5 December 1909, Berlin
When we penetrate more deeply into the human soul and consider its nature from the point of view here intended, we are repeatedly reminded of the ancient saying by the Greek sage, Heraclitus 16Cf. Hermann Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker: Herakleitos aus Ephesus, Nr. 45. Also: The art and thought of Heraclitus. “Never will you find the boundaries of the soul, by whatever paths you search; so all-embracing is the soul's being.” We shall be speaking here of the soul and its life, not from the standpoint of contemporary psychology, but from that of Spiritual Science. Spiritual Science stands firmly for the real existence of a spiritual world behind all that is revealed to the senses and through them to the mind. It regards this spiritual world as the source and foundation of external existence and holds that the investigation of it lies within the reach of man.
In lectures given here, the difference between Spiritual Science and the many other standpoints of the present day has often been brought out; and need be mentioned only briefly now. In ordinary life and in ordinary science it is habitually assumed that human knowledge has certain boundaries and that the human mind cannot know anything beyond them. Spiritual Science holds that these boundaries are no more than temporary. They can be extended; faculties hidden in the soul can be called forth, and then, just as a man born blind who gains his sight through an operation emerges from darkness into a world of light and colour, so it is with a person whose hidden faculties awake. He will break through into a spiritual world which is always around us but cannot be directly known until the appropriate spiritual organs for perceiving it have been developed. Spiritual Science asks: How are we to transform ourselves in order to penetrate into this world and to gain a comprehensive experience of it? And Spiritual Science must ever and again point to the great event which enables a man to become a spiritual investigator and so to direct his gaze into the spiritual worlds, even as a physicist sees into the physical world through his microscope. Goethe's words are certainly valid in their bearing on the spiritual world:
Secretly, in the light of day,
Nature's veil may not be lifted.
What'er to your inquiring spirit
She will not freely reveal,
You cannot forcibly extract it,
Not with levers, not with screws.17An edition of the fragments with translation and commentary by Charles H. Kahn. CUP, Cambridge, 1979, No. XXXV.
Of course, the investigator in the sense of Spiritual Science has no such instrumental aids. He has to transform his soul into an instrument; then he experiences that great moment when his soul is awakened and the spiritual world around him reveals itself to his perception. Again, it has often been emphasised here that not everyone needs to be a spiritual investigator in order to appreciate what the awakened man has to impart. When knowledge resulting from spiritual research is communicated, no more is required of the listener than ordinary logic and an unbiased sense of truth. Investigation calls for the opened eye of the clairvoyant; recognition of what is communicated calls for a healthy sense of truth; natural feeling unclouded by prejudice; natural good sense. The point is that teachings and observations concerning the soul should be understood in the light of this spiritual research when in later lectures we come to speak of some of the humanly interesting characteristics of the soul. Just as anyone who wants to study hydrogen or oxygen or any other chemical substance has to acquire certain capabilities, so is observation of the life of the soul possible only for someone whose spiritual eye has been opened. The investigator of the soul must be in a position to make observations in soul-substance, so to speak. We must certainly not think of the soul as something vague and nebulous in which feelings, thoughts and volitions are whirling about. Let us rather remind ourselves of what has been said on this subject in previous lectures.
Man, as he stands before us, is a far more complicated being than he is held to be by exoteric science. For Spiritual Science, the knowledge drawn from external physical observation covers only a part of man — the external physical body which he has in common with all his mineral surroundings. Here, the same laws apply as in the external physical-mineral world, and the same substances function. As a result of observation, however, and not on the strength merely of logical inference, Spiritual Science recognises, beyond the physical body, a second member of man's being: we call it the etheric body or life-body. Only a brief reference can here be made to the etheric body — our task today is quite different — but knowledge of the underlying members of the human organism is the foundation on which we have to build. Man has an etheric body in common with everything that lives. As I said, only the spiritual investigator, who has transformed his soul into an instrument for seeing into the spiritual world, can directly observe the etheric body. But its existence can be acknowledged by a healthy sense of truth, unclouded by contemporary prejudices. Take the physical body: it harbours the same physical and chemical laws that prevail in the external physical-mineral world. When are these physical laws revealed to us? When we have before us a lifeless human being. When a human being has passed through the gate of death, we see what the laws that govern the physical body really are. They are the laws that lead to the decomposition of the physical body; their effect on it is now quite different from their action during life. They are always present in the physical body; the reason why the living body does not obey them is that during life an antagonist of dissolution, the etheric or life-body, is also present and active there.
