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GA 307

II. Principles of Greek Education

Ilkley, 6th August, 1923

That the subject of education is exercising the mind and soul of all men at the present day is not to be questioned. It is everywhere apparent. If, then, an art of education is advocated here which is derived directly from spiritual life and spiritual perception, it is its inner nature rather than the urgency of its outward appeal which differentiates it from the reforms generally demanded to-day.

There is a general feeling nowadays that the conditions of civilization are in rapid transition, and that for the sake of the organization of our social life we must pay heed to the many new changes and developments of modern times. Already there is a feeling — a feeling which only a short time ago was rarely present — that the child of to-day is a very different being from the child of a recent past, and that it is much more difficult nowadays for age to come to an understanding with youth than was the case in earlier times.

The art of education, however, of which I have here to speak, is concerned rather with the inner development of human civilization. It is concerned with what has changed the souls of men in the course of ages, with the evolution through which, in the course of hundreds, nay even thousands of years, these souls have passed. The attempt will be made to explore the means by which, in this particular age, we may reach the being of man as it lives in the child. It is generally admitted that the successive periods of time in Nature can be differentiated. We need only think of the way in which man takes these differentiations into account in daily life. Take the example nearest to hand — the day. Our relation to the processes of Nature is quite different in the morning, at noon, and at night, and we should think it absurd to ignore the course of the day. We should also think it absurd not to pay due heed to the development revealed in human life itself — to ignore, for instance, the fact that an old man's needs are different from those of a child. In the case of Nature we respect this fact of development. But man has not yet accustomed himself to respect the fact of the general evolution of humanity. We do not take account of the fact that centuries ago there lived a humanity very different from the humanity of the Middle Ages or of the present time. We must learn to know the nature of the inner forces of human beings if our treatment of children at the present time is to be practical and not merely theoretical. We must investigate from within those forces which hold sway in this present day.

The principles of Waldorf School education — as it may be called — are, therefore, in no sense revolutionary. In Waldorf School education there is full recognition of all that is great and worthy of esteem in the really brilliant achievements of all countries during the nineteenth century. There is no desire to cast everything aside and imagine that the only possible thing is something radically new. The aim is rather to investigate the inner forces now ruling in the nature of man in order to be able to take them into account in the sphere of education, and thereby to find a true place in social life for the human being in body, soul and spirit. For — as we shall see in the course of these lectures — education has always been a concern of social life, and still is so at the present time. It must be a social concern in the future as well. In education, therefore, there must be an understanding of the social demands of any given epoch. To begin with, I want to describe to you in three stages the development of the nature of education in Western civilization. The best way will be to consider the educational ideals of the different epochs — the ideals striven for by those who desired to rise to the highest stage of human existence, to the stage from which they could render the most useful service to their fellow-men. It will be well in such a study to go back to the earliest of those past ages which we feel to survive as a cultural influence even at the present time. Nobody, to-day, will dispute the still living influence of the Greek civilization in all human aims and aspirations, and the question, “In what way did the Greek seek to raise the human being to a certain stage of perfection?” must be of fundamental significance to the educationalist. We must also consider the progress of subsequent epochs in respect of the perfecting of the education and instruction of the human being.

Let us see, to begin with — and indeed, we shall have to study this question in detail — what was the Greek ideal for the teacher, that is to say, for the man who desired to develop to the highest stage of humanity not only for his own sake, but for the sake of his being able to guide others along their path. What was the Greek ideal of education? The Greek ideal of education was the Gymnast, that is to say, one who had completely Harmonized his bodily nature and, to the extent that was thought necessary in those days, all the qualities of his soul and spirit. A man able to bring the divine beauty of the world to expression in the beauty of his own body, able to bring the divine beauty of the world into bodily expression in the child, in the boy — this was the Gymnast, the man by whom Greek civilization was up-borne.

