Metamorphoses of the Soul II
IX. The Mission of Art
12 May 1910, Berlin
This last lecture of the winter series will be devoted to that realm in the life of the soul which has been enriched by so many of the greatest treasures that spring from man's inner life. We will consider the nature and significance of art in the evolution of mankind. Since the field is so wide, we will confine ourselves to the art of poetry, and you will understand that we have time to consider only the highest achievements of the human spirit in this realm.
Now someone might say: “The lectures this winter have been concerned with various aspects of the human soul, and their central purpose has been to seek for truth and knowledge in relation to the spiritual world — what have these studies to do with the human activities which strive, above all, to give expression to the element of beauty?” And in our time it would be easy to take the view that everything connected with truth and cognition should be kept far, far apart from the aims of artistic work. A widely prevalent belief today is that science in all its branches must be subject to strict rules of logic and experiment, whereas artistic work follows the spontaneous promptings of the heart and the imagination. Many of our contemporaries, accordingly, would say that truth and beauty have nothing in common. And yet, the great leaders in the realm of artistic creation have always felt that true art should flow from the same deep sources in the being of man as do knowledge and cognition.
To take one example, only, we will turn to Goethe, a seeker both for beauty and for truth. As a young man he strove by all possible means to acquire knowledge of the world and to find answers to the great riddles of existence. Before the time of his journey to Italy, which was to take him to a country enshrining longed-for ideals, he had pursued his search for truth, together with his Weimar friends, by studying, for example, the philosopher Spinoza, 59Baruch Spinoza, 1632–1677. For Goethe's relationship to Spinoza cf. Goethe's description in Dichtung und Wahrheit, Part III Book 14. who sought to find a uniform substance in all the phenomena of life. Spinoza's dissertations on the idea of God made a deep impression on Goethe. Together with Merck 60Johann Heinrich Merck, 1741–1791. Writer. and other friends he believed he could hear in Spinoza something like a voice which spoke through all surrounding phenomena and seemed to give intimations concerning the sources of existence — an idea which could appease in some way his Faustian aspirations. But Goethe's soul was too richly endowed for him to gain from a conceptual analysis of Spinoza's works a satisfying picture of truth and knowledge. What he felt about this, and what his heart longed for, will emerge most clearly if we accompany him on his travels in Italy where he beheld great works of art and caught in them an echo of the art of antiquity. In their presence he experienced the feeling he had hoped in vain to draw from the ideas of Spinoza. Thus he wrote to his friends in Weimar: “One thing is certain: the ancient artists had as much knowledge of Nature, and as sure an idea of what can be represented and of how it should be done, as Homer himself. Unfortunately, works of art of the highest order are all too few. But when one contemplates them, one's only desire is to get to know them rightly and then to depart in peace. These supreme works of art have been created by men as the highest products of Nature in accordance with true natural laws. Everything arbitrary or merely fanciful falls away; there is necessity, there is God.” 61See Italienische Reise, Rome, 6th September 1787.
Goethe believed he could discern that the great artists who had created works of art of this high order had drawn them out of their souls in accordance with the same laws that Nature herself had followed. This can mean only that in Goethe's view of the laws of Nature, which operate in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, are raised to a new level and gain new strength in the human soul, so that they come to full expression in the soul's creative powers. Goethe felt that in these works of art the laws of Nature were operative again and thus he wrote to his Weimar friends: “Everything arbitrary or merely fanciful falls away; there is necessity, there is God.” At such moments, Goethe's heart is stirred by the recognition that art in its highest manifestations comes from the same sources as do knowledge and cognition, and we realise how deeply Goethe felt this to be true when he declares: “Beauty is a manifestation of Nature's secret laws, which would otherwise remain forever hidden.” 62See Goethe, “Sprüche in Prosa”, in: Goethes Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften, ed. Rudolf Steiner, reprint Dornach 1975, vol. V, p. 495. Thus Goethe sees in art a revelation of Nature's laws, which in its own language confirms the findings of cognition in other fields of investigation. If now we turn from Goethe to a modern personality who also sought to invest art with a mission and to bestow on mankind, through art, something related to the sources of existence — if we turn to Richard Wagner, we find in his writings, where he tries to clarify for himself the nature and significance of artistic creation, many similar indications of the inner relationships between truth and beauty, cognition and art. In writing of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, for example, he says that these sounds convey something like a revelation from another world something quite different from anything we can grasp in merely rational or logical terms. 63Cf. “Beethoven,” 1870, in vol. XI of Wagner's Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen.
