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Brunetto Latini

A Lecture given
by Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, January 30th, 1915
GA 161

This is the 3rd of 13 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Dornach, and dates from the Winter and Spring of 1915. The title of this series of lectures is: Ways of Spiritual Cognition and the Rejuvenation of the Artistic Lifestyle. They were published in German as: Wege der Geistigen Erkenntnis und der Erneurung Kuenstlerischer Weltanschauung. This lecture was translated from a shorthand report, unrevised by the lecturer, by George Adams. It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From GA# 161.

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Brunetto Latini


Lecture given in Dornach, 30 January 1915. Translated by George Adams from a shorthand report unrevised by the lecturer. Published by permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

The manifold studies which we have recently pursued have shown that all true Art eventually issues from the secrets of Initiation. We have frequently spoken of this fact, and we have indicated many examples. Great epochs of Art, when artistic deeds raying far and wide over humanity have taken place, derive their sources again and again from Initiation. This shows how Art brings spiritual life into the physical. Initiation opens out to man the possibility to advance from the physical plane into the spiritual worlds. That which can then be experienced, more or less consciously in spiritual worlds, true Art carries down into the physical forms wherein it finds expression.

But the inner connection of the facts to which we are here referring, cannot be fully penetrated unless we also bear in mind that the last few centuries of evolution have in reality eclipsed — made imperceptible to the vast majority of men — things that were not by any means a secret to the same extent, five, six or seven centuries ago, as they are today for those who call themselves civilised mankind.

To point to one significant example, we may choose a work of art which does indeed ray out over the ages — the Divine Comedy of Dante.

No one who lets the Divine Comedy work upon his soul will fail to perceive the spiritual note that pervades what Dante has here expressed. Nowadays, if it be a question of studying how Dante arrived at the magnificent pictures of his poem, people will readily be inclined to use the word fancy or imagination. Dante, they say, was filled with artistic imagination. They are content to leave it at that. Needless to say, I shall not deny that artistic imagination was at work in Dante. But even in the light of outer history it would be wrong to suppose that he created the whole of his magnificent poem, as it were out of the void, out of mere fancy.

Dante had a friend and teacher Brunetto Latini, who, as I think you will recognise from what we shall presently say, may be described as an Initiate in the true sense of the word. It is this connection between Dante and a man who was initiated according to the conditions of his time, which we, in the light of our ideas, must fundamentally point out.

One thing at any rate was known to that time. They knew that man, to reach the secrets of existence, must take the path that leads through his own re-birth. This above all was fully and absolutely living in that time: the recognition that the path to knowledge of the world must necessarily lead through self-knowledge. Self-knowledge, however, must not be thought of in the superficial sense in which people often speak of it today. Who does not think himself able to know about himself? By way of introduction, let me bring home to you with an example, how difficult self-knowledge is even in the most elementary matters. How little a man is inclined to set out for what can truly be called self-knowledge!

I have here a book by a famous philosopher of today — Dr. Ernst Mach, who has written a number of works highly characteristic of the present time. At the very beginning of his book on the Analysis of Sensations, dealing with the connections of the physical and the psychical, the following remark occurs: ‘As a young man,’ he writes, ‘I was once going along the street when I saw a face which was highly distasteful to me. How astonished I was when I observed that it was my own face which I had seen by the chance combination of two mirrors in a shop-window!’

Thus, as he went along the street, his karma led him past a shop where two mirrors were so inclined that he could see himself. He saw the face, highly distasteful to him, and then discovered that it was his own. We see that even with respect to this most outer aspect, it is not quite easy for us to acquire the most elementary self-knowledge. But Mach makes another remark as well. He becomes a University professor; so he has some idea of the appearance of a scholar or a pedant.

