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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Temple Legend
GA 93
Part I

4. The Prometheus Saga

7 October 1904, Berlin*Shorthand report from Franz Seiler, together with longhand notes by Marie Steiner von Sivers. Rudolf Steiner spoke about the Prometheus saga on later occasions, e.g., in: Egyptian Myths and Mysteries, Anthroposophic Press, 1971 (tenth lecture), Earthly and Cosmic Man, Rudolf Steiner Publ. Co., 1948 (seventh lecture), Things of the Past and Present in the Spirit of Man, (sixth lecture), typescript, Metamorphoses of the Soul, Editor, M. Collison (first lecture). Following the lecture on ‘Prometheus,’ Rudolf Steiner spoke about the ‘Argonaut Saga and the Odyssey,’ ‘Siegfried,’ and the ‘Wars of Troy.’ These were once translated with the present lecture in the typescript copy Z 331.

I tried to show you last time how initiation took place in the ancient Druid Lodges. Today I should like to speak about a related subject, but one which may appear a little remote. But we shall see how our understanding of human development will grow ever more profound.

You have certainly gathered from the Friday lectures1 During 1904 Rudolf Steiner not only spoke at the regular Group Meetings, which took place on Mondays, but occasionally also on Fridays to a very small circle which gathered in the flat of Fraulein Klara Motzkus in the Schluterstrasse. The main subject dealt with was the myths and sagas. We do not have reports from all the lectures which were held there; at the most they are very fragmentary notes. These lectures of 1904, except for lecture 1 of 23rd May 1904, were all held for this small circle of friends. The May and June lectures of 1905 (lectures 11 to 14), and lecture 20 of 2nd January 1906, were held on the Mondays for the official Berlin Group. The October lectures of 1905 (lectures 15 to 19) were held for the General Meeting audience of the German Section. that the sagas of the different nations have a very deep content, and that myths are an expression of profound esoteric truths. I should like to speak today about one of the most interesting sagas, which has to do with the whole development of our fifth Great Epoch. At the same time you will see how a pupil of spiritual science passes through three stages in the understanding of sagas.

To begin with, sagas live in a particular nation, and are understood exoterically in an outer literal meaning. Next, disbelief sets in with regard to their interpretation, and an attempt is made by scholars to arrive at a symbolic meaning. Behind these two interpretations, however, five others can be found, for every saga can be interpreted in seven ways. The third is the one that can be taken literally again up to a point. But certainly one must learn to understand the language of sagas first. Today I wish to speak about a saga which is not easy to understand; it is the Prometheus saga.

You will find something about it in a chapter in the second volume of H.P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, and from this conclude what a profound meaning lies hidden in it. Nevertheless, it is not always possible to write about ultimate truths in something which is to be published. Today we are able to take the subject a little further than did H.P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine.

Prometheus belongs to the world of the Greek sagas. He and his brother, Epimetheus, are the sons of one of the Titans, called Iapetus. And the Titans themselves are the sons of the oldest of the Greek gods, of Uranus and his wife, Gaia. A translation of the word Uranus would be the ‘heavens ‘ and of Gaia, the ‘earth’. I would emphasise especially that the Uranus of the Greeks is the same as Varuna of India. Prometheus, therefore, is one of the Titans and a descendant of the sons of Uranus and Gaia, likewise his brother, Epimetheus. The youngest of the Titans, Chronos or ‘Time’, usurped the throne from his father Uranus, and was himself dethroned by his son Zeus and, along with the other Titans, was cast into Tartarus or Hades. Only the two brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus, remained loyal to Zeus. They rallied round Zeus and fought against the other Titans.

Zeus, however, wished to destroy the race of man, which had become insolent. Prometheus became the protagonist of man. He pondered how he could give man something which would enable him to save himself and make himself independent of the help of Zeus. So, we are told, Prometheus gave man writing and the other arts and, more especially, he instructed him in the use of fire. Through this, however, he drew down the wrath of Zeus upon himself, and because of the wrath of Zeus he was chained to the Caucasus and made to languish there for a long time in great torment.