Of these revelations through art, one thing at least can be said with certainty. They act upon the soul with convincing power and permeate our feeling with a conviction of their truth, in face of which all merely rational or logical considerations are powerless.
Again, in writing about symphonic music, Wagner says that something resounds from it as though its instruments were an organ for revealing the feelings that went into the primal act of creation, when chaos was ordered and harmonised, long before any human heart was there to echo those feelings. Thus in the revelations of art Wagner saw a mysterious truth that could stand on an equal footing with knowledge gained by the intellect.
Something else may be added here. When we make acquaintance with great works of art in the sense of spiritual science, we feel that they communicate their own revelation concerning man's search for truth, and the spiritual scientist feels himself inwardly related to this message. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that he feels more closely related to it than he does to many of the so-called spiritual revelations that people accept so light-heartedly today.
How is it, then, that truly artistic personalities attribute to art a mission of this kind, while the spiritual scientist feels his heart so strongly drawn to these mysterious revelations of great art? We will approach an answer to this question by bringing together many things that have come before our souls during these winter lectures.
If we are to study the significance and task of art from this point of view, we must not go by human opinions or the quibblings of the intellect. We must consider the development of art in relation to the evolution of man and the world. We will let art itself speak to us of its significance for mankind.
If we wish to trace the beginnings of art, as it first appears among men in the guise of poetry, then according to ordinary ideas we have to go back very far indeed. Here we will go back only as far as the extant documents can take us. We will go back to a figure often regarded as legendary — to Homer, the originator of Greek poetry, whose work has come down to us in the two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Whoever was the author — or authors, for we will not go into that question today — of these two poems, the remarkable thing is that both poems begin on a quite impersonal note:
With those words the Iliad, the first Homeric poem, begins and
Sing, O Muse, of the wrath of Achilles ...
Sing, O Muse, of much-travelled man ...
are the opening words of the second Homeric poem, the Odyssey. The author thus wishes to indicate that he is indebted to a higher power for his verses, and we need only a little understanding of Homer to realise that for him this higher power was not a symbol but a real, objective Being. If this invocation to the Muse means nothing to modern readers, this is because they no longer have the experiences from which a poem as impersonal as Homer's could derive. And if we are to understand this impersonal element in early Western poetry, we must ask: What preceded it? Whence did it arise?
In speaking of human evolution, we have often emphasised that in the course of millennia the powers of the human soul have changed. In the far-distant past, beyond the reach of external history but open to spiritual-scientific investigation, human souls were endowed with a primitive dreamy clairvoyance. In times before men were so deeply embedded in material existence as they came to be later on, they perceived the spiritual world as a reality all around them. We have pointed out also that the ancient clairvoyance was different from the trained, conscious clairvoyance that can be attained today, for this is bound up with the existence of a firm centre in the life of the soul, whereby a man takes hold of himself as an ego. This ego-feeling, as we now have it after its gradual development through long ages, was not present in the far-distant past. But for this very reason, because man lacked this inner centre, his spiritual senses were open and with his dreamy, ego-less clairvoyance he looked into the spiritual world from which his true inner being had emerged in the primal past. Powerful pictures, like dream-pictures, of the forces behind our physical existence came before his soul. In this spiritual world he saw his gods, he saw the actions and events that were played out among them. And present-day research is quite wrong in supposing that the sagas of the gods, found in various forms in different countries, were the product merely of popular fantasy. If it is thought that in the remote past the human soul functioned just as it does today, except that it was more prone to imagine things, including the imaginary gods of the sagas that is sheer fantasy and it is those who believe it who are imagining things. For people in that remote past, the events described in their mythologies were realities. Myths, sagas, even fairy-tales and legends, were born from a primeval faculty in the human soul. This is connected with the fact that man had not yet acquired the firm central point in his soul which now enables him to live within himself and in possession of himself. In the far past he could not shut himself up in his ego, within the narrow boundaries of his soul, separated from his environment, as he came to do later on. He lived in his environment, feeling that he belonged to it, whereas a modern man feels that he stands apart from it. And just as man today can feel in his bodily organism the inflow and outflow of the physical strength he needs to sustain his life, so primeval man, with his clairvoyant consciousness, was aware of spiritual forces flowing in and out of him, so that he lived in inward reciprocity with the forces of the great world; and he could say: “When something takes place in my soul, when I think, feel or will, I am not a separate being. I am open to forces from the beings who come before my inward sight. By sending their forces into me, they stimulate me to think and feel and will. “That was the experience of man when he was still embedded in the spiritual world. He felt that spiritual powers were active in his thinking, and that when he accomplished anything, divine-spiritual powers had poured into him their willing and their purpose. In those primeval times, man felt himself to be a vessel through which spiritual powers expressed themselves.
