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Health and Illness I
GA 348

III. The Formation of the Human Ear; Eagle, Lion, Bull and Man

29 November 1922, Dornach

A question was asked about the design that appeared on the cover of the Austrian journal, Anthroposophy, showing the heads of an eagle, a lion, a bull and a man.

Dr. Steiner. Gentlemen, I think we should first bring to a conclusion our explanation of the human being, and then next time consider the aspects of man that these four symbols—the eagle, lion, bull and man—represent. Before we can say anything about them we must build a foundation, and this is something I shall try to do before the end of today's lecture. These four creatures, including man, spring from an ancient knowledge of the human being. They cannot be explained as the ancient Egyptians, for instance, would have done, but today they must be explained differently. One can interpret them correctly, of course, but nowadays one must begin from slightly different suppositions.

I would like now to direct your attention again to the way the human being evolves from his embryonic stage. I would like you to look once more at the very first stage, the earliest period. Conception has occurred, and the embryo is developing in the mother's womb. At first, it is just one microscopic cell containing proteinaceous substance and a nucleus. This single cell, the fertilized egg, actually marks the beginning of man's physical life.

Let us look then at the processes that immediately follow. What does this tiny egg, placed within the body of the mother, do? It divides. The one cell becomes two, and each of these cells divides in turn, thus creating more and more cells like the first. Eventually, our whole body is made up of such cells. They do not remain completely round but assume all manner of shapes and forms.

We must now take into account something I have mentioned before, which is the fact that the whole universe acts upon this minute cell in the mother's body. Nowadays, of course, such matters generally cannot be met with the necessary understanding, but it is nonetheless true that the whole cosmos works upon this cell. It is not at all the same if the ovum divides when, say, the moon stands in front of, or at a distance from, the sun. The whole starry heavens shed an influence on this cell, whose interior forms itself accordingly.

I have said before that during the first few months only the head of the unborn child is developed. (Referring to a drawing.) The head is already formed to this extent, and the rest of the body is really only an appendage. There are tiny little stubs, the hands, and other small protrusions, the legs. As it develops, the human being will transform its little appendages into hands, arms and feet.

How does this come about? How does it occur? The reason lies in the fact that in the earlier embryonic stages the influence of the starry heavens is greater. As the embryo develops and grows during those months in the mother's womb, it becomes increasingly subject to the gravity of the earth. When the world of the stars acts upon man, the emphasis is always on the head. It is gravity that, in time, draws out the other parts. The farther back we go, examining the second or first months of pregnancy, the more do we find these cells exposed to the influence of the stars. As more and more cells appear and millions gradually develop, they become increasingly subject to the forces of the earth.

Here is convincing evidence that the human body is magnificently organized. I would like to make this evident by considering one of the sense organs. I could just as easily take the example of the eye, but today I shall speak about the ear. You see, one of these cells develops into the ear. The ear is set into one of the cavities of the skull bones, and if you examine it properly, you will find that it is quite a remarkable structure. I shall explain the ear so that you can get some idea of it. You will see how such a cell moulds itself while it is still partially under the influence of the stars and partially under the influence of the earth. The ear is formed in such a marvellous way so that man can actually make use of it.

Figure 1

Let us proceed from the outside inward. To begin with, each of you can take hold of your auricle, the outer ear. We have sketched it as seen from the side (1). It consists of gristle and is covered with skin. It is designed to receive the maximum amount of sound. If we had only a hole there, the ear would capture much less sound. You can feel the passage into your ear; it goes into the interior of the so-called tympanic cavity, the interior of the head's bony system. This passage or canal is closed off inside by the eardrum, the tympanic membrane. There is really a thin, delicate, tiny skin attached to this canal, which might be likened to that of a drumhead. The ear, then, is closed off on the inside by the eardrum (2).

I'll continue by drawing the cavity that one observes in a skeleton (3). Here are the skull bones; here are the bones going to the jaw. Inside is a cavity into which this canal leads that is closed off by the eardrum. Behind the outer ear, the auricle, you have a hollow space, which I shall now tell you about. Not only does this canal, this outer passage that you can put your little finger into, lead into the head cavity, but another canal also leads into this cavity from the mouth. In other words, two passages lead into this cavity: one from the exterior that extends inward to the eardrum, and one from the mouth that enters behind the eardrum, which is called the Eustachian tube, though the name does not matter.

