Greco-Latin cultural age

From Anthroposophy

The Greco-Latin or Greco-Roman age is the fourth and middle cultural age in the Current Postatlantean epoch, and lasted between -747 BC to 1413 AD. The Greek culture was already instilled by the teachers of humanity in the previous third cultural age (see or Orpheus, and Migrations), but Greek culture rose to its heights between the 7th century BC and the 1st century AD. In a transition period of many wars, the Roman empire reaches its heights around the 1th century AD, and lasted to the final fall of Rome in 476 AD. After that period the empire was fragmented into many smaller states and new structures formed such as the Ostrogothic and Visigothic kingdoms. The further influence of Rome is taken over by the strong Roman Catholic church.

The fourth cultural age is characterized as the age of the intellectual soul. In this age Man developed thinking and philosophy, see Schema FMC00.490 below. Major influences for this were the Wotan impulse and the arabic influences into Europe between the 7th and 13th centuries.


Seeding of Greek culture before fourth cultural age

Greek culture

  • arising of philosophy in Greek thought - thought perception, see Schema FMC00.490 on Christ in the future cultural ages and next epochs
  • Greek mythology
  • education (1923-08-06-GA307, and 1923-08-06-GA307)
  • architecture - the Greek temples (eg Acropolis, Parthenon, ..)
  • Greek Mysteries (see Mystery School tradition)
    • Ephesian, Eleusian, Chthonic, Samothracian mysteries
    • Oracles (Delphi)
  • important personalities (see Sources of spiritual science)
    • Homer
    • Pherecydes of Syros (ca 580-520 BC, teacher of Pythagoras), Heraclitus (ca 540-ca 480 BC), Pythagoras (570-495 BC),
    • Parmenides (515-450 BC), Empedocles (490-430 BC),
    • Socrates (470-399 BC), Plato (ca 428-348 BC), Aristotle (384-322 BC) and Alexander the Great (356-323 BC)
    • Apollonius of Tyana (15-100), Plotinus (204-270), Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500)
    • scientists: Archimedes (287 – ca. 212 BC), Hipparchus of Nicaea (ca. 190 – ca. 120 BC): known oa from trigonometry & precession of the equinoxes
  • the historical figures of Hektor (in Homer) and Empedocles re-appear after the MoG in the historical figures of Hamlet (by Shakespeare) and Faust (by Goethe) even though the poets were not conscious of this link (1912-09-15-GA139)

Roman culture

  • important personalities (see Sources of spiritual science
    • Julian the Apostate (Flavious Claudius Julianus) (330-363), Augustinus of Hippo (354 – 430)

Roman catholic - middle ages

  • continuation of the Latin culture after the fall of the Roman empire
  • development of art (painting, with Raphael, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, etc)
  • important personalities - see Sources of spiritual science
    • John Scotus Eriugena (815-877)

Christian mystics

Central Europe

Other peoples and cultures

  • The Persian Achaemenid Empire (approx. 550 to 330 BC) from the Achaemenid dynasty was the largest empire the world had ever seen at its time, as it stretched from Egypt and the Balkans in the west to Central Asia and the Indus Valley in the east. By 330 BC, the Achaemenid Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great.
  • The Academy of Gondishapur (Gundeshapur, or Jundi Sabur) was a center of highly developed intellectual science in Persia (current Iran) between approx. 600-900 and was the worldwide center of advanced intellectual thinking and new scientific impulses. It had a major impact on world history.


Schema FMC00.047 below gives a tabular overview of the cultural ages for the current Postatlantean or Aryan epoch.

Schema FMC00.239 shows the archangelic rulers of approx 354 periods for the current cultural age (plus and minus a cultural age). See also Spiritual hierarchies and their eigenperiods for more info on the 354 period. Rudolf Steiner uses this period to describe the nature of current Michael age and the future Oriphiel age.


Schema FMC00.490 shows how the human thought about Man and the cosmos, or philosophy, evolves in periods of approx. 800 years related to the sun laws. Note everything in light grey - the extensions after 2400 and the time periods before 800 BC were added by extrapolation and are not covered in the lecture. Compare with Schema FMC00.376 and variants on Christ in the future cultural ages and next epochs


Schema FMC00.533 positions some important personalities in the first four centuries after Christ, a period of persecution of Christians, but also where Christianity was established by the roman empire, and with major debates between various streams due to influences from pagan and gnostic streams, as well as scepticism about the divinity of Jesus, the trinity, etc. The schema is not intended to be complete, but can be used as a mind map to position some important names that occur in the storyline of the Michaelic stream in the lectures of Rudolf Steiner.