Here we are looking back to a period far away in the past, but this period extended, through all sorts of intermediate stages, right up to the time of Homer. It is not difficult to discern how Homer was giving continued expression to the primeval consciousness of mankind: we need only look at some features of the Iliad. Homer describes a great armed struggle between the Greeks and the Trojans, but how does he do this? What did the struggle signify for the Greeks of that time?
Although Homer may not start out from this aspect, there was more in this struggle than the antagonism generated by the passions, desires and ideas which stem from the human ego. Was it merely the personal and tribal emotions of Trojans and Greeks that clashed in this fighting? No! The legend which provides a connecting link between primeval and Homeric consciousness tells how three goddesses, Hera, Pallas Athene and Aphrodite, competed at a festival for the prize of beauty, and how a human connoisseur of beauty, Paris, son of the king of Troy, was appointed to judge the contest. Paris gave the prize to Aphrodite, who had promised him the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife. The woman was Helen, wife of king Menelaus of Sparta. In order to gain possession of Helen, Paris had to abduct her by force. In revenge for this outrage, the Greeks armed themselves for war against the Trojans, whose country lay on the far side of the Aegean sea, and it was there that the struggle was fought out.
Why did human passions flare up in this way, and why did all the events described by Homer's Muse take place? Were they merely physical events in the human world? No. Through the consciousness of the Greeks we see depicted the antagonism of the goddesses behind the strife of men. A Greek of that time could have said: “I cannot find in the physical world the causes which have brought human beings into violent conflict. I must look up to a higher realm, where the gods and their powers are set against one another.” The divine powers, as they were seen at the time in the images which we have just described, were actively involved in human conflicts. Thus we see the first great work of poetic art, Homer's Iliad, growing out of the primeval consciousness of mankind. In Homer we find presented in metrical form, from the standpoint of a later consciousness, an echo of the clairvoyant vision which came naturally to primeval humanity. And it is precisely in this Homeric period that we must look for the first time when clairvoyant consciousness came to an end for the Greek people, and only an echo of it remained.
A primeval man would have said: “I can see my gods battling in the spiritual world, which lies open to my clairvoyant consciousness.” In Homeric times this was no longer possible, but a living memory of it endured. And just as primeval man had felt inspired by the divine worlds wherein he had his being, so the author of the Homeric epics felt the same divine forces holding sway in his soul. Hence he could say: “The Muse that inspires me inwardly is speaking.” Thus the Homeric poems are directly connected with primeval myths, if these are rightly understood. From this point of view, we can see arising in Homer's poetic imagination something like a substitute for the old clairvoyance. The ruling cosmic powers withdrew direct clairvoyant vision from man, and gave him, instead, something that could live similarly in the soul and could endow it with formative power. Poetic imagination is compensation for the loss of ancient clairvoyance.
Now let us recall something else. In the lecture on Conscience we saw that the withdrawal of the old clairvoyance occurred in quite different ways and at different times in various countries. In the East the old clairvoyance persisted up to a relatively late date. Over towards the West, among the peoples of Europe, clairvoyant faculties were less widely present. In the latter peoples, a strong ego-feeling came to the fore while other soul-powers and faculties were still relatively undeveloped. This ego-feeling emerged in the most varied ways in different parts of Europe — differently between North and West, and notably different in the South. In pre-Christian times it developed most intensively in Sicily and Italy. While in the East men remained for a long time without an ego-feeling, in these regions of Europe there were people in whom the ego-feeling was particularly strong because they had lost the old clairvoyance. In the proportion that the spiritual world withdraws externally from man does his inward ego-feeling light up.