A third member of the human organism can now be distinguished: the vehicle of pleasure and pain, of urges, desires and passions — of everything we associate with the emotional activities of the soul. Man has this vehicle in common with all beings who possess a certain form of consciousness: with the animals. Astral body, or body of consciousness, is the name we give to this third member of the human organism.
This completes what we may call the bodily nature of man, with its three components: physical body, etheric body or life-body, astral or consciousness-body.
Within these three members we recognise something else; something unique to man, through which he has risen to the summit of creation. It has often been remarked that our language has one little word which guides us directly to man's inner being, whereby he ranks as the crown of earthly creation. These flowers here, the desk, the clock — anyone can name these objects; but there is one word we can never hear spoken by another with reference to ourselves; it must spring from our own inner being. This is the little name ‘I’. If you are to call yourself ‘I’, this ‘I’ must sound forth from within yourself and must designate your inmost being. Hence the great religions and philosophies have always regarded this name as the ‘unspeakable name’ of that which cannot be designated from outside. Indeed, with this designation ‘I’, we stand before that innermost being of man which can be called the divine element in him. We do not thereby make man a god. If we say that a drop of water from the sea is of like substance with the ocean, we are not making the drop into a sea. Similarly, we are not making the ‘I’ a god when we say it is of like substance with the divine being that permeates and pulses through the world.
Through his inner essence, man is subject to a certain phenomenon which Spiritual Science treats as real and serious in the full sense of the words. Its very name fascinates people today, but in its application to man it is given full rank and worth only by Spiritual Science. It is the fact of existence that we call ‘evolution’. How fascinating is the effect of this word on modern man, who can point to lower forms of life which evolve gradually into higher stages; how enchanting when it can be said that man himself has evolved from those lower forms to his present height! Spiritual Science takes evolution seriously in relation, above all, to man. It calls attention to the fact that man, since he is a self-conscious being with an inner activity springing from the centre of his being, should not limit his idea of evolution to a mere observation of the imperfect developing towards the more nearly perfect. As an active being he must himself take hold of his own evolution. He must raise himself to higher stages than the stage he has already reached; he must develop ever-new forces, so that he may approach continually towards perfection. Spiritual Science takes a sentence, first formulated not very long ago, and now recognised as valid in another realm, and applies it on a higher level to human evolution. Most people today are not aware that as late as the beginning of the 17th century the learned as well as the laity believed that the lower animals were born simply out of river-mud. This belief arose from imprecise observation, and it was the great natural scientist, Francesco Redi, 18Francesco Redi, 1626–98. Italian doctor, scientist and poet. Cf. his work Osservazione intorno agfi animafi viventi che si trovano negli animali viventi, 1684. who in the 17th century first championed the statement: Life can arise only from the living. Naturally, this statement is quoted here in the modern sense, with all necessary qualifications. No-one, of course, now believes that any lower animal — say an earth-worm — can grow out of river-mud. For an earth-worm to come into existence, the germ of an earth-worm must first be there. And yet, in the 17th century, Francesco Redi narrowly escaped the fate of Giordano Bruno, 19Giordano Bruno, born 1548, was burnt in 1600 in Rome as a heretic. for his statement had made him a terrible heretic.