‘Not long ago,’ he writes, ‘tired after a long railway journey, I got into an omnibus. Simultaneously another man entered from the opposite side. What a wretched-looking pedant, I said to myself, and presently discovered that I had only seen myself, for a looking-glass was hanging opposite the entrance.’ ‘Thus,’ he continues by way of explanation, ‘the class-type was far more familiar to me than my own special type.’ He had formed an idea in his mind of the typical pedant. He knew that the man, getting in opposite, looked rather like an out-of-work schoolmaster. Not until afterwards did he discover that it was himself. A pretty example of the often very deficient self-knowledge of men, even as regards their outer form. As to the knowledge of the soul, it is a great deal more difficult. Nevertheless, personal and individual self-knowledge is none other than the first elementary beginning of the path which leads through man into the universal secrets of existence.

When we regard the world externally, here in the physical world we have before us only that which belongs to the outermost nature of man — to the system of his physical body. Look out over the widespread environment which we can see on the physical horizon of this world; there we have everything that is related to our own outer body — the physical human body. We know that this is only a portion of our total being. Behind it is the etheric body; but man in the first place is unaware of all that in his environment which resembles his etheric body. Still less does he surmise that which resembles his astral body and his Ego.

Man, to begin with, on the Earth, is for himself the only example — the only document he has brought over from the spiritual world. Therefore he must pass through this, the document of his own being. He must go through himself. This was always known to those who experienced anything of Initiation. Thus it was known to Brunetto Latini, teacher and friend of Dante. Moreover, it is characteristic how Brunetto Latini's Initiation, as we may call it, was eventually brought about. It happened by a particular event. That is what frequently occurs. Fundamentally speaking, every one who sets his foot on the path of spiritual science is waiting for the portal of the spiritual world to be opened to him sooner or later, as indeed it will be. It may be — indeed it often is so — that the entry to the spiritual world takes place by degrees. Then we grow slowly into the spiritual world. Nevertheless, very, very frequently it happens that the world is opened to us as by a kind of shock which breaks in upon our life — by a sudden and unexpected event.

Thus, as Brunetto Latini himself relates, he had been sent as ambassador to the ruler of Castile. On his way back he learned that his party, the Guelphs, had been expelled from Florence. Florence had utterly changed during his absence. This message brought him into confusion. Such confusion of our state of soul which is suited to the outer physical world, often goes hand-in-hand with what becomes the starting-point for an entry into the spiritual world.

Brunetto Latini goes on to relate how as a result of his confusion, instead of riding home, he rode into a neighbouring forest, quite unaware of what he was doing (or so at any rate he afterwards believed when he looked back on it). Then, when he came to himself, he had a strange and unwanted impression. He saw no longer the ordinary world of the physical plane around him, but something that looked like an immense mountain. He did not come to himself again in that consciousness which normally confronts the physical world. He came to consciousness over against quite another world than that which was physically there around him. There was an immense mountain; but these things were such that they came and went — came into being and passed away again. There at the side of the mountain stood a woman, according to whose commands that which arose, arose, and that which passed away, passed away again.

Brunetto Latini now beheld the laws and principles of Nature's working in the forms of Imagination. All Nature's laws — the living and creative essence of Nature herself — came before him in an Imagination, in the figure of a woman who gave her orders for all these things to arise and pass away again.

We must imagine ourselves living in the time of the thirteenth, fourteenth century, when the natural scientific way of thought was slowly entering. In later times, men spoke abstractly of the Laws of Nature; they would on no account imagine that there was any reality of being behind the totality of Nature's laws. Brunetto Latini, however, saw it in the form of Imagination, as a woman, out of whose spirit proceeded all that was subsequently felt as abstract Laws of Nature, like a Word that held sway throughout this Nature, which stood before him in living Imagination.

This woman, he relates, then bade him deepen the forces of his soul; so would he enter more and more deeply into himself. Here it is interesting. Raying out over him her forces, as it were, she gives him the possibility to enter more and more deeply into himself. He dives down into his own being, and the sequence he now indicates is indeed, under certain conditions, the true sequence of Initiation.