It is easy, from a kind of modern superiority, to look down upon the Gymnast's manner of education, based as it was on the bodily nature of man. But there is a total misunderstanding of what was meant in Greece by the word Gymnast. If, nevertheless, we do still admire Greek civilization and culture to-day, if we still regard it as the ideal of highest development to be permeated with Greek culture, we shall do well to remember while we do this, that the Greek himself was not primarily concerned with the development of so-called “spirituality” in the human being. He was only concerned to develop the human body in such a way that as a result of the harmony of its parts and its modes of activity the body itself should come to be a manifestation of divine beauty. The Greek expected of the body just what we expect of the plant; that it will of itself unfold into blossom under the influence of sunlight and warmth if the root has received the proper kind of treatment. And in our devotion to Greek culture to-day we must not forget that the bearer of this culture was the Gymnast, one who had not taken the third step first, so to speak, but the first step first: the harmonization of the bodily nature of man. All the beauty, all the greatness, all the perfection of Greek culture was not directly “sought,” but was looked for as the natural growth of the beautiful, harmonious, powerful body, a result of the inner nature and activity of earthly man. Our understanding of Greek civilization, especially of Greek education, will be one-sided unless our admiration for the spiritual greatness of Greece is linked with the knowledge that the Gymnast was the ideal of Greek education.

Then, as we follow the continuous development of humanity, we see that a most significant break occurs, in the transition from Greek to Roman culture. In Roman civilization we have, to begin with, the emergence of that cultivation of abstractions which later led to the separation of spirit, soul, and body, and placed too a special emphasis on this threefold division. We can see how the principle of beauty in Greek “gymnastic” education was indeed imitated in Roman culture, but how, nevertheless, the education of body and soul fell into two separate spheres. The Roman still set great store by the training of the body, but little by little and almost imperceptibly this fell into a secondary place. The attention was directed to something that was considered more important in human nature — to the element of soul. The training which in Greece was bound up with the ideal of the Gymnast, gradually changed, in Roman culture, into a training of the soul qualities.

This is developed throughout the Middle Ages, an epoch when the qualities of soul were considered to be of a higher order than those of the body. And from this “Romanized” human nature, as we may call it, there arises another ideal of education. Early in the Middle Ages there appears an educational ideal for the men of highest development which was a fruit of Roman civilization. It was in its essence a culture of the soul — of the soul in so far as this reveals itself outwardly in man.

The Gymnast was gradually superseded by another type of human being. To-day we no longer have any strong, historical consciousness of this change, but those who study the Middle Ages intimately will realize that it actually took place. The ideal of education was no longer the Gymnast, but the Rhetorician, one whose main training was the training of speech, that is to say, of something that is essentially a quality of soul. How the human being can work through speech, as a Rhetorician — this was an outcome of Roman culture carried over into the first period of the Middle Ages. It represents the reaction from an education adapted purely to the body to an education more particularly of the soul, one which ^carries on the training of the body as a secondary activity. And because the Middle Ages made use of the Rhetorician for spreading the spiritual life as it was cultivated in the monastic schools and elsewhere in medieval education, it came about, though the name was not always used, that the Rhetorician assumed in the sphere of education the place which had once been held by the Greek Gymnast. Thus, in reviewing the ideals which have been regarded as the highest expression of man, we see how humanity advances from the educational ideal of Gymnast to that of the Rhetorician.

Now this had its effect upon the methods of education. The education of children was brought into line with what was held to be human perfection. And one who has the gift of historical observation will perceive that even the usages of our modern education, the manner in which language and speech are taught to children, are a heritage from the practice of the Middle Ages which had the Rhetorician as educational ideal.

Then, in the course of the Middle Ages, came the great swing over to the intellectual, with all the honour and respect which it paid to the things of the intellect. A new educational ideal of human development arose, an ideal which represents exactly the opposite of the Greek ideal. It was an ideal which gave the highest place to the intellectual and spiritual development of man. He who knows something — the Knower — now became the ideal. Whereas throughout the whole of the Middle ages he who could do something, do something with the powers of his soul, who could convince others, remained the ideal of education, now the knower becomes the ideal. We have only to look at the earliest University Institutions, at the University of Paris in the Middle Ages, to realize that the ideal there is not the knower, but the doer, the man who can convince most through speech, who is the most skilful in argument, the master of Dialectic — of the word which now takes on the colour of thought. We still find the Rhetorician as the ideal of education, though the Rhetorician himself is tinged with the hue of thought.

And now with this new civilization another ideal arises for evolving man, an ideal which is again reflected in the education of the child. Our own education of children, even in this age of materialism, has remained under the influence of this ideal right down to the present time. Now for the first time there arises the ideal of the Doctor, the Professor. The Doctor becomes the ideal for the perfect human being.