This sort of treatment is not usually inflicted on heretics today, at least not in all parts of the world, but there is a modern substitute for it. If anyone upholds something which contradicts the belief of those who, in their arrogance, suppose they have reached the summit of earthly wisdom, he is looked on as a visionary, a dreamer, if nothing worse. That is the contemporary form of inquisition in our parts of the world. Be it so. Nevertheless, what Spiritual Science says concerning phenomena on higher levels will come to be accepted equally with Francesco Redi's statement regarding the lower levels. Even as he asserted that “life can issue only from the living”, so does Spiritual Science state that “soul and spirit can issue only from soul and spirit”. And the law of reincarnation, so often ridiculed today as the outcome of crazy fantasy, is in fact a consequence of this statement. Nowadays, when people see, from the first day of a child's birth, the soul and spirit developing out of the bodily element; when they see increasingly definite facial traits emerging from an undifferentiated physiognomy, movements becoming more and more individual, talents and abilities showing forth — many people still believe that all this springs from the physical existence of father, mother, grandparents; in short, from physical ancestry.
This belief derives from inexact observation, just as did the belief that earth-worms originate from mud. Present-day sense-observation is incapable of tracing back to its soul-spiritual origin the soul and spirit that are manifest before our eyes today. Hence the laws of physical heredity are made to account for phenomena which apparently emerge from the obscure depths of the physical. Spiritual Science looks back to previous lives on earth, when the talents and characteristics that are evident in the present life were foreshadowed. And we regard the present life as the source of new formative influences that will bear fruit in future earthly lives.
Francesco Redi's statement has now become an obvious truth, and the time is not far distant when the corresponding statement by Spiritual Science will be regarded as equally self-evident — with the difference that Francesco Redi's statement is of restricted interest, while the statement by Spiritual Science concerns everyone: “Soul and spirit develop from soul and spirit; man does not live once only but passes through repeated lives on earth; every life is the result of earlier lives and the starting point of numerous subsequent lives.” All confidence in life, all certainty in our work, the solution of all the riddles facing us — it all depends on this knowledge. From this knowledge man will draw ever-increasing strength for his existence, together with confidence and hope when he looks towards the future.
Now what is it that originates in earlier lives, works on from life to life, and maintains itself through all its sojourns on earth? It is the Ego, the ‘I’, designated by the name which a person can bestow on no-one but himself. The human Ego goes from life to life, and in so doing fulfils its evolution.
But how is this evolution brought about? By the Ego working on the three lower members of the human being. We have first the astral body, the vehicle of pleasure and pain, of joy and sorrow, of instinct, desire and passion. Let us look at a person on a low level, whose Ego has done little, as yet, to cleanse his astral body and so is still its slave. In a person who stands higher we find that his Ego has worked upon his astral body in such a way that his lower instincts, desires and passions have been transmuted into moral ideals, ethical judgments. From this contrast we can gain a first impression of how the Ego works upon the astral body.
In every human being it is possible to distinguish the part of the astral body on which the Ego has not yet worked from the part which the Ego has consciously transformed. The transmuted part is called Spirit-Self, or Manas. The Ego may grow stronger and stronger and will then transmute the etheric body or life-body. Life-spirit is the name we give to the transformed etheric body. Finally, when the Ego acquires such strength that it is able to extend its transforming power into the physical body, we call the transmuted part Atma, or the real Spirit-man.
So far we have been speaking of conscious work by the Ego. In the far-distant past, long before the Ego was capable of this conscious work, it worked unconsciously — or rather sub-consciously — on the three bodies or sheaths of man. The astral body was the first to be worked on in this way, and its transmuted part we call the Sentient Soul, the first of man's soul-members. So it was that the Ego, working from the inner being of man, created the Sentient Soul at a time when man lacked the requisite degree of consciousness for transmuting his instincts, desires and so forth. In the etheric body the Ego created unconsciously the Mind-Soul or Intellectual Soul. Again, working unconsciously on the physical body, the Ego created the inner soul-organ that we call the Consciousness Soul. For Spiritual Science, the human soul is not a vague, nebulous something, but an essential part of man's being, consisting of three distinct soul-members — Sentient Soul, Mind-Soul, Consciousness Soul — within which the Ego is actively engaged.