Now we come to a strange-looking thing—a veritable snail shell, the cochlea. It consists of two parts. Here is a membrane, and here is a space, the vestibule. Over here is another space, the tympanic cavity. The whole thing is filled with fluid, a living fluid, which I have described to you in another lecture. So within all this fluid is something made of skin that looks like a snail shell. Inside this snail shell, called the cochlea, are myriad little fibres that make up the basilar membrane. This is quite interesting. If you could penetrate the eardrum and look beyond it, you would find this soft snail shell, which is covered on the inside with minute, protruding hair-like fringes.

What, actually, is inside the cochlea? When one approaches the question truly scientifically, one notices that this is really a small piece of intestine that has somehow been placed within the ear. Just as we have the intestines within our abdomen, so do we have a tiny piece of intestine-like skin within our ear. The ear's configuration, then, is such that it contains a little intestine, just as in another part of the body we have a larger intestine. The cochlear duct, which is surrounded by a living fluid called the endolymph, is filled with another called the perilymph. All this is extremely interesting. The cochlea is closed off here by a tiny membrane shaped like an oval window, and here, again, by another little membrane that looks like a round window. Just as we can beat on a drum and make it vibrate, so do the sound waves, coming in from both sides, set into motion this little membrane, the oval window.

The oval window is a membrane set in the middle of the cochlea, and it closes off the inside of the little snail shell, which is filled with the slightly thicker fluid, the perilymph. The fluid on the outside is thinner. Below the oval window is another little membrane called the round window. Here we now approach something marvellous. Two tiny delicate bones sit on the membrane of the oval window. They look like a stirrup and are called the stapes. People also refer to them as the stirrup. So the stirrup sits on the little membrane, protruding in such a way as to resemble an upper and a lower arm on the membrane. Picture such an upper and lower arm of the stirrup and then here, strangely enough, another independent bone, the incus or anvil. The first two bones of the stirrup are connected by a joint; the incus is independent. These tiny bones are all in the ear, and since materialistic science looks at everything superficially, it calls the bone that sits directly on the eardrum, the hammer, this other bit of bone in the middle, the anvil, and this other, the stirrup—or malleus, incus and stapes.

Ordinary science, however, doesn't really know what these bones are. What is found here in the two arms of the stirrup is only a little different from an arm bent at the elbow. See, an elbow joint is the same as this joint of the stirrup above the membrane. And there is a kind of hand, on which sits an independent bone. We don't have such a bone in our hand, but it is comparable to our kneecap. So we can rightfully say that this is also like a leg, a foot; then that would be the thigh, that the knee (sketching), there the foot stands on the membrane, and there is the kneecap.

You see, it is most interesting that in the cavity of the ear we have first a kind of intestine and then a real hand, arm or foot. What is the purpose of all this? Well, imagine that a sound strikes the eardrum and everything in there begins to vibrate. Without being aware of it, the person is determining within the ear what kind of vibration it is. Now think of this, which you may have experienced at some time. You are standing somewhere on a street when something explodes behind you. You feel the explosion inwardly and may feel sick to your stomach from the shock. But this delicate shock that vibrates through the cochlea's “intestine” is felt by the fluid within, which conveys the vibrations that are imparted by the “touching” of the eardrum with a “hand,” as it were.

Now I would like to point out something else to you. What is the purpose of this Eustachian tube leading from the mouth to the inner ear? If sounds simply passed into the ear from the auricle, we would not need it, but to comprehend another's speech we must first have learned to speak ourselves. When we listen to someone else and wish to comprehend him, the sounds we have learned to speak pass through the Eustachian tube. When another person is speaking to us, the sounds come in through the auricle and make the fluid vibrate. Because the air passes into the ear from the outside, and since we know how to set this air in motion with our own speech, we can understand the other person. In the ear, the element of our own speech that we are accustomed to meets the element of what the other person says; there the two meet.

You see, when I say, “house,” I am accustomed to having certain vibrations occur in my Eustachian tube; when I say, “powder,” I experience other vibrations. I am familiar with these vibrations. When I hear the word “house,” the vibration comes from outside, and because I am used to identifying this vibration when I say the word myself, and since my comprehension and the vibration from outside encounter each other in the ear, I am able to recognize its meaning. The tube that leads from the mouth into the ear was there when as a child I learned to speak. Thus, we learned to understand the other person simultaneously as we learned to talk. These matters are most interesting.