Hence there was bound to be a great difference at certain times between the souls of the Asiatic peoples and the souls living in the parts of Europe we are concerned with here. Over there in Asia we see how the cosmic mysteries still rise before the soul in great dream-pictures, and how man can witness the deeds of the gods as they unroll externally before his spiritual eye. And in that, which such a man can relate, we can discern something like a primeval account of the spiritual facts underlying the world. When the old clairvoyance was succeeded in Asia by the substitute for it, imagination, this gave rise especially to visionary symbols in picture form.
Among the Western peoples, in Italy and Sicily, a different faculty, arising from a firmly-grounded ego, produced a kind of excess of strength, an enthusiasm that broke forth from the soul, unaccompanied by any direct spiritual vision but inspired by a longing to reach up to things unseen. Here, therefore, we find no recounting of the deeds of the gods, for these were no longer evident. But when with ardent devotion, expressed in speech and song, the soul aspired to the heights it could only long for, primitive prayer and chant were born, addressed to powers which could not now be seen after the waning of old clairvoyant consciousness.
In Greece, the intermediate country, the two worlds meet. There we find men who are stimulated from both sides. Pictorial vision comes from the East; from the West comes the enthusiasm which inspires devotional hymns to the unseen divine-spiritual powers. This intermingling of the two streams in Greek culture made possible a continuation from Homeric poetry, which we can locate in the 8th or 9th century B.C., to the works of Aeschylus, three or four hundred years later.
Aeschylus comes before us as a personality who was certainly not open to the full power of Eastern vision, the convincing power we find in Homer as an echo of the old clairvoyant vision of the deeds of the gods and their effect on mankind. This echo was always very weak, and in Aeschylus so weak that he came to feel a kind of unbelief in the pictorial visions of the world of the gods that ancient clairvoyance had brought to men. Homer, we find, knew very well that human consciousness had once been open to these visions of the divine-spiritual powers which stand behind the interplay of human passions and emotions in the physical world. Homer, accordingly, does not describe merely a human conflict. Zeus and Apollo intervene where human passions are involved, and their influence is apparent in the course of events. The gods are a reality which the poet brings into his poem.
How different it all is with Aeschylus. The stream of influence from the West, with its emphasis on the human ego and the inward isolation of the human soul, had a particularly strong effect on him. For this reason he was the first dramatist to portray man as acting from out of his ego and beginning to release his consciousness from the inflow of divine powers. In Aeschylus, in place of the gods we find in Homer, the independent man of action appears, though still at an initial stage. As a dramatist, Aeschylus puts this kind of man at the centre of things. The epic had to emerge under the influence of the pictorial imagination that came from the East, while Western influence, with its emphasis on the personal ego, gave rise to drama, wherein the man of action is the central character.
Let us take, for example, Orestes, who is guilty of matricide and as a consequence sees the Furies. Yes, that is still Homer: things do not pass away so quickly. Aeschylus is still aware that the gods were once visible in picture form, but he is very near to giving up that belief. It is characteristic that Apollo, who in Homer acts with full power, incites Orestes to kill his mother, but after this no longer has right on his side. The human ego begins to stir in Orestes, and we are shown that it gains the upper hand. The verdict goes against Apollo, he is repudiated, and we see that his power over Orestes is no longer complete. Aeschylus was thus the right and proper poet to dramatise the figure of Prometheus, the divine hero who titanically opposes the might of the gods and represents the liberation of mankind from them.
Thus we see how the awakening ego-feeling from the West mingles in the soul of Aeschylus with memories of the pictorial imagination of the East, and how from this conjunction drama was born. And it is decidedly interesting to find that tradition wonderfully confirms the findings derived entirely from spiritual-scientific research.
One remarkable tradition partly acquits Aeschylus of the charge that he had betrayed certain secrets of the Mysteries; he replied that he could not have done so, for he had not been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. It certainly never was his intention to present anything derived from temple secrets, from which Homer's poems had originated. In fact, he stood somewhat apart from the Mysteries. On the other hand, the story goes that at Syracuse, in Sicily, he had gained knowledge of secrets connected with the emergence of the human ego. This emergence took a particular form in regions where the Orphic devotees cultivated the older form of ode, the hymn, addressed to the divine-spiritual worlds that could no more be seen but only aspired to. In this way art took a step forward. We see it emerging naturally from ancient truths and finding its way to the human ego. Inasmuch as man, after living predominantly in the outer world, took possession of his own inner life, the figures in the Homeric poems became the dramatic characters of Aeschylus; and so, side by side with the epic, drama arose.