The first thing, he tells us, which he now learned to know were the forces of the soul. Diving down into himself, man does indeed learn to know what otherwise remains unconscious in him — the forces of his soul. This recognition of his own soul-forces is a thing from which man will often flee, when he draws near to it. For when we perceive the forces of the soul, it often seems to us that we say to ourselves: ‘What an unsympathetic soul that is!’ We do not like this feeling, any more than the worthy professor did when he saw his own form, which was distasteful to him. We do not want to see. For with the chorus of the soul's forces we often see many a thing we have within us, which we by no means attribute to ourselves in ordinary life. We see it as something that is at work in the totality of our own being — enhancing our being, or making it smaller; making us of greater or lesser value for the Universe.

Thus, to begin with, we rise into the soul-forces. At the next stage, we experience the four temperaments. There it becomes clear to us how we are woven together, of the choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic, and how this weaving together lies deeper down than the soul-forces.

Then, when we have gone through the temperaments, we come to what may be called the five senses — in the occult sense. For in the way man ordinarily speaks of the five senses, he only knows them from outside. You cannot learn to know the senses inwardly till you have descended through the temperaments into the deeper regions of your own self. Then you behold the eyes, the ears, the other senses from within. You experience your own eyes, for instance, or your ears — filling them from within. You must imagine it thus. Just as you came into this hall through this door, and perceived the objects and persons that were already here, so when you undergo this descent into yourself you come into the region of your eyes or your ears. There you perceive how the forces are working from within outward, to bring about your seeing and your hearing. You perceive an altogether complicated world, of which a man who only knows the outer physical plane has no idea at all.

Some, no doubt, will say: ‘Maybe, but this world of the eyes and the ears will not impress me greatly. The world of the physical plane which I have around me here is great, and the world of the eyes and ears is very small. I should be gazing into a minute world.’

That, however, is maya. What you envisage when you are within your ears or within your eyes is far greater, fuller in content, than the outer physical world. You have a far more abundant world around you there.

Then and then only, when you have gone through this region, you come into the realm of the four elements. We have already spoken of all the properties of the several elements; but it is only at this stage that you feel really within them — within the earthy, the watery, the airy, and the element of warmth.

Man ordinarily knows his senses from without. Here now he learns to know them from within. Consciously entering into the eye from within, he then breaks through the eye, and breaking through the eye comes into the four elements. But he can likewise break through the ear, or the sense of taste.

By these four elements he is perpetually surrounded, only he does not know what they are inwardly. He cannot see it with outer organs of sense. He must first get out of the sense-organs — albeit, get out of them from within. He must leave them again, as though by a gateway. He must get out, through his eye or his ear. So he slips through — through the eye, through the ear — and comes into the region of the elements. And in the region of the elements he learns to know all the spiritual beings who are living there — the manifold Nature-spirits, and Beings who belong to the Hierarchies nearest to man.

Then, going on and on, he comes into the region of the seven Planets. He is already farther outside, and learns to know what is creatively connected with man, in the great Universe. And then at last he has to cross Oceanos — the great Ocean, as it has always been called.

The Soul-forces
the four Temperaments
the five Senses
the four Elements
the seven Planets
the Ocean.

What does this passing through the ocean signify? Man can approach the planets while with the last portion of his soul's being he still remains within the physical. But when he thus goes inward through the gates of the senses, eventually he must take with him the very last relics of his soul, so that he may consciously enter the condition in which he is normally only in sleep. Ordinarily, when he is with the planets, he still remains in the body with a portion, as it were, with a fragment of his soul. But when he draws even this last out of the body, it seems to him as though he were floating through the universal ocean of spiritual being.

All this, Brunetto Latini undergoes. He tells how he undertook one after another of these steps, at the behest of the woman who appeared to him in his Imaginative cognition. Then she instructed him that he must go still farther. This, however, was at a particular moment, which again is highly characteristic.