Above with rectangles in grey are three main church fathers, blue rectangles show important Individualities of special high stature, as explained by Rudolf Steiner (and see also White Lodge and Three classes of Buddhas). Brown rectangles below relate to the christianization of central europe preparing for the age of the consciousness soul, see 1921-05-15-GA325 and Central European cultural basin, also Schema FMC00.438)

The blue KRI numbers are the Karmic Relationship Individualities, see more on Karma research case studies and KRI - Karmic Relationships Individualities. For example: Origen and Spyridon are incarnations of Daskalos, part of the stream of John the Evangelist. Augustinus was a carrier of a copy of the etheric body of Christ, see Principle of spiritual economy and (- also on that topic page) the I of Master Jesus (KRI90) lived again in Lucian of Antioch, the teacher of Arius (1909-02-19-GA109 notes to lecture).

Rudolf Steiner often described the importance of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and the great polarity between Aryanism and Athanasianism, also Daskalos describes this from a perspective of Spyridon. Also the Individuality of Soloviev attended (KRI 49) attended that council (in an incarnation not further named).

For a broader perspective and what followed, see Transition between 4th and 14th century and The Christ Impulse from the 1st to the 20th century (oa covering battle between Constantin and Maxentius in 312).


Lecture coverage and reference


extract with story on Empedocles

I will now draw your attention to another figure, a remarkable figure of the fifth century B.C.: the great philosopher Empedocles, who spent a large part of his life in Sicily.

  • It was he who was the first to speak of the four elements, fire, water, air, and earth, and who said that everything that happens in the material realm caused by the mingling and disintegration of these four elements results from the principles of love and hate ruling in them.
  • It was he also who by his activity influenced Sicily by calling into being important political institutions, and he went about trying to lead the people into a life of spirituality.
  • When we look back to Empedocles we find that he lived an adventurous as well as a deeply spiritual life. Perhaps the truth of what I am about to say will be doubted by some, but spiritual science knows that Empedocles went about in Sicily not only as a statesman, but as a magician and initiate, just as Hector, as depicted by Homer, walked in Troy.
  • In order to characterize the remarkable attitude of Empedocles toward the world the fact confronts us—and it is true and no invention—that in order, as it were, to unite himself with all existence around him, he ended by throwing himself into Mount Etna and was consumed by its fire. In this way a second figure of the pre-Christian age is presented to our souls.

Now let us consider such figures as these in accordance with the methods of spiritual science.

  • First of all we know that these individualities will appear again; we know that such souls will return to life. We shall not pay any attention to their intermediate incarnations but look for them in the post-Christian era.
  • We then see something of the change brought about by time, something that can help us to understand how the Mystery of Golgotha intervened in human evolution. If we say that such figures as Hector and Empedocles appeared again, we must ask how they walked among men in the post-Christian era. For we shall then see how the intervention of the Mystery of Golgotha, the fulfillment and beginning of a new age, worked on their souls. As serious anthroposophists assembled here together we need not shrink from the communications of true spiritual science, which can be confirmed by external facts.

[Hamlet by Shakespeare - link with Hector by Homer]

I should now like to turn your attention to something that took place in the post-Christian era, and perhaps again it may be said that the person concerned was a poetical personage. But this poetical personage can be traced back to a real individuality who was once alive. I direct your attention to the character created by Shakespeare in his Hamlet. Anyone who knows the development of Shakespeare, insofar as it can be known externally, and especially someone who is acquainted with it through spiritual science, will know that Shakespeare's Hamlet is none other than the transformed real prince of Denmark, who also lived at one time. I cannot go into everything underlying the historical prototype of the poetical figure of Hamlet, but through the research of spiritual science, I can offer you a striking example of how a man, a spirit of ancient times, reappears in the post-Christian era.

The real figure underlying Hamlet, as presented by Shakespeare, is Hector. The same soul that lived in Hamlet lived in Hector.

It is just by such a characteristic example as this, and the striking way the two different souls manifest themselves, that we can interpret what happened in the intervening time. A personality such as that of Hector stands before us in the pre-Christian age. Then comes the intervention of the Mystery of Golgotha in human evolution, and the spark it kindled in Hector's soul causes a figure, a prototype of Hamlet, to arise, of whom Goethe said, “This is a soul that is unable to deal with any situation and is not equal to its position, who is assigned tasks but is unable to fulfill them.”