Thus we see primeval truths living on in another form in art, and the achievements of ancient clairvoyance reproduced by poetic imagination. And whatever was preserved from ancient times by art was applied to the human personality, to the ego becoming aware of itself.
Now we will take an immense step forward in time — on to the 13th and 14th centuries of the Christian era. Here we encounter the great mediaeval personality who leads us so impressively to the region which the human ego can reach when, by its own endeavours, it ascends to the divine-spiritual world. We come to Dante, whose Divine Comedy (1472) was read and re-read by Goethe. It affected him so strongly that when an acquaintance sent him a new translation of it, he wrote his thanks to the sender in verse:
Great gratitude is due to him
Who brings us freshly to this book once more,
The book which in a glorious manner makes us cease
All our searchings and complaints. 64Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zahme Xenien VIII, dated 23rd July 1824.
How did art progress from Aeschylus to Dante? How does Dante bring before us a divine-spiritual world once again? How does Dante lead us through its three stages, Inferno, Purgatory and Heaven — the worlds which lie behind our physical existence?
Here we can see how the fundamental spiritual impulse that guides human evolution has continued to work in the same direction. Aeschylus, quite clearly, is still in touch with spiritual powers. Prometheus is confronted by the gods, Zeus, Hermes and so on, and this applies also to Agamemnon. In all this we can discern an echo of the ancient clairvoyance. With Dante it is quite different. He shows us how, solely through immersing himself in his own soul, developing the forces slumbering there and overcoming all the obstacles to this development, he was able, as he says, in “the middle of life” — which means his thirty-fifth year — to gaze into the spiritual world. Where as men endowed with the old clairvoyance directed their gaze to their spiritual environment, and whereas Aeschylus still reckoned with the old divinities, in Dante we see a poet who goes down into his own soul and remains entirely within his personality and its inner secrets. By pursuing this path of personal development he enters the spiritual world, and is thus able to present it in the powerful pictures we find in the Divine Comedy. Here the soul of Dante is quite alone with his personality; he is not concerned with external revelations. No one can imagine that Dante could have taken over from tradition the findings of the old clairvoyance. Dante relies on the inner development that was possible in the Middle Ages, with the strength of human personality as its only aid; and he brings before us in visionary pictures something often emphasised here — that a man has to master everything that clouds or darkens his clairvoyant sight. Whereas the Greeks still saw realities in the spiritual world, Dante here sees pictures only — pictures of the soul-forces which have to be overcome. Such are those lower forces of the sentient soul, the intellectual soul and the consciousness soul which tend to hold the ego back from higher stages of development. The good, opposite forces were already indicated by Plato: wisdom for the consciousness soul, self-reliant courage for the intellectual soul, moderation for the sentient-soul. When the ego goes through a development which enlists these good forces, it comes gradually to higher soul experience which lead into the spiritual world; but the hindrances must first be overcome.
Moderation works against intemperance and greed, and Dante shows how this shadow-side of the sentient soul can be met and mastered.
He depicts it as a she-wolf. We are then shown how the shadow-side of the intellectual soul, senseless aggression, depicted as a lion, can be overcome by its corresponding virtue, self-reliant courage. Finally we come to wisdom, the virtue of the consciousness soul. Wisdom which fails to strive towards the heights, but applies itself to the world in the form of mere shrewdness and cunning, is pictured as a lynx. The “lynx-eyes” are not the eyes of wisdom, able to gaze into the spiritual world, but eyes focused only on the world of the senses. After Dante has shown how he guards against the forces which hinder inner development, he describes how he ascends into the world which lies behind physical existence.
In Dante we have a man who relies upon himself, searches within himself, and draws from out of himself the forces which lead into the spiritual world. With him, poetry takes closer hold of the human soul and becomes more intimately related to the human ego. Homer's characters are woven into the doings of the divine-spiritual powers, as indeed Homer felt himself to be, so that he says: “Let the Muse sing the story I have to tell.” Dante, alone with his soul, knows that the forces which will lead him into the spiritual world must be drawn from within himself. We can see how it becomes less and less possible for imagination to depend on external influences. A small fact will show that on this point we are concerned not with mere opinions but with forces deeply rooted in the human soul. Gottlieb Friedrich Klopstock 65Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, 1724–1803. He concluded his “Messias” in 1773. was a deeply religious man and a profounder spirit even than Homer. He wished to write a sacred epic poem, with the conscious intention of doing for modern times what Homer did for antiquity. He sought to revive Homer's manner, but without being untrue to himself. Hence he could not say, “Sing for me, O Muse,” but had to open his Messias with the words: “Sing, immortal soul, of the redemption of sinful man.” Thus we see how progress in artistic creation does indeed occur among men.