Let us try to form an idea of these three soul-members. The spiritual investigator knows them by direct observation, but we can approach them also by means of rational thinking. For example, suppose we have a rose before us. We perceive it, and as long as we perceive it we are receiving an impression from outside. We call this a perception of the rose. If we turn our eyes away, an inner image of the rose remains with us. We must carefully distinguish these two moments: the moment when we are looking at the rose and the moment when we are able to retain an image of it as an inner possession, although we are no longer perceiving it.
This point must be emphasised because of the incredible notions brought forward in this connection by 19th century philosophy. We need think only of Schopenhauer, 20Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788–1860. Cf. his work The World as Will and Representation, Book 1, par. 1. whose philosophy begins with the words: The world is my idea. Hence we must be clear as to the difference between percepts and concepts, or mental images. Every sane man knows the difference between the concept of white-hot steel, which cannot burn him, and white-hot steel itself, which can. Perceptions bring us into communication with the external world; concepts are a possession of the soul. The boundary between inner experience and the outer world can be precisely drawn. Directly we begin to experience something inwardly, we owe it to the Sentient Soul — as distinct from the sentient body, which brings us our percepts and enables us to perceive, for example, the rose and its colour. Thus our concepts are formed in the Sentient Soul, and the Sentient Soul is the bearer also of our sympathies and antipathies, of the feelings that things arouse in us. When we call the rose beautiful, this inward experience is a property of the Sentient Soul.
Anyone who is unwilling to distinguish percepts from concepts should remember the white-hot steel that burns and the concept of it, which does not. Once, when I had said this, someone objected that a man might be able to suggest to himself the thought of lemonade so vividly that he would experience its taste on his tongue. I replied: Certainly this might be possible, but whether the imaginary lemonade would quench his thirst is another question. The boundary between external reality and inner experience can indeed always be determined. Directly inner experience begins, the Sentient Soul, as distinct from the sentient body, comes into play.
A higher principle is brought into being by the work of the Ego on the etheric body: we call it the Mind-Soul, or Intellectual Soul. We shall have more to say about it in the lecture on the Mission of Truth; today we are concerned especially with the Sentient Soul. Through the Intellectual Soul man is enabled to do more than carry about with him the experiences aroused in him by his perceptions of the outer world. He takes these experiences a stage further. Instead of merely keeping his perceptions alive as images in the Sentient Soul, he reflects on them and devotes himself to them; they form themselves into thoughts and judgments, into the whole content of his mind. This continued cultivation of impressions received from the outer world is the work of what we call the Intellectual Soul or Mind-soul.
A third principle is brought into being when the Ego has created in the physical body the organs whereby it is enabled to go out from itself and to connect its judgments, ideas and feelings with the external world. This principle we call the Consciousness Soul, because the Ego is then able to transform its inner experiences into conscious knowledge of the outer world. When we give form to the feelings we experience, so that they enlighten us concerning the outer world, our thoughts, judgments and feelings become knowledge of the outer world. Through the Consciousness Soul we explore the secrets of the outer world as human beings endowed with knowledge and cognition.
So does the Ego work continually in the Sentient Soul, in the Intellectual or Mind-Soul, and in the Consciousness Soul, releasing the forces inwardly bound up there and enabling man to advance in his evolution by enriching his capacities. The Ego is the actor, the active being through whose agency man himself takes control of his evolution and progresses from life to life, remedying the defects of former lives and widening the faculties of his soul. Such is human evolution from life to life; it consists first of all in the Ego's work on the soul in its threefold aspect.