It is further recounted how the gods, with Zeus at their head, caused a female statue to be made by Hephaestus, the heavenly smith. This female statue was endowed with all the outward attributes of the man of the fifth great epoch. This female statue was Pandora. She was required to bring gifts to mankind, but in the first place to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. Indeed, Prometheus warned his brother about accepting the gifts, but Epimetheus let himself be persuaded and took the proffered presents. All the gifts were showered upon mankind; only one thing was retained: hope. The gifts consisted mostly of plagues and suffering for humanity; only hope was retained in Pandora's box.

Prometheus, therefore, was chained to the Caucasus and a vulture gnawed incessantly at his liver. Here he languished. He was aware, however, of something which was a pledge for his deliverance. He knew a secret which was unknown even to Zeus himself and which Zeus was anxious to learn. He would not disclose it, however, even though Zeus sent the messenger of the gods, Hermes, to him.

In the course of the tale his strange deliverance is recounted. We are told that Prometheus can only be set free through the intervention of an initiate. And such an initiate was the Greek Heracles; Heracles who performed the twelve labours. The enactment of these labours is the achievement of an initiate. They are the symbolic representation of the twelve tests which have to be performed by someone undergoing initiation. In addition, it is said that Heracles underwent initiation in the Eleusinian mysteries. He was able to rescue Prometheus. Someone else had to sacrifice himself, however, and the Centaur Chiron did this for Prometheus. He was suffering from an incurable illness. He was half beast and half man. He suffered death and thereby released Prometheus. That is the outer form of the Prometheus saga.

In this saga lies the whole history of the fifth Great Epoch and true mystery wisdom is revealed in it. This was actually recounted as a saga in Greece. But also in the mysteries it was so portrayed that the candidate for initiation was actually confronted by the destiny of Prometheus. And in this destiny he was enabled to visualise the whole of the past and the future of the fifth Great Epoch. An understanding of this is only possible when you take one thing into account.

It was only during the middle of the Lemurian epoch that what is described as human incarnation came about; incarnation in the sense in which people are born on earth today. Humanity of that time was under the leadership of great teachers and guides, whom we call the ‘Sons of Fire-Mist’. At present, humanity of the fifth Great Epoch is also led by great initiates, but our initiates today are of a different kind from the leaders of that time.

You must now become quite clear about what constitutes this difference. There is an enormous difference between the leaders of the two previous Root Races and the leaders of our present fifth Root Race. The leaders of those former Root Races were also united in a White Brotherhood. Its members, however, had not undergone their previous development on our Earth, but on other planets. They descended to Earth already in the state of more highly developed, mature human beings in order to instruct the rest of humanity, still in its infant stage, into the primal arts of which it had need. This time of instruction lasted throughout the third, fourth and even into the fifth epoch.

This fifth Great Epoch took its start from a handful of men, who had been sifted out from the previous Great Epoch. They were collected together and prepared in the Gobi Desert and from there radiated out over the whole of the world. The first of these leaders, who was the founder of this impulse in the development of mankind, was one of the so-called Manus—the Manu2 The name ‘Manu’ comes from the Sanskrit root ‘man’ = ‘thinking.’ In Indian theosophical terminology this denotes high spiritual beings, who have the task of forming new cultures or epochs. For further details concerning the Manu of the fifth epoch see Rudolf Steiner's Cosmic Memory, Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1971; Occult Science, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969, and a lecture given in Heidelberg on 21st January 1909; Some Aspects of Reincarnation and the Life After Death, typescript copy Z 360. of the fifth Root Race. This Manu was still one of that company of leaders who descended to earth at the time of the third Root Race—He was one of the leaders who underwent development not on the earth only, but who came to earth with fully developed maturity.

It is only during the fifth Root Race that the development is beginning to take place of such Manus as are akin to ourselves; who have risen, as it were, from the ranks of humanity. We have men, therefore, who are already great masters and advanced leaders of humanity, and we have those who are striving to become such. In the fifth Root Race we have Chelas and masters who have experienced all that can be undergone by human beings only since the middle of the Lemurian epoch. One of these great masters who are leaders of the fifth Root Race is predestined to take over the leadership of the sixth Root Race. The sixth Root Race will be the first great epoch to have as its Manu one who is a brother to earthly man. The earlier masters, the Manus from other worlds, are handing over their leadership to a fellow human being.