Thus we see the three stages in human education: the Gymnast, the Rhetorician, the Doctor. The Gymnast is one who can handle the whole human organism from what he regards as its divine manifestation in the world, in the Cosmos. The Rhetorician only knows how to handle the soul-nature in so far as it manifests in the bodily nature. The Gymnast trains the body, and through it, the soul and spirit, to the heights of Greek civilization. The Rhetorician is concerned with the soul, and attains his crown and his glory as the orator of the things of the soul, as the Church orator. And lastly, we see how skill as such ceases to be valued. The man who only knows, the man, that is, who no longer handles the soul-nature in its bodily-working, but only that which reigns invisibly in the inner being, the man who only knows now stands as the ideal of the highest stage of education. This, however, reflects itself into the most elementary principles of education. For it was the Gymnasts in Greece who also educated the children. It was the Rhetoricians, later on, who educated the children. Finally, in more modern times and in the time of the rise of materialism in civilization as a whole, it was the Doctor who educated the children. Thus bodily, gymnastic education develops into rhetorical, soul-education, and this in turn develops into “doctorial” education. Our modern education is the outcome of the “doctorial” ideal. And those who seek, in the very deepest principles of modern education for those things which really ought to be understood, must carefully observe what has been introduced as a result of this doctorial ideal.

Side by side with this, however, a new ideal has emerged into greater and greater prominence in the modern age. It is the ideal of the “universal human.” Men had eyes and ears only for what belonged by right to the Doctor, and the longing arose to educate once again the whole human being, to add to the doctorial education, which was even being crammed into the tiny child (for the Doctors wrote the text books, thought out the methods of teaching), to add to this the education of the “universal human.” And to-day, those who judge from a fundamental, elementary feeling for human nature, want to have their say in educational matters.

Thus for inner reasons the problem of education to-day has become a problem of the times. We must bear this inner process of human evolution in mind if we would understand the present age, for a true development of education must tend to nothing less than a superseding of this “Doctor” principle. If I were briefly to summarize one particular aspect of the aim of Waldorf School education, I should say, to-day, of course merely in a preliminary sense, that it is a question of turning this “doctorial” education into an education of man as a whole.


Now we cannot understand the essential nature of the education which had its rise in Greek civilization and has continued in its further development on into our own times, unless we look at the course of human evolution from the days of Greek civilization to our own in the right light. Greek civilization was really a continuation, an offshoot, as it were, of Oriental civilization. All that had developed in the evolution of humanity for thousands of years in Asia, in the East, found its final expression in a very special way in Greek education. Not till then did there come an important break in evolution: the transition to Roman culture. Roman culture is the source of all that later flowed into the whole of Western civilization, even so far as to America.

Hence it is impossible to understand the essential nature of Greek education unless we have a true conception of the whole character of Oriental development. To one who stood by the cradle of the civilization out of which proceeded the Vedas and the wonderful Vedanta it would have seemed the purest nonsense to imagine that the highest development of human nature is to be attained by sitting with books in front of one in order to get through examinations. And it would have seemed the purest nonsense to imagine that anyone could become a perfected human being after having literally maltreated (for “trained” is not the word) for years if the man be industrious, for months if he be lazy, an indefinite something that goes by the name of the “human spirit” in order then to be questioned by someone as to how much he knows. We do not understand the development of human civilization unless we sometimes pause to consider how the ideal of one epoch appears to the eyes of another. For what steps were taken by a man of the ancient East who desired to acquire the sublime culture offered to his people in the age preceding that of the inspiration behind the Vedas? What he practised was fundamentally a kind of bodily culture. And he hoped, as the result of a special cult of the body, one-sided though this would appear to-day, to attain to the crowning glory of human life, to the loftiest spirituality, if this lay within his destiny. Hence an exceedingly delicate culture of the body was the method adopted in the highest education of the ancient East, not the reading of books and the maltreatment of an abstract “spirit.” I will give you an example of this refined bodily culture. It consisted in a definite and rigorously systematic regulation of the breathing. When man breathes — as indeed he must do in order to provide himself with the proper supply of oxygen from minute to minute — the process is an unconscious one. He carries out the whole breathing process unconsciously. The ancient oriental made this breathing process, which is fundamentally a bodily function, into something which was carried out with consciousness. He drew in his breath in accordance with a definite law; held it back and breathed it out again according to a definite law. The whole process was conditioned by the body. The legs and arms must be held in certain positions, that is to say, the path of the breath through the physical organism when it reached the knee, for instance, must proceed in the horizontal direction. And so the ancient Oriental who was seeking to reach the stage of human perfection sat with legs crossed beneath him. The man who wished to experience the revelation of the spirit in himself must achieve it as the result of a training of the body, a training directed in particular to the air-processes in the human being, but centred, nevertheless, in the bodily nature.