Now let us take a further giant stride over several centuries, from Dante to another great poet, Shakespeare. Here again we see a remarkable step forward in the sense of a progression. We are not concerned with criticism of Shakespeare or with setting one poet above another, but solely with facts that point to a necessary, legitimate advance.
What was it about Dante that specially impressed us? He stands there by himself, with his own revelations of the spiritual world, and describes the great experience that came to him from within his own soul. Can you imagine that Dante would have given so effective expression to the truth as he saw it if he had described his visions five or six times over in various ways? Do you not feel that the world into which Dante has transposed himself is such that it can be described once only? That is indeed what Dante did. The world he describes is the world of one man at the moment when he feels himself to be at one with what the spiritual world is for him. Hence we must say: Dante immerses himself in the element of human personality, and in such a way that it remains his own. And he sets himself to traverse this human-personal aspect from all sides.
Shakespeare, on the other hand, creates an abundance of all possible characters — a Lear, Hamlet, Cordelia, Desdemona; but we have no direct perception of anything divine behind these characters, when the spiritual eye beholds them in the physical world, with their purely human qualities and impulses. We look only for what comes directly from their souls in the form of thinking, feeling and willing. They are all distinct individuals, but can we recognise Shakespeare himself in them, in the way that Dante is always Dante when he immerses himself in his own personality? No — Shakespeare has taken another step forward. He penetrates still further into the personal element, but not only into one personality but into a wide variety of personalities. Shakespeare denies himself whenever he describes Lear, Hamlet and so on; he is never tempted into presenting his own ideas, for as Shakespeare he is completely blotted out; he lives entirely in the various characters he creates. The experiences described by Dante are those of one person; Shakespeare shows us impulses arising from the inner ego in the widest diversity of characters. Dante's starting-point is human personality; he remains within it and from there he explores the spiritual world. Shakespeare has gone a step further: he, too, starts from his own personality and slips into the individuals he portrays; he is wholly immersed in them. It is not his own soul-life that he dramatises, but the lives of the characters in the outer world that he presents on the stage, and they are all depicted as independent persons with their own motives and aims.
Thus we can see here, again, how the evolution of art proceeds. Having originated in the remote past, when human consciousness was devoid of ego-feeling, with Dante, art reached the stage of embracing individual man, so that the ego itself became a world. With Shakespeare, it expanded so far that other egos became the poet's world. For this step to be possible, art had to leave the spiritual heights from which it had sprung and descend into the actualities of physical existence. And this is just what we can see happening when we pass on from Dante to Shakespeare. Let us try to compare Dante and Shakespeare from this point of view.
Superficial critics may reproach Dante for being a didactic poet. Anyone who understands Dante and can respond to the whole range and richness of his work will feel that his greatness derives precisely from the fact that all the wisdom and philosophy of the Middle Ages speak from his soul. And for the development of such a soul, endowed with Dante's poetic power, the totality of mediaeval wisdom was a necessary foundation. Its influence worked first on Dante's soul and was again evident, later on, in the expansion of his personality into a world. We cannot properly understand or appreciate Dante's poetic creation unless we are familiar with the heights of mediaeval spiritual life. Only then can we come to appreciate the depths and subtleties of his achievement.
Certainly, Dante took one step downwards. He sought to bring the spiritual down to lower levels, and this he did by writing in the vernacular, not in Latin as some of his predecessors had done. He ascends to the loftiest heights of spiritual life, but descends into the physical world as far as the vernacular of his place and time.
Shakespeare descends still further. The origin of his great poetic characters is nowadays the subject of all sorts of fanciful speculation, but if we are to understand this descent of poetry into the everyday world — still often looked down on by the highly placed — we must bear in mind the following facts.