Now, things are really like this. Imagine that nothing but what I have just sketched here existed in the ear. Then you could at least understand another person's words and also listen to a piece of music, but you would not be able to remember what you had heard. You would have no memory for speech and sound if the ear had nothing more than these parts. There is another amazing structure in the ear that enables you to retain what you have heard. These are three hollow arches, which look like this (sketching). The second is vertical to the first, and the third, vertical to the second. Thus, they are vertical to each other in three dimensions. These so-called semi-circular canals are hollow and are also filled with a living, delicate fluid. The remarkable thing about it is that infinitely small crystals are constantly forming from it. If you hear the word, “house,” for example, or the tone C, tiny crystals are formed in there as a result. If you hear a different word—“man,” for instance—slightly different crystals are formed. In these three little canals, microscopically small crystals take shape, and these minute crystals enable us not only to understand but also to retain in our memory what we have comprehended. For what does the human being do unconsciously?

Imagine that you have heard someone say, “Five francs.” You want to remember what has been said, so with a pencil you write it into your notebook. What you have written with lead in your notebook has nothing to do with live francs except as a means of remembering them. Likewise, what one hears is inscribed into these delicate canals with the minute crystals that do, in fact, resemble letters, and a subconscious intelligence in us reads them whenever we need to recall something. So, indeed, we can say that the memory for tone and sound is located within these three semi-circular canals. Here where this arm is located is comprehension, intelligence. Here, within the cochlea is a portion of man's feeling. We feel the sounds in this part of the labyrinth, in the fluid within the little snail shell; there we feel the sounds. When we speak and produce the sounds ourselves, our will passes through the Eustachian tube. The whole configuration of the human soul is contained in the ear. In the Eustachian tube lives the will; here in the cochlea is feeling; intelligence is in the auditory ossicles, those little bones that look like an arm or leg; memory resides in the semi-circular canals. So that man can become aware of the complete process, a nerve passes from here (drawing) through this cavity and spreads out everywhere, penetrates everywhere. Through this auditory nerve, all these processes are brought to consciousness in our brain.

You see, gentlemen, this is something quite remarkable. Here in our skull we have a cavity. One enters the inner ear cavity by passing from the auricle through the auditory canal and eardrum. Everything I have described to you is contained therein. First, we stretch out the “hand” and touch the incoming tones to comprehend them. Then we transfer this sensation to the living fluid of the cochlea, where we feel the tone. We penetrate the Eustachian tube with our will, and because of the tiny crystal letters formed in the semi-circular canals, we can recall what has been said or sung, or whatever else has come to us as sound.

So we can say that within the ear we bear something like a little human being, because this little being has will, comprehension, feeling and memory. In this small cavity we carry a tiny man around with us. We really consist of many such minute human beings. The large human being is actually the sum of many little human beings. Later, I'll show you that the eye is also such a miniature man. The nose, too, is a little human being. All these “little men” that make up the total human being are held together by the nervous system.

These miniature men are created while man is still an embryo in the mother's body. All that is being formed and developed there is still under the influence of the stars. After all, these marvellous configurations—the canals that produce the crystals, the little auditory bones—cannot be moulded by the gravity and forces of the earth. They are organized in the womb of the mother by forces that descend from the stars. The cochlea and Eustachian tube are parts that belong to man as a being of earth and are developed later. They are shaped by the forces that originate from the earth, from the gravity that gives us our form and that enables the child to stand upright long after it is born.

You see, if initially one knows how the whole human being originates from one small cell, and how one cell is transformed into an eye while another becomes an ear and a third the nose, one understands how man is gradually built up. Actually, there are ten groups of cells that transform themselves, not just one, but we may still imagine there to be one cell in the beginning. So, at first, just one cell exists. This produces a second, which by being placed in a slightly different position comes under a different influence and develops into the ear. Another develops into the nose, a third into the eye, and so on. None of this proceeds from any influence of the earth. The forces of the earth can mould only those parts that are mostly round, just as in the abdomen the earth organizes the intestinal system. Everything else is formed by the influence of the stars.

We know of these matters today because we have microscopes. After all, the auditory bones are minute. Remarkably enough, these things were also known by men in ancient times, though the source of their knowledge was completely different from that of today. For example, 3,000 years ago the ancient Egyptians were also occupied with a knowledge of man's organization and knew in their way just how remarkable the inner functions of the human ear are. They said to themselves that man has ears, eyes and other organs belonging to the head. If we wish to explain them, we must ask how the ear, for instance, was moulded so differently from the other organs. The ancients said that those organs that are part of the head developed primarily from what comes down to the earth from above. They said, “High up in the air the eagle develops and matures. One must look up into that region if one wishes to observe the forces that form the organs in the human head.” So, these ancient people drew an eagle in place of the head when they were depicting the human being.