Now what lies at the basis of this kind of training and education? The flower and fruit of a plant live within the root and if the root receives proper care, both flower and fruit develop under the light and warmth of the sun. In the same way, the soul and sprit live in the bodily nature of man, in the body that is created by God. If a man then takes hold of the roots in the body, knowing that Divinity lives within them, develops these bodily roots in the right way and then gives himself up to the life that is freely unfolding, the soul and spirit within the roots develop as do the inner forces of the plant that pour out of the root and unfold under the light and warmth of the sun.

Any abstract development of spirit would have seemed to the Oriental just as if we were to shut off all our plants from the sunlight, put them into a cellar and then make them grow under electric light, possibly because we did not consider the free light of the sun good enough for them. The fact that the Oriental only looked to the bodily nature was deeply rooted in his whole conception of humanity. This bodily development afterwards, of course, became one-sided, had already become so by the time of Jewish culture, but the very one-sidedness shows us that the universal view was: body, soul, and spirit are one. Here, on earth, between birth and death, the soul and spirit must be sought for in the body.

This aspect of ancient oriental spiritual culture may possibly cause some astonishment but when we study the true course of human evolution we shall find that the very loftiest achievements of civilization were attained in times when man was still able to behold the soul and spirit wholly within the body. This was a development of the very greatest significance for the essential nature of human civilization. Now why was the Oriental, for it must be remembered that his whole concern was a quest for the spirit, why was the Oriental justified in striving for the spirit by methods that were really based upon the bodily nature of man? He was justified because his philosophy did not merely open his eyes to the earthly but also to the super-sensible. And he knew: To regard the soul and spirit here on earth as being complete, is to see them (forgive this rather trivial analogy but in the sense of oriental wisdom it is absolutely correct) in the form of a ‘plucked hen,’ not a hen with feathers and therefore not a complete hen. The idea we have of the soul and spirit would have seemed to the Oriental analogous to a hen with its feathers plucked, for he knew the soul and spirit, he knew the reality of what we seek in other worlds. He had a concrete super-sensible perception of it. He was justified in seeking for the material, bodily revelation of man because his fundamental conviction was that in other worlds, the plucked hen, the naked soul, is endowed with spiritual feathers when it reaches its proper dwelling-place.

Thus it was the very spiritual nature of his conception of the world that prompted the Oriental, in considering the earthly evolution of the human being, to bear in mind before all else that within the body when man is born, when he comes forth as a purely physical being, there is soul and spirit. Soul and spirit sleep in the physical body of the little child in a most wonderful way. For the Oriental knew that when this Physis is handled in the truly spiritual way, soul and spirit will proceed from it. This was the keynote of the education, even of the Sage, in the East. It was a conviction which passed over into Greek culture, for Greek culture is an offshoot of oriental civilization. And now we understand why it was that the Greeks, who brought the conviction of the East to its most objective expression, adopted, even in the case of the young, their own particular kind of training of the human being. It was the result of oriental influence. The particular attention paid to the bodily nature in Greek civilization is simply due to the fact that the Greek was the result of colonization from The East and from Egypt, whence his whole mode of existence was derived.

When we look at the Greek palæstra where the Gymnasts worked, we must see in their activities a continuation of the development which the East, from a profoundly spiritual conception of the world, strove for in the man who was to reach the highest ideal of human perfection on earth. The Oriental would never have considered a one-sided development of soul or spirit to be the ideal of human perfection. The learning and instruction that has become the ideal of later times, would have seemed to him a deadening of that which the Gods had given to man for his life on earth. And, fundamentally, this was still the conception of the Greek.