We must picture a small theatre in what was then a suburb of London, where plays were produced by actors who, except for Shakespeare, would not be rated highly today. Who went to this theatre? The lower orders. It was more fashionable in those days to patronise cockfights and other similar spectacles than to go to this theatre, where people ate and drank and threw eggshells to mark their disapproval and overflowed on to the stage itself, so that the players acted in the midst of their audience. Thus it was before a very low-class London public that these plays were first performed, although many people today fondly imagine that from the first they were acclaimed in the highest circles of cultural life. At best, unmarried sons, who allowed themselves to visit certain obscure resorts in disguise, would go now and then to this theatre, but for respectable people it would have been highly improper. Hence we can see that poetry came down into a realm of the most unsophisticated feelings.
Nothing human was alien to the genius who stood behind Shakespeare's plays and the characters in them. So it happened — in respect even of external details — that art, after having been a narrow stream flowing on high levels, descended into the world of ordinary humanity and broadened into a wide stream running through the midst of everyday life. And anyone who looks more deeply into this will see how necessary it was that a lofty spiritual stream should be brought down to lower levels in order that such vital figures as Shakespeare's highly individual characters should appear.
Now we will move on to times nearer our own — to Goethe. We will try to connect him with his own creation — the figure of Faust, in whom were embodied all his ideals, endeavours and renunciations during the sixty years he worked on his masterpiece. Everything he experienced in his innermost soul in the course of his rich life, while he climbed from stage to stage of knowledge in his search for higher answers to the riddles of the world — all this is merged in the figure of Faust that we encounter today. What sort of figure is he in the context of Goethe's poetic drama?
Of Dante we can say that what he describes is portrayed as the fruit of his own vision. Goethe had no such vision: he makes no claim to having had a special revelation at a particularly solemn time, as Dante does with regard to the Divine Comedy. Everywhere in Faust Goethe shows that he has worked inwardly on what he presents. And whereas the experiences that came to Dante could be described only in his own one-sided way, Goethe's experiences were no less individual but they were translated into the objective character of Faust. Dante gives us his most intimate personal experience; Goethe, too, had personal experiences, but the actions and sufferings of Faust are not those of Goethe's life. They are free poetic transformation of what Goethe had experienced in his own soul. While Dante can be identified with his Divine Comedy, it would take almost a literary historian to identify Goethe with Faust. Faust is an individual character, but we cannot imagine that an array of Faust-like figures could have been created, as numerous as the characters created by Shakespeare. The ego depicted by Goethe in his Faust can be created once only. Besides Hamlet, Shakespeare created Lear, Othello, and so on. Goethe, it is true, also wrote Tasso and Iphigenia, but the difference between them and Faust is obvious. Faust is not Goethe; fundamentally he is every-man. He embodies Goethe's deepest longings, but as a poetic figure his is entirely detached from Goethe's own personality. Dante brings before us the vision of one man, himself; Faust is a character who in a certain sense lives in each one of us. This marks a further advance for poetry up to Goethe.
Shakespeare could create characters so individualised that he immersed himself in them and enabled each one of them to speak with a distinctive voice. Goethe creates in Faust an individualised figure, but Faust is not a single individual; he is every-man. Shakespeare entered into the soul-natures of Lear, Othello, Hamlet, Cordelia and so on. Goethe entered into the highest human element in all men. Hence he creates a representative character relevant to all men. And this character detaches himself from Goethe's personality as a poet, and stands before us as a real objective figure in the outer world.
Here is a further advance of art along the path we have outlined. Starting from the direct spiritual perception of a higher world, art takes hold of man's inner life to an ever-increasing degree. It does so most intimately when — as with Dante — a man is dealing with himself alone. In Shakespeare's plays the ego goes out from this inwardness and enters other souls. With Goethe, the ego goes out and immerses itself in the soul-life of every-man, typified by Faust. And because the ego is able to go out from itself and understand other souls only if it develops its own soul-powers and sinks itself in another's spirituality, so it is in line with the continued advance in artistic creation that Goethe should have been led to depict not only physical acts and experiences in the outer world, but also the spiritual events that everyone can experience if he opens his ego to the spiritual world.
Poetry came from the spiritual world and entered the human ego; with Dante it took hold of the ego at the deepest level of the inner life. With Goethe we see the ego going forth from itself again and finding its way to the spiritual world.