The development in the realm of the arts coincides with the dawn of the fifth Root Race. The man of Atlantean times had a quite different mode of life. He did not make inventions or discoveries as we do. He worked in quite a different way, It is only during the fifth Root Race that everything connected with technical science and the arts, in our sense of the term, has taken place. The most important discovery was the use of fire. Be clear on that point.

Just call to mind all the things in technology, industry and art which depend for their existence on the use of fire. I think that an engineer would be inclined to agree with me when I say that, without the use of fire, nothing of all our modern technology would be possible; so that we may say that the discovery of the use of fire was the main discovery which gave the impulse for all later discoveries.

To that you must add that at the time when the Prometheus saga arose, fire was comprehended as including everything which had to do with warmth. The causes of lightning and all other natural phenomena connected with heat were also included under that heading. The consciousness of the fact that man of the fifth Root Race himself stood under the Fire Sign3 This is expressed in H.P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, Volume 3, ‘Esotericism,’ p. 330, in the following way: ‘Prometheus is a symbol and a personification of the whole of mankind in relation to an event which occurred during its childhood,—“Baptism by Fire”—which is a mystery within the great Promethean Mystery, one that may be at present mentioned only in its broad general features.’ came to expression in the saga of Prometheus. Prometheus himself is nothing else than a representative of the whole of the fifth Great Epoch.

The brother of Prometheus is Epimetheus. First let us translate these two words: Prometheus can be interpreted as being the one who thinks in advance, Epimetheus as the one who thinks about things after they have happened. Here you have expressed quite clearly the two activities of human thinking in the foresight and hindsight of these two human beings. The one with hindsight is the one who lets the things of this world work upon him and then thinks about them afterwards. A kind of thinking such as this is ‘Kama-manasic’ thinking (earthly consciousness, or intellectual soul activity). Considered from a certain point of view, this is what this kind of thinking is: letting the world work upon, one and thinking about it afterwards. The man of the fifth Root Race thinks chiefly in the manner of Epimetheus.

But in so far as a man does not merely let the things of his surroundings work upon him, but creates something for the future, is an inventor and discoverer, just so far is he a Prometheus, one who thinks ahead. There would never be any inventions made if men were all like Epimetheus. An invention comes about because man is able to create something which was not there previously. First of all the thought is there and then the thought is transformed into reality. This is Promethean thinking. Promethean thinking is the ‘Manas’ thinking of the fifth Root Race (the thinking of spiritual thoughts). Earthly thinking and spiritual thinking flow side by side in the fifth Root Race. Gradually the spiritual thinking will become more and more widespread.

This ‘Manas’ thinking of the fifth Root Race has one particular feature which we shall understand if we look back to the Atlantean epoch. At that time thinking was more instinctive and was still connected with the life forces. The people of Atlantean times were still able to transform the power inherent in seeds into a driving force. Just as man today has a kind of reservoir of power stored up in the coal seams, which can produce steam to drive locomotives and move loads, so Atlantean man had great storehouses of plant seeds containing a force which could be used to drive vehicles, as described by Scott-Elliot4 The Story of Atlantis, by W. Scott-Elliot, The Theosophical Publishing Society, London. See also: Cosmic Memory, Atlantis and Lemuria, by Rudolf Steiner, Rudolf Steiner Publications. in his booklet about Atlantis. This art has been lost to mankind. The spiritual power of the Atlanteans could control living nature and make use of the latent power in seeds. The spiritual powers of the fifth Root Race are only sufficient to control the forces of the inorganic world of minerals. Thus the Manas of the fifth Great Epoch is bound up with the mineral forces in the same way as the man of Atlantean times was bound up with the life forces. All Promethean powers are chained to the rock, to the solid earth. For that reason, the apostle Peter is the ‘rock’ upon which Christ founded His Church. It is the same as the rock of the Caucasus. Man belonging to the fifth epoch has to seek his destiny on the physical plane alone. He is bound up with inorganic mineral forces.

Just try to imagine what is meant when one speaks about the technology of the fifth epoch. What is it there for? If you are able to form a comprehensive view of it you will see that, however great and impressive the result may be, when the forces of the intellect and Manas are applied to the inorganic mineral world, it is nevertheless, in the main, only self-interest and egoism which is the motive behind the application of all these forces of discovery and invention.