We must, however, recognise clearly that in its work the Ego has the character of a “two-edged sword”. Yes, this human Ego is, on the one hand, the element in man's being through which alone he can be truly man. If we lacked this central point, we should be merged passively with the outer world. Our concepts and ideas have to be taken hold of in this centre; more and more of them must be experienced; and our inner life must be increasingly enriched by impressions from the outer world. Man is truly man to the degree in which his Ego becomes richer and more comprehensive. Hence the Ego must seek to enrich itself in the course of succeeding lives; it must become a centre whereby man is not simply part of the outer world but acts as a stimulating force upon it. The richer the fund of his impulses, the more he has absorbed and the more he radiates from the centre of his individual self, the nearer he approaches to being truly man.
That is one aspect of the Ego; and we are in duty bound to endeavour to make the Ego as rich and as many-sided as we can. But the reverse side of this progress is manifest in what we call selfishness or egoism. If these words were taken as catchwords and it were said that human beings must become selfless, that of course would be bad, as any use of catchwords always is. It is indeed man's task to enrich himself inwardly, but this does not imply a selfish hardening of the Ego and a shutting off of itself with its riches from the world. In that event a man would indeed become richer and richer, but he would lose his connection with the world. His enrichment would signify that the world had no more to give him, nor he the world. In the course of time he would perish, for while striving to enrich his Ego he would keep it all for himself and would become isolated from the world. This caricature of development would impoverish a man's Ego to an increasing extent, for selfishness lays a man inwardly waste. So is it that the Ego, as it works in the three members of the soul, acts as a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it must work to become always richer, a powerful centre from which much can stream forth; but on the other hand it must bring everything it absorbs back into harmony with the outer world. To the same degree that it develops its own resources, it must go out from itself and relate itself to the whole of existence. It must become simultaneously an independent being and a selfless one. Only when the Ego works in these two apparently contradictory directions — when on one side it enriches itself increasingly and on the other side becomes selfless — can human evolution go forward so as to be satisfying for man and health-giving for the whole of existence. The Ego has to work on each of three soul-members in such a way that both sides of human development are kept in balance.
Now the work of the Ego in the soul leads to its own gradual awakening. Development occurs in all forms of life, and we find that the three members of the human soul are today at very different stages of evolution. The Sentient Soul, the bearer of our emotions and impulses and of all the feelings that are aroused by direct stimuli from the outer world, is the most strongly developed of the three. But at certain lower stages of evolution the content of the Sentient Soul is experienced in a dull, dim way, for the Ego is not yet fully awake. When a man works inwardly on himself and his soul-life progresses, the Ego becomes more and more clearly conscious of itself. But as far as the Sentient Soul is awake, the Ego is hardly more than a brooding presence within it. The Ego gains in clarity when man advances to a richer life in the Intellectual Soul, and achieves full clarity in the Consciousness Soul. Man then comes to be aware of himself as an individual who stands apart from his environment and is active in gaining objective knowledge of it. This is possible only when the Ego is awake in the Consciousness Soul.
Thus we have the Ego only dimly awake in the Sentient Soul. It is swept along by waves of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, and can scarcely be perceived as an entity. In the Intellectual Soul, when clearly defined ideas and judgments are developed, the Ego first gains clarity, and achieves full clarity in the Consciousness Soul.
Hence we can say: Man has a duty to educate himself through his Ego and so to further his own inner progress. But at the time of its awakening the Ego is still given over to the waves of emotion that surge through the Sentient Soul. Is there anything in the Sentient Soul which can contribute to the education of the Ego at a time when the Ego is still incapable of educating itself?
We shall see how in the Intellectual Soul there is something which enables the Ego to take its own education in hand. In the Sentient Soul this is not yet possible; the Ego must be guided by something which arises independently within the Sentient Soul. We will single out this one element in the Sentient Soul and consider its two-sided mission for educating the Ego, This element is one to which the strongest objection may perhaps be taken — the emotion we call anger. Anger arises in the Sentient Soul when the Ego is still dormant there. Or can it be said that we stand in a self-conscious relation to anyone if their behaviour causes us to flare up in anger?