We may ask why Shakespeare expressed it in this way. He did not know. But anyone who can investigate the connections through spiritual science knows that behind these things forces were at work. The poet creates in the unconscious; before him stands, so to speak, first the figure which he creates, and then, as in a tableau of which he himself knows nothing, the whole individuality with which the figure is connected. Why does Shakespeare choose particular qualities in Hamlet and sharply emphasize them, qualities that perhaps Hamlet's own contemporaries would not have noticed? Because he observes them against the background of the era. He feels how different a soul has become in its transition from the old life to the new. Hamlet, the doubter, the skeptic, who has lost the ability to cope with the situations with which he meets in life, the procrastinator and waverer, this is what Hector, once so sure of himself, has become.

[figure of Faust <-> soul of Empedocles]

Let me direct your attention to another figure of modern times, who was also first presented to mankind in a poetic picture, in a poem whose protagonist will certainly live on in humanity for a long time to come when for posterity the poet, like Homer or Shakespeare, no longer is in existence. About Homer we know nothing at all, and about Shakespeare we know very little indeed.

What the various compilers of notes and biographers of Goethe have written will long since have been forgotten. In spite of the printing press and other modern inventions, what interests people in Goethe at the present time will likewise have been long forgotten. But large as life, and modelled from life, there will stand the figure of Faust which Goethe has created. Just as men today know nothing of Homer, so will they some day know but little of Goethe (which will be a good thing); but they will know much about Faust. Faust again is a figure who, as he is presented to us in a literary form by Goethe, can be recognized as one brought to a certain conclusion by Goethe. The poetical picture refers back to a real sixteenth century figure who lived then as a real person, though he was not as Goethe described him in his Faust. Why then did Goethe describe him in this way? Goethe himself did not know. But when he directed his attention to the traditional Faust that had been handed down to him, a Faust with whom he was already acquainted through the marionettes of his boyhood, then the forces that stood behind Faust, the forces of his previous incarnation, the forces of Empedocles, the old Greek philosopher, worked within him! All these radiated into the figure of Faust.

So we might say, since Empedocles threw himself into Etna and united himself with the fire-element of the Earth, what a wonderful spiritualization of pre-Christian nature mysticism was accomplished in fact in the final tableau of Goethe's Faust, when Faust ascends into the fire- element of heaven through Pater Seraphicus and the rest. Slowly and gradually a totally new spiritual tendency entered into the deeper strivings of men. Already some time ago it began to become evident to the more profound spirits of mankind that, without their knowing anything about reincarnation or karma, when they were considering a great comprehensive soul whom they wished to describe from the depths of their inner life, they found themselves describing what radiated over from earlier incarnations.

  • Although Shakespeare did not know that Hamlet was Hector, he nevertheless described him as such, without being aware that the same soul had lived in both of them.
  • So to Goethe portrays his Faust as though Empedocles with all his peculiarities were standing behind him, because in his Faust there lived the soul of Empedocles. It is characteristic that the progress of the human soul should proceed in this way.

I have mentioned two characteristic figures, in both of whom we can perceive that when great men of earlier times reappear in a modern post-Christian age, they are shaken to the very depths of their souls and can only with difficulty adjust themselves to life. Everything that was within them in the past is still within them. For example, when we allow Hamlet to work upon us, we feel that the whole force of Hector is in him. But we feel that this force cannot come forth in the post-Christian era, that it then meets with obstacles, that something now works upon the soul that is the beginning of something new, whereas in the figures of antiquity something was coming to an end. So do these figures stand plastically delineated before us; both Hector and Empedocles represent a conclusion. But what is working on further in mankind must find new paths into new incarnations. This is revealed with Hector in Hamlet and also with Empedocles in Faust, who had within him all the abysmal urges toward the depths of nature. Because he had within him the whole nature of Empedocles, he could say, “I will lay aside the Bible for a time and study nature and medicine. I will no longer be a theologian.” He felt the need to have dealings with demonic beings who made him roam through the world leaving him marveling but uncomprehending. Here the Empedocles element had an after-effect but was not able to adjust itself to what a man must be after the new age had begun.