Start with the first discoveries and inventions and carry your thoughts through to the most modern inventions of the telephone and so on. You will see how great and mighty are the forces which have been put at our disposal, certainly—but to what end? What is it that is being conveyed to us from distant lands by means of railways and steamships? We transport foodstuffs; we order foodstuffs by telephone. Basically it is human greed and the substance of our wishes and desires which creates a demand for all these inventions and discoveries during the fifth epoch. It is this which must become dear to us in objective considerations. Then we will understand how it is that the higher human being, which has been placed into physical existence, is actually chained to matter during the fifth epoch, through the fact that man's astral body seeks its satisfaction within the realm of matter.

If you consider the principles of man's nature from an esoteric point of view, you will see that they stand in definite relationship to certain bodily organs. I shall elaborate on this theme still further, but today I will only indicate those specific organs with which our seven principles5 These seven principles and the organs with which they are occultly connected are enumerated as follows:

Physical body—base of the nose.
Etheric body—liver.
Kama or Kama-Rupa (astral body)—digestive system, stomach.
Kama-Manas (astral-ego)—umbilical cord.
Higher Manas (Spirit Self)—heart and blood circulation.
Buddhi (Life Spirit)—larynx.
Atma (Spirit Man)—the Akasha.
are connected.

First of all we have the so-called physical principle. This stands in occult relationship to the upper part of the human face, to the root of the nose. Man's physical frame—man was only astral at first and then incorporated into the physical—took its start from this point. The physical Organisation spread out and formed the base of the nose first of all, so that the occultist ascribes the mineral-physical to this part of the anatomy.

The second principle is Prana, the etheric parallel body. This is ascribed to the liver, with which it stands in occult relationship. Next comes the astral body, Kama, which has developed its activity in building up the digestive organs, having their seat in the stomach. If the astral body had not borne this particular character that it has in man, then the human digestive organs and stomach would not have had the special form which they have today.

If you behold the human being, first with regard to his physical body, next with regard to his etheric body, and thirdly with regard to his astral body, you there have the basis for what, as you see, is chained by the mineral fetters in the fifth Great Epoch.

Through his higher bodies, man frees himself again from these fetters and rises to higher worlds. Kama-Manas, in which the ego is active, works its way upwards again. Man frees himself again from the purely physical basis given by nature. For this reason there is an occult connection between this principle and that which raises man up again out of the physical, by which man is severed, so to speak, from the physical basis given by nature This occult connection is what exists between that principle in man and his umbilical cord. If this principle in man were not developed the embryo would never be severed from the body of its mother in the way it is.

It we, then proceed to Higher Manas, or Spirit Self, this is connected in a similar way with heart and blood circulation. Buddhi, or Life Spirit, has an occult connection with the larynx, with the larynx and the gullet. And Atma, or Spirit Man, has an occult connection with something which extends through man's whole being, namely the Akasha, or immortal part of man's being.

Those are the seven occult relationships. If you pay attention to these, then you will discover that the most important ones for our epoch are the relationships with the etheric and astral principles. And if you add to that what I said before about the Atlantean's control over the life forces—the life forces are those forces which weave in the etheric parallel body—then you will be able to understand that, in a certain way, Atlantean man was at a stage lower than we are. His etheric parallel body still retained its original connection with the etheric forces around him and he controlled with his own etheric body the Prana, or etheric forces of the outside world. Through the fact that man has progressed one stage higher, the field of his activities lies one stage lower. That is an occult law: that when, on the one hand, progress takes place, on the other hand, a retrograde step accompanies it. Whereas man previously worked upon the astral plane out of his etheric forces, he now has the task of working upon the physical plane out of his astral forces.

Now you will understand how profoundly these occult connections are symbolised in the Prometheus saga. A vulture is gnawing at the liver of Prometheus. Astrality is symbolised by the vulture, which truly devours the forces of the fifth epoch. The vulture gnaws at man's liver, at the foundation of his existence, and thus this energy belonging to the fifth Root Race really gnaws at the life forces of mankind, because man is chained to mineral nature, to the Petrine rock, the Caucasus. Through that, man has to pay for his affinity with Prometheus. And thereby man is obliged to become master over his own nature, so that he need no longer remain chained to the mineral world, to the Caucasus.