Let us picture the difference between two persons: two teachers, let us say. One of them has achieved the clarity which makes for enlightened inner judgments. He sees what his pupil is doing wrong but is not perturbed by it, because his Intellectual Soul is mature. With his Consciousness Soul, also, he is calmly aware of the child's error, and if necessary he can prescribe an appropriate penalty, not impelled by any emotional reaction but in accordance with ethical and pedagogical judgment. It will be otherwise with a teacher whose Ego has not reached the stage that would enable him to remain calm and discerning. Not knowing what to do, he flares up in anger at the child's misdemeanour.
Is such anger always inappropriate to the event that calls it forth? No, not always. And this is something we must keep in mind. Before we are capable of judging an event in the light of the Intellectual Soul or the Consciousness Soul, the wisdom of evolution has provided for us to be overcome by emotion because of that event. Something in our Sentient Soul is activated by an event in the outer world. We are not yet capable of making the right response as an act of judgment, but we can react from the emotional centre of the Sentient Soul. Of all things that the Sentient Soul experiences, let us therefore consider anger.
It points to what will come about in the future. To begin with, anger expresses a judgment of some event in the outer world; then, having learnt unconsciously through anger to react to something wrong, we advance gradually to enlightened judgments in our higher souls. So in certain respects anger is an educator. It arises in us as an inner experience before we are mature enough to form an enlightened judgment of right and wrong. This is how we should look on the anger which can flare up in a young man, before he is capable of a considered judgment, at the sight of injustice or folly which violates his ideals; and then we can properly speak of a righteous anger. No-one does better at acquiring an inner capacity for sound judgment than a man who has started from a state of soul in which he could be moved to righteous anger by anything ignoble, immoral or crazy. That is how anger has the mission of raising the Ego to higher levels. On the other hand, since man is to become a free being, everything human can degenerate. Anger can degenerate into rage and serve to gratify the worst kind of egoism. This must be so, if man is to advance towards freedom. But we must not fail to realise that the very thing which can lapse into evil may, when it manifests in its true significance, have the mission of furthering the progress of man. It is because man can change good into evil, that good qualities, when they are developed in the right way, can become a possession of the Ego. So is anger to be understood as the harbinger of that which can raise man to calm self-possession.
But although anger is on the one hand an educator of the Ego, it also serves strangely enough, to engender selflessness. What is the Ego's response when anger overcomes it at the sight of injustice or folly? Something within us speaks out against the spectacle confronting us. Our anger illustrates the fact that we are up against something in the outer world. The Ego then makes its presence felt and seeks to safeguard itself against this outer event. The whole content of the Ego is involved. If the sight of injustice or folly were not to kindle a noble anger in us, the events in the outer world would carry us along with them as an easy-going spectator; we would not feel the sting of the Ego and we would have no concern for its development. Anger enriches the Ego and summons it to confront the outer world, yet at the same time it induces selflessness. For if anger is such that it can be called noble and does not lapse into blind rage, its effect is to damp down Ego-feeling and to produce something like powerlessness in the soul. If the soul is suffused with anger, its own activity becomes increasingly suppressed.
This experience of anger is wonderfully well brought out in the vernacular use of sich giften, to poison oneself, as a phrase meaning “to get angry”. This is an example of how popular imagination arrives at a truth which may often elude the learned.
Anger which eats into the soul is a poison; it damps down the Ego's self-awareness and so promotes selflessness. Thus we see how anger serves to teach both independence and selflessness; that is its dual mission as an educator of humanity, before the Ego is ripe to undertake its own education. If we were not enabled by anger to take an independent stand, in cases where the outer world offends our inner feeling, we would not be selfless, but dependent and Ego-less in the worst sense.
For the spiritual scientist, anger is also the harbinger of something quite different. Life shows us that a person who is unable to flare up with anger at injustice or folly will never develop true kindness and love. Equally, a person who educates himself through noble anger will have a heart abounding in love, and through love he will do good. Love and kindness are the obverse of noble anger. Anger that is overcome and purified will be transformed into the love that is its counterpart. A loving hand is seldom one that has never been clenched in response to injustice or folly. Anger and love are complementary.