It is a strange experience to realize how the spiritual culture of Greece, which we to-day think of as so sublime, was regarded in those times by non-Greek peoples. An historic anecdote, handed down by tradition, tells us that a barbarian prince once went to Greece, visited the places where education was being carried on and had a conversation with one of the most famous Gymnasts. The barbarian prince said: “I cannot understand these insane practices of yours! First you rub the young men with oil, the symbol of peace, then you strew sand over them, just as if they were being prepared for some ceremony specially connected with peace, and then they begin to hurl themselves about as if they were mad, seizing hold of and jumping at each other. One throws the other down or punches his chin so vigorously that his shoulders have to be well shaken to prevent him from suffocating. I simply do not understand such a display and it can be of no conceivable use to the human being.” This was what the barbarian prince said to the Greek. Nevertheless, the spiritual glory of Greece was derived from what the barbarian prince thought to be so much barbarism. And just as the Greek Gymnast had only ridicule for the barbarian who did not understand how the body must be trained in order to make the spirit manifest, so would a Greek, if he could rise again and see our customary methods of teaching and education (which really date from earlier times) laugh within himself at the barbarian that has developed since the days of Greece and that speaks of an abstract soul and spirit. The Greek in his turn would say: “This is analogous to a plucked hen. You have taken away man's feathers from him!” The Greek would have thought it barbaric that the boys should not wrestle and fall upon one another in the manner described. Yet the barbarian prince could see no meaning or purpose in Greek education. Thus by studying the course of human development and observing what was held to be of value in other epochs, we may acquire a foundation upon which we can also come to a right valuation of things in our own time.


Let us now turn our attention to those places where the Greek Gymnast educated and taught the youths who were entrusted to him in the seventh year of life. What we find there naturally differs essentially from the kind of national educational ideal, for instance, that held sway in the nineteenth century. In this connection, what I shall say does not merely hold good for this or that particular nation, but for all civilized nations. What we behold when we turn our attention to one of these places in Greece where the young were educated from the seventh year of life onwards, can, if it is rightly permeated with modern impulses, afford us a true basis for understanding what is necessary for education and instruction to-day. The youths were trained — and the word ‘trained’ is here always used in its very highest sense — on the one hand in Orchestric and on the other in Palæstric. Orchestric, to the outer eye, was entirely a bodily exercise, a kind of concerted dance, but arranged in a very special way. It was a dance with a most complicated form. The boys learned to move in a definite form in accordance with measure, beat, rhythm, and above all in accordance with a certain plastic-musical principle. The boy, moving in this choral dance, felt a kind of inner soul-warmth pouring through all his limbs and co-ordinating them. This experience was simultaneously expressed in the form of a very beautiful musical dance before the eyes of the spectators. The whole thing was a revelation of the beauty of the Godhead and at the same time an experience of this beauty in the inner being of man. All that was experienced through this orchestric was felt and sensed inwardly, and thus it was transformed from a physical, bodily process into something that expressed itself outwardly, inspiring the hand to play the zither, inspiring speech and word to become song. To understand song and the playing of the zither in ancient Greece we must see them as the crown of the choral dance. Out of what he experienced from the dance, man was inspired to set the strings in movement so that he might hear the sound and the tone arising from the choral dance. From his own movement he experienced something that poured into his word, and his words became song.

Gymnastic and musical development, this was the form taken by education in the Greek palæstra. But the musical and soul qualities thus acquired were born from the outer bodily movements of the dances performed in the palæstra. And if to-day one penetrates with direct perception to the meaning of these ordered movements in a Greek palæstra — which the barbarian prince could not understand — one finds that all the forms of movement, all the movements of the individual human being, were most wonderfully arranged, so wonderfully indeed that the further effect was not only the musical element that I have already described, but something else. When we study the measures and the rhythms that were concealed in orchestric, in the choral dance, we find that nothing could have a more healing, health-giving effect upon the breathing system and the blood circulation of man than these bodily exercises which were carried out in the Greek choral dances. If the question were put: How can the human being be made to breathe in the most beneficial way? What is the best way to stimulate the movement of the blood by the breath? — the answer would have been that the boy must move, must carry out dance-like movements from his seventh year onwards. Then — as they said in those times — he opens up his systems of breathing and blood circulation not to forces of decadence but to those of healing. The aim of all this orchestric was to enable the systems of breathing and blood circulation in the human being to express themselves in the most perfect way. For the conviction was that when the blood circulation is functioning properly it works right down to the very finger tips, and then instinctively the human being will strike the strings of the zither or the strings of the lute in the right way. This was, as it were, the crown of the process of blood circulation. The whole rhythmic system of the human being was made skilful in the right way through the choral dance.