Think of the situation. Perplexed, at a loss on account of what has happened in his paternal city, he rides into a forest. He comes to himself again, but this awakening leads him not into the physical world. It leads him through all the regions which we have here described. Then, however, the moment arises when, not by accident, not by mere chance, but by the definite summons of this woman he sees himself in the forest once more. Having undergone all these things, having passed through the soul-forces and the temperaments and through the senses outward into the elemental world, where he already perceived abundant spiritual life; having perceived the seven planets, and through them the higher Hierarchies, circle on circle; having felt himself at length not on the solid ground but swimming as it were, swimming through the great ocean; now he awakens again in the physical world.

That is the very significant thing we recognise in all these Initiations. The disciple passes through a complete cycle and returns again into the physical world.

Having lived through all this, Brunetto Latini feels himself once more in his forest. Now he is really surrounded by all that is physically about him. And anon the woman is there again at his side, albeit he now has the physical forest around him. She tells him to ride on towards the right, and she gives him instruction, how he shall come to Philosophy and to the four Virtues of man, and to the knowledge of the God of Love.

Mark what a significant truth lies behind these things! A man of today will be quick enough with his reply: Philosophy — with that I am familiar! I have studied the whole history of philosophy. I know what philosophy is, and what it teaches. As to the four Virtues — Plato already named them: Wisdom, Courage, Balance or Moderation, and Justice. And the God of Love, who does not know of Him! You need only read the four Gospels. The man of today is familiar with all these things. But it is precisely the characteristic of spiritual knowledge: we begin to see that we do not really know all these things. We must first go through the understanding of the spiritual world and then return to what the physical provides. Then only do we understand the physical world.

If Brunetto Latini were to arise again today and a very learned man of our time were to approach him — a learned professor of philosophy, a famous man, let us assume — and were to say: ‘I am familiar with the whole range of philosophy,’ Brunetto Latini would answer: ‘Yes, yes, no doubt you are, but in reality you know nothing of it. You must first learn to know the aspect of the super-sensible worlds, you must know what things are like in the super-sensible. Then you can come back again to philosophy, and it will be something quite new to you. Then only will you begin to divine what you now imagine that you know quite well.’

The same thing may be put in another way. After all, who would not think it absurd! ... A famous thinker of our time writes a philosophic book. Surely then he must understand it. How should he not understand what he himself has written? ... And yet, it is literally true: he may have written the book and may yet understand nothing of what he has written. It is not at all difficult nowadays to write a book. Books almost write themselves. One pieces together the things one has learned to repeat. One need not penetrate into the deeper meaning to do so.

That is the greatness that meets us in Brunetto Latini. What others learn to know by external study — he only will claim to know it after having penetrated through the spiritual world. Then he meets it again. He meets again what others imagine that they know of the physical world — the knowledge of Philosophy, of the four Virtues, and of the God of Love.

I should like my meaning at this point to be quite fully understood. No doubt a certain kind of knowledge is also attainable without spiritual cognition. But these things appear in a new light when one has first made oneself familiar with that which lies behind the physical. So do we see it in this example of Brunetto Latini, whom I have only cited to show how outer artistic creation is concerned with Initiation. We see it in this example, in the relation of Brunetto Latini to Dante, revealing how Dante's great work of art is connected with Initiation.

Dante could never have reached his peculiar relation to the spiritual world if he had not had Brunetto Latini for his friend and teacher, to educate him into the spiritual world.

Every age has its own way of seeking the spiritual world. Already in the centuries preceding Dante's age, we find again and again with the most varied Initiates the woman of whom Brunetto Latini speaks — the guidance of man into the spiritual world by this woman. This line of evolution reaches back to the seventh and eighth centuries. Some of them actually refer to her as Natura — the living, creative Being of Nature. Initiates of old describe her living and creative Nature — as the counsellor of nous, of the Intelligence that works creatively throughout the world, Intelligence or Reason that permeates the world. Moreover, they call her a kinswoman of Urania. Out in the Cosmos, nous is counselled by Urania; here in this earthly realm, by Natura.