A superficial Theosophy might say: Yes, a man must overcome his passions; he must cleanse and purify them. But overcoming something does not mean shirking or shunning it. It is a strange sort of sacrifice that is made by someone who proposes to cast off his passionate self by evading it. We cannot sacrifice something unless we have first possessed it. Anger can be overcome only by someone who has experienced it first within himself. Instead of trying to evade such emotions, we must transmute them in ourselves. By transmuting anger, we rise from the Sentient Soul, where noble anger can flame out, to the Intellectual Soul and the Consciousness Soul, where love and the power to give blessing are born.
Transmuted anger is love in action. That is what we learn from reality. Anger in moderation has the mission of leading human beings to love; we can call it the teacher of love. And not in vain do we call the undefined power that flows from the wisdom of the world and shows itself in the righting of wrongs the “wrath of God”, in contrast to God's love. But we know that these two things belong together; without the other, neither can exist. In life they require and determine each other.
Now let us see how in art and poetry, when they are great, the primal wisdom of the world is revealed.
When we come to speak of the mission of truth, we shall see how Goethe's thoughts on this subject are clearly expressed in his Pandora, one of his finest poems, though small in scale. And in a powerful poem of universal significance, the Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, we are brought to see, though perhaps less clearly, the role of anger as a phenomenon in world history.
Probably you know the legend on which Aeschylus based his drama. Prometheus is a descendant of the ancient race of Titans, who had succeeded the first generation of gods in the evolution of the earth and of humanity. Ouranus and Gaia belong to the first generation of gods. Ouranus is succeeded by Kronos (Saturn). Then the Titans are overthrown by the third generation of gods, led by Zeus. Prometheus, though a descendant of the Titans, was on the side of Zeus in the battle against the Titans and so could be called a friend of Zeus, but he was only half a friend. When Zeus took over the rulership of the earth — so the legend continues — humanity had advanced far enough to enter on a new phase, while the old faculties possessed by men in ancient times were dying out. Zeus wanted to exterminate mankind and install a new race on earth, but Prometheus resolved to give men the means of further progress. He brought them speech and writing, knowledge of the outer world, and, finally, fire, in order that by learning to master these tools humanity might raise itself from the low level to which it had sunk.
If we look more deeply into the story, we find that everything bestowed by Prometheus on mankind is connected with the human Ego, while Zeus is portrayed as a divine power which inspires and ensouls men in whom the Ego has not yet come to full expression. If we look back over the evolution of the earth, we find in the far past a humanity in which the Ego was no more than an obscurely brooding presence. It had to acquire certain definite faculties with which to educate itself. The gifts that Zeus could bestow were not adapted to furthering the progress of mankind. In respect of the astral body, and of everything in man apart from his Ego, Zeus is the giver. Because Zeus was not capable of promoting the development of the Ego, he resolved to wipe out mankind. All the gifts brought by Prometheus, on the other hand, enabled the Ego to educate itself. Such is the deeper meaning of the legend.
Prometheus, accordingly, is the one who enables the Ego to set to work on enriching and enlarging itself; and that is exactly how the gifts bestowed by Prometheus were understood in ancient Greece.
Now we have seen that if the Ego concentrates on this single aim, it finally impoverishes itself, for it will be shutting itself off from the outer world. Enriching itself is one side only of the Ego's task. It has to go out and bring its inner wealth into harmony with the world around it, if it is not to be impoverished in the long run. Prometheus could bestow on men only the gifts whereby the Ego could enrich itself. Thus, inevitably, he challenged the powers which act from out of the entire cosmos to subdue the Ego in the right way, so that it may become self less and thus develop its other aspect. The independence of the Ego, achieved under the sting of anger on the one hand, and on the other the damping down of the Ego when a man consumes his anger, as it were, and his Ego is deadened — this whole process is presented in the historic pictures of the conflict between Prometheus and Zeus.