Only those who are initiated as human beings of the fifth epoch can bring release to fettered mankind. Heracles, who was a human initiate of this kind, had himself to press through to the Caucasus in order to free Prometheus. But this is how initiates raise up man from his fetters and all that is predestined to perish must sacrifice itself.

Man who still has an affinity with his animal nature, the Centaur Chiron, has to sacrifice himself. The man of previous epochs must be sacrificed. The sacrifice of the Centaur Chiron is just as important for the progress of the fifth epoch as the freeing through the initiate.

It is said that in the Greek mystery schools the future was foretold to the people. It was no vague, abstract account of what was to happen to man in the future, but instructions which would lead him along the pathway to the future, and he was shown what he had to do for his future development. And what still remained to be unfolded as human strength was portrayed in the mighty mystery drama of Prometheus.

One has to imagine the three races of the gods, Uranus, Chronos and Zeus, as three successive great leaders of humanity. Uranus denotes heaven, Gaia the earth. If we go back in time beyond the middle of the Lemurian epoch, we do not find man in the form we know him today, but one called Adam Cadmon6 Compare also: Man's Life on Earth and in the Spiritual Worlds, second lecture, Oxford, 22nd August 1922. by occult science, who is still asexual, and who had never belonged to the earth previously, who had not developed organs of sight for physical observation, but was still a part of Uranus, of the heavens. Through the union of Uranus with Gaia, man was born, man who descended to the earth and at the same time became involved in time. Chronos (Time) was the leader of the second divine race from the middle of Lemurian times until the beginning of Atlantis. These leading figures were symbolised by the Greeks, first under the name Uranus, then Chronos, and later Zeus. Zeus, however, is one of those leaders who underwent his training elsewhere than on the earth. He is one of the great immortals, as are all the rest of the Greek gods.

Mortal man has to learn to stand on his own feet during the fifth Great Epoch. He is represented by Prometheus. Man was the inaugurator of the arts and, above all, of the primal art of the use of fire. Zeus is jealous of him because he is predestined to produce his own initiates, who will take over the leadership in the sixth epoch. Mankind has first to pay for that, however. That is why the first great initiate of humanity must take upon himself the whole of life's suffering.

Prometheus is the archetypal initiate of the fifth epoch, who has undergone initiation, not only in knowledge, but also in deed. He it was who underwent the whole of suffering and will be released from his bondage by him who is becoming mature enough to set free the whole of humanity in gradual stages and to raise it up out of the mineral realm.

Great cosmic truths are thus portrayed to us in the sagas. That is why I said to you at the beginning: whoever reaches the third stage in their interpretation is able to take their meaning literally once more. ... [Here follow a few unclear sentences]7 The unclear sentences are as follows: ‘Every saga undergoes change. It derives from the most ancient tradition and undergoes change at a certain definite point. It is the same in the case of every saga, even those which can again be taken literally.’ In the case of the Prometheus saga one is confronted by the picture of the vulture gnawing at the liver. That is to be taken quite literally. The vulture really is gnawing at the liver of the people of the fifth epoch. It portrays the fight which is going on between the stomach and the liver. In every single human being of the fifth epoch, this Promethean struggle is being repeated. We can take what is here said in a completely literal sense. If this struggle were not present in the man of the fifth epoch, our destiny would be entirely different at the present day.

There are thus three ways of interpreting the sagas: firstly, the exoteric literal rendering; secondly, the allegorical one—the struggle within human nature; thirdly, the occult understanding, in which again the literal meaning can be taken. From this you can judge that all sagas—at least those which bear a significance of this kind—are derived from the mystery schools, and are no less than a representation of what was enacted therein as the great drama of human destiny. As I was able to show you in connection with the Druidic mysteries that [the saga of] Baldur was no less than a portrayal of what took place in the mysteries, so, in the saga of Prometheus, you have a portrayal of what was experienced by the pupil for initiation in the inner sanctuaries of the mystery schools of Greece to provide energy and new strength for life in the future.