As a result of this, one might hope for a musical, spiritual quality to develop in the playing, for it was known that when the individual being carries out the corresponding movements with his limbs in the choral dance, the breathing system is so inspired that it quite naturally functions in a spiritual way. And the final consequence is that the breath will overflow into what the human being expresses outwardly through the larynx and its related organs. It was known that the healing effects of the choral dance on the breathing system would enkindle song. And thus the crowning climax, zither-playing and song, was drawn from the healthy organism trained in the right way through the choral dance. And so the physical nature, the soul and the spirit were looked upon as an inner unity, an inner totality in earthly man. And this was the whole spirit of Greek education.

And now let us look at what was developed in palæstric — which gave its name to the places of education in Greece because it was the common property, so to speak, of the educated people. What was it, we ask, that was studied in those forms, in which, for instance, wrestling was evolved? And we see that the whole system existed for the purpose of unfolding two qualities in the human being. The will, stimulated by bodily movement, grew strong and forceful in two directions. All movement and all palæstric in wrestling was intended to bring suppleness, skill and purposeful agility into the limbs of the wrestler. Man's whole system of movement was to be harmonized in such a way that the separate parts should work together truly and that for any particular mood of his soul he should be able to make the appropriate movements with skill, controlling his limbs from within. The moulding and rounding of the movements into harmony with the purposes of life — this was one side of palæstric. The other side was the radial of the movement, as it were, where force must flow into the movement. Skill on the one side, force on the other. The power to hold out against and overcome the forces working in opposition and to go through the world with inner strength — this was one aspect. Skill, proficiency, and harmonization of the different parts of the organism, in short the development of power to be able freely to radiate and express his own being everywhere in the world — this was the other side.

It was held that when the human being thus harmonized his system of movement through palæstric, he entered into a true relationship with the Cosmos. The arms, legs and the breathing as developed by palæstric were then given over to the activities of the human being in the world, for it was known that when the arm is rightly developed through palæstric it links itself with the stream of cosmic forces which in turn flow to the human brain and then, from out of the Cosmos, great Ideas are revealed to man. Just as music was not considered to depend upon a specifically musical training but was expected as the result of the development of the blood circulation and breathing — and indeed did not express itself in most cases until about the age of twenty — so mathematics and philosophy were expected to be a result of the bodily culture in palæstric. It was known that geometry is inspired in the human being by a right use of the arms.

To-day people do not learn of these things from history, for they have been entirely forgotten. What I have told you is, nevertheless, the truth, and it justifies the Greeks in having placed the Gymnasts at the head of their educational institutions. For the Gymnast succeeded in bringing about the spiritual development of the Greeks by giving them freedom. He did not cram their brains or try to make them into walking encyclopaedias but assisted the trained organs of the human being to find their true relationship to the Cosmos, and in this way man became receptive to the spiritual world. The Greek Gymnast was as convinced as the man of the ancient East of the truth of the spiritual world, only in Greece, of course, this realization expressed itself in a later form.

What I have really done to-day by giving an introductory description of an ancient method of education, is to put a question before you. And I have done so because we must probe very deeply if we are to discover the true principles of education in our time. It is absolutely necessary to enter into these depths of human evolution in order to discover, in these depths, the right way to formulate the questions which will help us to solve the problem of our own education and methods of instruction. To-day, therefore, I wanted to place before you one aspect of the subject we are considering. In a wider sense, the lectures are intended to give a more detailed answer, an answer suited to the requirements of the present age, to the question which has been raised to-day and will be developed tomorrow.

Our mode of study, therefore, must be the outcome of a true understanding of the great problem of education raised by the evolutionary course of humanity and we must then pass on to the answers that may be given by a knowledge of the nature and constitution of the human being at the present time.