Prometheus endows the Ego with faculties which enable it to become richer and richer. What Zeus has to do is to produce the same effect that anger has in the individual. Thus the wrath of Zeus falls on Prometheus and extinguishes the power of the Ego in him. The legend tells us how Prometheus is punished by Zeus for the untimely stimulus he had given to the advancement of the human Ego. He is chained to a rock.
The suffering thus endured by the human Ego and its inner rebellion are magnificently expressed by Aeschylus in this poetic drama.
So we see the representative of the human Ego subdued by the wrath of Zeus. Just as the individual human Ego is checked and driven back on itself when it has to swallow its anger, so is Prometheus chained by the wrath of Zeus, meaning that his activity is reduced to its proper level. When a flood of anger sweeps through the soul of an individual, his Ego, striving for self-expression, finds itself enchained; so was the Promethean Ego chained to a rock.
That is the peculiar merit of this legend: it presents in powerful pictures far-reaching truths which are valid both for individuals and for humanity at large. People could see in these pictures what had to be experienced in the individual soul. Thus in Prometheus chained to the Caucasian rock we can see a representative of the human Ego at a time when the Ego, striving to advance from its brooding somnolence in the Sentient Soul, is restrained by its fetters from indulging in wild extravagance.
We are then told how Prometheus knows that the wrath of Zeus will be silenced when he is overthrown by the son of a mortal. He will be succeeded in his rulership by someone born of mortal man. The Ego is released by the mission of anger on a lower plane, and the immortal Ego, the immortal human soul, will be born from mortal man on a higher plane. Prometheus looks forward to the time when Zeus will be succeeded by Christ Jesus, and the individual Ego will itself be transformed into the loving Ego when the noble anger that fettered it is transformed into love. We behold the birth from the Ego enchained by anger of that other Ego, whose action in the outer world will be that of love and blessing. So, too, we behold the birth of a God of love who tends and cherishes the Ego; the very Ego that in earlier times was fettered by the anger of Zeus, so that it should not transgress its proper bounds.
Hence we see in the continuation of this legend an external picture of human evolution. We must ourselves take hold of this myth in such a way that it gives us a living picture, universally relevant, of how the individual experiences the transformation of the Ego, educated by the mission of anger, into the liberated Ego imbued with love. Then we understand what the legend does and what Aeschylus made of his material. We feel the soul's life-blood pulsing through us; we feel it in the continuation of the legend and in the dramatic form given to it by Aeschylus. So we find in this Greek drama something like a practical application of processes we can experience in our own souls. This is true of all great poems and other works of art: they spring from typical great experiences of the human soul.
We have seen today how the Ego is educated through the purification of a passion. In the next lecture we shall see how the Ego becomes ripe to educate itself in the Intellectual Soul by learning to grasp the mission of truth on a higher plane. We have seen also how in our considerations today the saying of Heraclitus is borne out: “You will never find the boundaries of the soul, by whatever paths you search for them; so wide and deep is the being of the soul.”
Yes, it is true that the soul's being is so far-reaching that we cannot directly sound its depths. But Spiritual Science, with the opened eye of the seer, leads into the substance of the soul, and we can progress further and further into fathoming the mysterious being that the human soul is when we contemplate it through the eyes of the spiritual scientist. On the one hand we can truly say: The soul has unfathomable depths, but if we take this saying in full earnest we can add: The boundaries of the soul are indeed so wide that we have to search for them by all possible paths, but we can hope that by extending these boundaries ourselves, we shall progress further and further in our knowledge of the soul.
This ray of hope will illumine our search for knowledge if we accept the true words of Heraclitus not with resignation but with confidence: The boundaries of the soul are so wide that you may search along every path and not reach them, so comprehensive is the being of the soul.
Let us try to grasp this comprehensive being; it will lead us on further and further towards a solution of the riddles of existence.