When we see clearly through this, we are led into still more ancient times, when the Initiates tried in another way to come near to certain secrets of existence. We find the same woman again in Proserpine — Persephone who weaves the garment for her mother Demeter. Thus do the Imaginations change in the course of centuries, showing, however, that the secrets of Initiation are always working in the progressive stream of human evolution.

To come thoroughly near to these things, it is also necessary for us to permeate ourselves with the living feeling, that in all that happens in the world, not only those forces and beings are at work which outer senses and intellect can perceive, but that the spiritual is working everywhere. We must take this into our reckoning. What man today describes — and for some time past has described as spiritual or intellectual development, is the development of forces that are bound to the physical body. This condition has developed gradually. We know that there was in ancient times the normal condition of clairvoyance. This gradually ebbed away and died down, and what we call spiritual today is altogether bound to the physical man. It is true that with the Mystery of Golgotha something great and mighty entered the evolution of humanity — so great that it will only be able to be understood in its fullness in the course of time. What man had hitherto was a kind of tradition. With the last relics of atavistic clairvoyant power, the writers of the Gospels wrote down what had happened. That, as I say, was a last exertion of the old powers. Now we are once more beginning, with a newly awakened, newly discovered power of clairvoyance, to understand the first truths of the Mystery of Golgotha. We must realise that coming ages will penetrate more and more deeply into these secrets of the Mystery of Golgotha. We are only at the beginning, but we are indeed beginning.

The impulse, however, of the Mystery of Golgotha has been working ever since the moment when the life of Christ passed through the Earth. Had the Christ-Impulse only been able to work through that which men were capable of understanding, they would only have had very little of Christ in the past centuries.

I have often given two examples — and I might give many more — to show how the Christ works in the human soul, in that which passes through mankind's historic evolution, but of which men know nothing. Truly, what the Emperor Constantine knew of the Christ-Impulse when he himself, being converted, made Christianity the State religion, was very little. But the whole arrangement which came about by his victory — the victory of Constantine, son of Constantius Chlorus, over Maxentius — was such that we see the Mystery of Golgotha at work on every hand. The Sibylline Books were consulted by Maxentius. I mentioned it in the Leipzig Lecture-Cycle a year ago. They told him how he should act, over against the advancing army of Constantine. Moreover, he had a dream. In obedience to his dream and to the Sibylline Books, he, with an army many times stronger, went forth from the city to meet Constantine — a grave error, according to all the rules of war.

Constantine also dreamed. He dreamed that he would be victorious if he let the symbol of the Cross of Christ be carried before his army, and he did so.

Not through all human wisdom of which one could partake at that time, but by dreams, all these things were decided. Something was working through these dreams which could not be understood or received into consciousness. None the less, it was the living impulse of Christ. Truly, these men could not understand what was working in them — livingly, actively carrying forward the evolution of the world, determining for that time the face of the European Continent.

Again we find an epoch when we observe men — not only with reason and intellect but with their faculty of feeling — wrangling with one another about all manner of dogmatic questions. These dogmas seem very strange to the ‘enlightened’ people of today. The question, for instance, whether it is right to receive the Holy Communion in one or in two forms, and the like ... Yet we know what an important part these conflicts played, for they subsequently worked themselves out in the Hussite movement, in Wycliffe and in others. There were all these conflicts, showing how little the intellect of man could reach to what the Christ-Impulse was in its reality. Where, then, did the Christ-Impulse really appear, in an important historic moment? This, too, I have often indicated. In a peculiar kind of vision, the Christ-Impulse manifested itself in a shepherd maid — the Maid of Orleans. We must know what this signifies. It represents a kind of helping hand, held out by the super-sensible, the spiritual forces that worked into the feeling of man at a time when they could not yet work into human concepts. In Joan of Arc it is particularly interesting to see how this happened. Her inner being was opened, as it were. But it was not that part of her inner life which was bound to the physical body. It was the perception of her ethereal and astral being that was spiritually opened, so much so that we find in her case a true analogy to the events of Initiation.

