole world of flower-beings — beings that were actually present to them before they entered into the wood. For when they came in the wood itself they perceived quite other elemental spirits. This dance of the flower-spirits appeared to Lamprecht the Priest and he delighted especially in picturing it. It is indeed significant, my dear friends; Lamprecht, even as late as the 12th or beginning of the 13th century wishing to describe the campaigns of Alexander, permeates them everywhere with descriptions of Nature that still contain the manifestations of the elemental kingdoms. Underlying his Song of Alexander, there was this consciousness: ‘To describe what took place once upon a time in Macedonia when Alexander began his journeys into Asia, when Alexander was taught by Aristotle, we cannot merely describe the prosaic Earth as the environment of these events; no, to describe them worthily we must include with the prosaic Earth the kingdoms of the elemental beings.’ How different from a modern book of history, which is, of course, quite justified for present times. There you will read how Alexander, against the counsel of his teacher Aristotle whom he disobeyed, conceived himself to have the mission to reconcile the barbarians with civilised mankind, creating so to speak an average of culture; the civilised Greeks, the Hellenes, the Macedonians and the barbarians.
That, no doubt, is right enough for modern time. And yet how puerile, compared to the real truth! On the other hand we have a wonderful impression when we look at the picture Lamprecht gives us of the campaigns of Alexander, attributing to them quite a different goal. We feel as though what I have just described — the entry of the Nature-elemental kingdoms, of the Spiritual into the Physical in Nature, — were intended merely as an introduction. For what is the aim of Alexander’s campaigns in the Alexanderlied of Lamprecht?
Alexander comes to the very gates of Paradise. Translated as it is into the Christian language of his time, this corresponds in a high degree, as I shall presently explain, to the real truth. For the campaigns of Alexander were not undertaken for the mere sake of conquest, still less against the advice of Aristotle to reconcile the barbarians with the Greeks. No, they were permeated by a real and lofty spiritual aim. Their impulse came out of the spirit. Let us read of it in Lamprecht’s poem, who in his own way with great devotion, albeit 15 centuries after the life of Alexander, tells the heroic story. He tells us how Alexander came up to the gates of Paradise, but could not enter in, for, as Lamprecht says, he alone can enter Paradise who has the true humility, and Alexander, living in pre-Christian time, could not yet have that. Only Christianity could bring to mankind the true humility.
Nevertheless, if we conceive the thing not in a narrow but in a broad-minded way, we shall see how Lamprecht, the Christian priest, still feels something of the tragedy of Alexander’s campaigns.
It is not without purpose that I have spoken of this ‘Song of Alexander.’ For now you will not be surprised if we take our start from the campaigns of Alexander in order to describe what went before and what went after in the history of Western mankind, in its connection with the East. For the real underlying feeling of these things was still widely present, as we have seen, at a comparatively late period in the Middle Ages. Not only so; it was present in so concrete a form that the ‘Song of Alexander’ could arise, describing as it does with wonderful dramatic power the events that were enacted through the two souls whom I have characterised.
The significance of this moment in the history of Macedonia reaches on the one hand far back into the past, and on the other hand far on into the future. And it is essential to bear in mind how something of a world-tragedy hangs over all that has to do with Aristotle and Alexander. Even externally the tragedy comes to light. It shows itself in this, my dear friends. Owing to peculiar circumstances — circumstances that were fateful for the history of the world — only the smallest part of the writings of Aristotle have come into Western Europe, and there been further studied and preserved by the Church. In point of fact it is only the writings that deal with logic or are clothed in logical form.
A serious study, however, of the little that is preserved of Aristotle’s scientific writings will show what a powerful vision he still had of the connection of the whole Cosmos with the human being. Let me draw your attention to a single passage.
We speak to-day of the earth-element, the water-element, the air-element, the fire- or warmth-element, and then of the Ether. How does Aristotle represent all this? He shows the Earth, the hard firm Earth; the fluid Earth, the Water; then the Air; and the whole permeated and surrounded with Fire. But for Aristotle the ‘Earth’ in this sense teaches up as far as the Moon. And from the Cosmos, reaching from the stars to the Moon, not, that is to say, into the Earth-realm, but only as far as the Moon, coming towards us, as it were, from the Zodiac, from the stars — is the Ether, filling cosmic space. The Ether reaches downwards as far as the Moon.
All this may still be read by scholars in the books that have been written about Aristotle. Aristotle himself, however, used continually to say to his pupil Alexander: That Ether that is away there beyond the realm of earthly warmth — the light-ether, the chemical ether and the life-ether — was once upon a time united with the Earth. It came in as far as to the Earth. And when the Moon withdrew in the ancient epoch of evolution, then the Ether withdrew from the Earth. And so all that is around us in space as dead world — so ran Aristotle’s teaching to his pupil Alexander — is not permeated by Ether. When however, Springtime approaches, and plants, animals and human beings come forth to new life on the Earth, then the elementary spirits bring down again the Ether from out of the realm of the Moon, bring it down into these newborn beings. Thus is the Moon the shaper and moulder of beings.