The spiritual experiences of ancient humanity are reflected in the Iliad and the Odyssey; and in Goethe's Faust the spiritual world comes forth again and stands before man. That is how we should respond to the great final tableau in Faust, where man, after having descended into the depths, works his way up again by developing his inner forces until the spiritual world stands open to him once more. It is like a chorus of primal tones, but ever-renewed in ever-advancing forms. From the imperishable spiritual world resounds the imagination, bestowed on man as a substitute for spiritual vision and given form in the perishable creations of human genius. Out of the imperishable were born the perishable poetic figures created by Homer and Aeschylus. Once more poetry ascends from the perishable to the imperishable, and in the mystical chorus at the very end of Faust we hear:
Everything transient is but a parable ... 66Concluding lines to Goethe's Faust (Faust II, 1. 12, 104ff.).
And so, as Goethe shows us, the power of man's spirit ascends from the physical world into the spiritual world again.
We have seen artistic consciousness advance with great strides through the world and in representative poets. Art emerges from the spiritual, its original source of knowledge. Spiritual vision withdraws more and more in proportion as the sense-world commands ever-wider attention, thereby stimulating the development of the ego. Human consciousness follows the course of world evolution and so has to make the journey from the spiritual world to the world of the ego and the senses. If man were to study the world of the senses only through the eyes of external science, he would come to understand it only intellectually in scientific terms. But in place of clairvoyance, when this passes away, he is granted imagination, which creates for him a kind of shadowy reflection of what he can no longer perceive. Imagination has had to follow the same path as man, entering eventually into his self-awareness, as with Dante. But the threads that link humanity to the spiritual world can never break, not even when art descends into the isolation of the human ego. Man takes imagination with him on his way; and when Faust appears, we see the spiritual world created anew out of imagination.
Thus Goethe's Faust stands at the beginning of an epoch during which man is to re-enter the spiritual world where art originated. And so the mission of art, for all those who cannot reach the spiritual world through higher training, is to spin the threads that will link the spirituality of the far-distant past with the spirituality of the future. Art has indeed already advanced so far that it can give a view of the spiritual world in imagination, as in the second part of Faust. Here we have an intimation that man in his evolution is at the point when he must learn to develop the powers which will enable him to re-enter the spiritual world and to gain conscious knowledge of it. Moreover, having led man towards the spiritual world with the aid of imagination, art has prepared the way for spiritual science, which presupposes clear vision of the spiritual world, based on full ego-consciousness. To point the way towards that world — the world that human beings long for, as we have seen in the examples drawn from the realm of art — that is the task of spiritual science, and it has been the task also of this winter's lectures.
Thus we see how great artists can be justified in feeling that reflections of the spiritual world are what they have to give to mankind. And the mission of art is to mediate these revelations during the time when direct revelations of the spiritual world were no longer possible. So Goethe could say of the works of the old artists: “There is necessity, there is God!” They bring to light the hidden laws of nature which would otherwise never be found. And so could Richard Wagner say that in the music of the Ninth Symphony he could hear revelations of another world — a world which a mainly intellectual consciousness can never reach. The great artists have felt that they are bearers of the spirit, the original source of everything human, from the past, through the present, into the future. And so with deep understanding we can agree with words spoken by a poet who felt himself to be an artist: “The dignity of mankind is given into your hands.” 67Friedrich von Schiller in the poem “Die Künstler”.
In this way we have tried to describe the nature and mission of art in the course of human evolution, and to show that art is not as separate from man's sense of truth as people today may lightly suppose. On the contrary, Goethe was right when he refused to speak of the idea of truth and the idea of beauty as separate ideas. There is, he said, one idea, that of the necessary workings of the divine-spiritual in the world, and truth and beauty are two revelations of it.
Everywhere among poets and other artists we find agreement with the thought that the spiritual foundations of human existence find utterance in art: or there are artists with deeper feelings who will tell you that art makes it possible for them to believe that their work carries a message to mankind from the spiritual world. And so, even when artists are most personal in expression, they feel that their art is raised to a universal human level, and that in a true sense they speak for humanity when the characters and revelations of their art give effect to the words spoken by Goethe's Mystical Chorus:
Everything transient is but a parable ...
And on the strength of our spiritual-scientific considerations we may add: Art is called upon to transfuse the transient and the perishable with the light of the eternal, the imperishable. That is the mission of art.