Recently, you will remember, at an appropriate season we spoke of the story of Olaf Asteson, who slept through the days after Christmas and did not reawaken until the day of the Three Kings, the 6th of January. In this connection we remarked, that in the season when the outer physical rays of the Sun have the least power, the spiritual power enveloping the Earth is greatest. Therefore the Christmas Festival is rightly placed in the season when the darkness is physically greatest. Then it is that illumination comes over the soul that is capable of illumination. Therefore, the legend tells, it was just in this season that Olaf Asteson attuned his inner life of soul, so that it was taken hold of by those forces which as spiritual light pass from the Sun into the aura of the Earth, at the time when the outer forces of the Sun are weakest. Until the 6th of January he really underwent an entry into the spiritual world.

The soul of the Maid of Orleans had to be kindled for a great historic mission. There had to be present in her soul the impulses that surge and weave their way throughout the world with the Christ-Impulse. They had to be there in her soul. How should they enter her? They could indeed have entered her, if at some time in her life she had undergone an experience similar to that of Olaf Asteson; if she had slept for the thirteen days after Christmas and had awakened on the 6th of January. And so indeed it was. Though she did not do so in the way of Olaf Asteson, still in a certain sense she underwent in sleep this time which is so favourable to Initiation. She underwent it in the last thirteen days of her embryonal life. She was borne by her mother, so as to pass through the Christmas season in the body of her mother in the last thirteen days of her embryo life. For she was born on the 6th January. That is the birthday of Joan of Arc. Thus she passed through the very time in which the spiritual forces weave and work most strongly in the Earth's aura.

Therefore we need not wonder, if even outer documents relate that on that 6 January 1412, the villagers ran hither and thither, feeling that something momentous had happened, — though what it was that happened on that 6th of January they did not know until a later time, when the Maid of Orleans fulfilled her mission. For one who penetrates into the spiritual facts, it is of great significance to find it recorded in our calendar of births that Joan of Arc was born on the 6th January.

Thus, even in such facts as shine out far and wide in history, we see how necessary it is to pass through an understanding of the spiritual and thence to return to earthly affairs, for it is only then that we can fully understand the latter.

I have put this before you once more in order to show how old and dry and arid has become what is commonly known as the spiritual and intellectual culture of our time. He who can understand anything of the deeper impulses flowing through the evolution of the world and humanity, will realise that we must now be approaching a renewal, wherein we ourselves must play an active part through our understanding of and longing for the spiritual world. The more intensely we realise that a renewal is necessary, the better shall we find the possibility to co-operate.

With pale and petty changes and reforms of the old, we cannot serve this future. Radically we must renew the spiritual life of humanity. Great as is the difference between ‘spiritual science’ in our sense of the word, and that which is taught about the spiritual life in wide circles in the outer world — equally great will be the difference between the civilisation of the future and that of today. And if the people of today find it so easy to judge the pursuits of spiritual science fantastic, foolish and absurd, it only means that they describe as foolishness and as absurdity all that will dominate the spiritual culture of the future.

Yet, in precisely such a time, a rebirth of the life of the human soul must take place. All branches of human life must find their way into the impulses of this renewal, this rebirth. And among other things, all the artistic life must come near again to Initiation. These are the real reasons why we with our Goetheanum had to make the attempt to create a beginning — I have often emphasised that it is only a beginning — which, with all its imperfections, is nevertheless related in all detail to what the science of Initiation has to say for our time.

The results of spiritual science must come to life in our souls. As a living and vital result they must find expression in the outer form. By this alone can that which is arising in our Goetheanum have its corresponding value. Then it will indeed have its value — not as anything complete, but as a new beginning. Would that there were an intensive consciousness in our circle of the intimate relation that exists between the spiritual science which we have been seeking to acquire for all these years, and that which our Building contains in every line, in every feature. If we ourselves are once filled with this recognition, then we shall be able to say to the world through our Goetheanum what must needs be said. Then we shall look with satisfaction into that future which will be destined to create, out of the primitive beginnings of this Building, something increasingly complete and perfect, it is true, yet in the same style and character.

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