Standing before that great female figure in the Hibernian Mysteries, the pupil of the Mysteries had a most vivid experience of how the Ether does not really belong to the Earth, but is brought down thither by the elementary spirits, every year, in so far as it is needed for the up-springing into life.
And this was so for Aristotle. He, too, had a deep insight into the connection of the human being with the Cosmos. His pupil Theophrastus did not let the writings come westwards that treat of these things. Some of them, however, went to the East, where there was still an understanding for such truths. Thence they were brought by Jews and Arabs through North Africa and Spain to the West of Europe, and there met, in a manner that I shall have yet to describe, with the radiation of the Hibernian Mysteries, as these expressed themselves in the civilisation and culture of the peoples.
But now all that I have been describing to you was no more than the starting-point for the teaching that Aristotle gave to Alexander. It was a teaching that belonged entirely to inner experience. I might describe it in outline somewhat as follows. Alexander learned from Aristotle to understand how the earthy, watery, airy and fiery elements that live outside the human being in the world around him live also within the human being himself, and how he is in this connection a true microcosm. He learned how in the bones of the human being lives the earthy element, and how in his circulation and in all the fluids and humours in him lives the watery element. The airy element works in all that has to do with the breathing, and the fiery element lives in the thoughts of man. Alexander had still the conscious knowledge of living in the elements.
And with this experience of living in the elements of the world went also the experience of a near and intimate relationship with the Earth. In these days we travel East, West, North, South, but have no feeling for what streams into our being the while; we only see what our external senses perceive, we only see what the earthly substances in us, not what the elements in us perceive.
Aristotle, however, was able to teach Alexander: When you go eastwards over the Earth, you pass more and more into an element that dries you up. You pass into the Dry.
You must not imagine this to mean that when one travels to Asia one is completely dried up. We have here, of course, to do with fine and delicate workings, that Alexander was perfectly able to feel in himself after he had received the guidance and instruction of Aristotle. When he was in Macedonia he could feel: I have a certain measure of dampness or moistness in me, that diminishes as I go eastward. In this way, as he wandered over the Earth he felt its configuration, as you may feel a human being by touching him, let us say by drawing your hand caressingly over some part of his body, feeling the difference between nose and eye and mouth. So was a personality such as I have described to you able to perceive a difference between the experience he had when he came more and more into the Dry, and the experience that was his on the other hand in going westward and coming more and more into the Moist.
The other differentiations man still experiences to-day, though crudely. In the direction of the North he experiences the Cold; in the direction of the South the Warm, the Fire element. But the interplay of Moist and Cold, when one goes North-West — that is no longer experienced.
Aristotle awakened in Alexander all that Gilgamesh had passed through when he undertook the journey over to the West. And the result of it was that his pupil could perceive in direct inner experience what is felt in the direction of North-West, in the intermediate zone between Moist and Cold: — Water. A man like Alexander not merely could, but did actually speak in such a manner as not to say: There goes the road to the North-West — but instead: There goes the road to where the element of Water holds dominion. In the intermediate zone between Moist and Warm lies the element where the Air holds dominion.
Such was the teaching in the ancient Greek Chthonian Mysteries, and in the ancient Samothracian Mysteries; and thus did Aristotle teach his own immediate pupil.
And in the zone between Cold and Dry — that it to say, looking from Macedonia, towards Siberia — men had the experience of a region of the Earth where Earth itself, the earthy, holds dominion — the element Earth, the hard and the firm. In the intermediate zone between Warm and Dry, that is, towards India, was experienced a region of the Earth where the Fire element ruled.
And so it was that the pupil of Aristotle pointed Northwest and said: There I feel the Water-Spirits working upon the Earth; pointed South-West and said: There I feel the Air-Spirits; pointed North-East and there beheld hover especially the Spirits of the Earth; pointed South-East towards India, and saw the Spirits of Fire hover over the Earth, saw them there in their element.
And in conclusion, my dear friends, you will be able to feel the deep and close relation both to the natural and to the moral, when I tell you how Alexander began to speak in this way: I must leave the Cold-Moist element and throw myself into the Fire — I must undertake a journey to India. That was a manner of speaking that was as closely bound up with the natural as it was with the moral. I shall have more to say about this tomorrow.
I wanted to-day to give you a picture of what was living in those times; for in all that took place between Alexander and Aristotle we may see at the same time a reflection of the great and mighty change that was taking place in the world’s history.. In those days it was still possible to speak in an intimate way to pupils, of the great Mysteries of the past. But then mankind began to receive in increasing measure logic, abstract knowledge, categories, and to push back the other.
We have therefore to see in these events the working of a tremendous and deep change in the historical evolution of mankind, and at the same time an all-important moment in the whole progress of European civilisation in its connection with the East.”