When we observe the heart or lungs, we find that they look completely different from the ear or eye. When we look at the lungs, we cannot turn to the stars, nor can we do so in the case of the heart. The force of the stars works strongly in the heart, but we cannot deduce the heart's configuration solely from the stars. The ancient Egyptians knew this; they knew that these organs could not be as closely linked to the stars as those of the head. They pondered these aspects and asked themselves which animal's constitution emphasized the organs similar to the human heart and lungs. The eagle particularly develops those organs that man has in his head.

The ancients thought that the animal that primarily develops the heart, that is all heart and therefore the most courageous, is the lion. So they named the section of man that contains the heart and lungs “lion.” For the head, they said “eagle,” and for the midsection, “lion.”

They realized that man's intestines were again organs of a different kind. You see, the lion has quite short intestines; their development is curtailed. The minute “intestine” in the human ear is formed most delicately, but man's abdominal intestines are by no means shaped so finely. In observing the intestines, you can compare their formation only with the nature of those animals that are mainly under their influence. The lion is under the influence of the heart, and the eagle is under the sway of the upper forces. When you observe cows after they have been grazing, you can sense how they and their kind are completely governed by their intestines. When they are digesting, they experience great well-being, so the ancients called the section of man that constitutes the digestive system, “bull.” That gives us the three members of human nature: Eagle—head; lion—breast; bull—abdomen.

Of course, the ancients knew when they studied the head that it was not an actual eagle, nor the midsection a lion, nor the lower part a bull. They knew that, and they said that if there were no other influence, we would all go about with something like an eagle for our head above, a lion in our chest region and a bull down below; we would all walk around like that. But something else comes into play that transforms what is above and moulds it into a human head, and likewise with the other parts. This agent is man himself; man combines these three aspects.

It is most remarkable how these ancient people expressed, in such symbols, certain truths that we acknowledge again today. Of course, they could form these images easier than we because, though we modern people may learn many things, the thoughts we normally acquire in school do not touch our hearts too deeply. It was quite different in the case of these ancient people. They were seized by the feeling emanating from thoughts and therefore dreamed of them. These people dreamed true dreams. The whole human being appeared as an image to them, and from his forehead they saw an eagle looking out, from the heart, a lion, and from the abdomen, a bull. They combined this into the beautiful image of the whole human being. One can truly say that long-ago people composed their concept of the human being from the elements of man, bull, eagle and lion.

Figure 2

This outlook continued in the description of the Gospels. One frequently proceeded from this point of view. One said that in the Gospel of Matthew the humanity of Jesus is truly described; hence, its author was called “man.” Then take the case of John, who depicts Jesus as if He hovered or flew over the earth. John actually describes what happens in the region of the head; he is the “eagle.” When one examines the Gospel of Mark, one will find that he presents Jesus as a fighter, the valiant one; hence, the “lion.” Mark writes like one who represents primarily those organs of man situated in the chest. How does Luke write? Luke is presented as a physician, as a man whose main goal is therapeutic, and the healing element can be recognized in his Gospel. Healing is accomplished by bringing remedial forces into the digestive organs. Consequently, Luke describes Jesus as the one who brings a healing element into the lower nature of man. Luke, then, is the “bull.” So one can picture the four Gospels like this: Matthew—man; Mark—lion; Luke—bull; John—eagle.

As for the journal whose cover depicts the four figures that you asked about, its purpose is to present something of value that can be communicated from one human spirit to another. So the true human being should be depicted in it. In rendering this drawing, the eagle is represented above, then the lion and bull, with man encompassing them all. This was done to show that the journal represents a serious concern with man. This is its aim. Not much of the human element is present in the bulk of what newspapers print these days. Here attention was to be drawn to the fact that this newspaper or journal could afford man the opportunity to express himself fully. What he says must not be stupid: the eagle. He must not be a coward: the lion. Nor should he lose himself in fanciful flights of thought but rather stand firmly on earth and be practical: the bull. The final result should be “man,” and it should speak to man. This is what one would like to see happen, that everything passed on from man to man be conducted on a human level.

Well, I did have time after all to get to your question after looking at those subjects I started with. I hope my answer was comprehensible. Were you interested in the description of the ear? One should know these things; one should be familiar with what is contained in the various organs that one carries around within the body.

Question: Is there time to say something about the “lotus flowers” that are sometimes mentioned?

Dr. Steiner: I'll get to that when I describe the individual organs to you.