I wanted to show you through these explanations how in well-known souls, about whom anyone can find information, a powerful transformation shows itself, and how the more deeply we study them the more perceptible this becomes. If we inquire what happened between the two incarnations of such individualities, the answer always is the Mystery of Golgotha, which was announced by the Baptist when he said, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdoms of the spirit, or the kingdoms of heaven, are passing over into the kingdom of man.” Yes, the kingdoms of heaven did indeed powerfully seize the human kingdom, but those who take this in an external sense are unable to understand it. They seized it so powerfully that the great men of antiquity, who had been in themselves so solid and compact, had to make a new beginning in human evolution on earth. This new beginning showed itself precisely with them, and lasted until the end of the old epoch, with the Mystery of Golgotha. At that time something that had been fulfilled ebbed away, something which had presented men in such a way that they appeared as rounded personalities in themselves.

Then came something that made it necessary for these souls to make a new beginning. Everything had to be transformed and altered so that great souls appeared small. They had to be transformed into the stage of childhood, for something quite new was beginning.

We must inscribe this in our souls if we wish to understand what is meant at the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark by the words “a beginning.” Yes, truly a beginning, a beginning that shakes the inmost soul to its foundations and brings a totally new impulse into human evolution, a “beginning of the Gospel.”


sketches the state of soul in the Greek culture, and their very different feeling relation to 'beauty' versus today

.. the consciousness of mankind has changed in the course of time. For instance, we may describe something as beautiful. But if we ask a philosopher of today to explain what beauty is (for he should know something about these things, should he not?), we shall receive the most incredibly abstract explanation. “Beautiful” is a word which we sometimes use rightly, instinctively, out of our feeling. But modern man has not the slightest notion of what, for instance, a Greek imagined when he spoke of the beautiful, in his meaning of the word. We do not even know what the Greek meant by “Cosmos.” For him it was something quite concrete. Take our word “Universe.” What a confused jumble of thoughts it contains! When the Greek spoke of the Cosmos, this word held within it something beautiful, decorative, adorning, artistic. The Greek knew that when he spoke of the whole universe he could not do otherwise than characterise it with the idea of beauty. Cosmos does not only mean Universe — it means Nature's order of laws which has become universal beauty. This lies in the word “Cosmos.”

When the Greek saw before him a beautiful work of art, or when he wished to mould the form of a human being, how did he set to work?

By forming it in beauty. Even in Plato's definitions we can feel what the Greek meant when he wished to form the human being artistically. The expression that Plato used means more or less the following: “Here on earth man is not at all what he should be. He comes from heaven and I have so portrayed his form that men may see in it his heavenly origin.” The Greek imagined man in his beauty, as if he had just descended from heaven, where of course, his exterior form does not resemble that of ordinary human beings. Here on earth human beings do not look as if they had just descended from heaven. Their form shows everywhere the Cain-mark, the mark of man's fall. This is the Greek conception. In our age, when we have forgotten man's connection with a pre-earthly, heavenly existence, we may not even think of such a thing.

Thus we may say that “beautiful” meant for the Greek that which reveals its heavenly meaning. In this way the idea of beauty becomes concrete.

  • For us today it is abstract. In fact, there has been an interesting dispute between two authorities on aesthetics — the so-called “V” Vischer (because he spelt his name with a “V”), the Swabian Vischer, a very clever man, who wrote an important book on aesthetics (important, in the meaning of our age), and the formalist Robert Zimmermann, who wrote another book on aesthetics. The former, V-Vischer defines beauty as the manifestation of the idea in sensible form. Zimmermann defines beauty as the concordance of the parts within the whole. He defines it therefore more according to form, Vischer more according to content. These definitions are really all like the famous personage who drew himself up into the air by his own forelock. What is the meaning of the expression “the appearance of the idea in sensible form?” First we must know what is meant by “the idea.” If the thought-corpse that humanity possesses as “idea” were to appear in physical shape, nothing would appear.

But when we ask in the Greek sense: what is a beautiful human being? this does indeed signify something. A beautiful human being is one whose human shape is idealised to such an extent that it resembles a god. This is a beautiful man, in the Greek sense. The Greek definition has a meaning and gives us something concrete.

What really matters is that we should become aware of the change in the content of man's consciousness and in his soul-disposition in the course of time. Modern man believes that the Greek thought just as he thinks now. When people write the history of Greek philosophy — Zeller, for instance, who wrote an excellent history of Greek philosophy (excellent, in the meaning of our present age) — they write of Plato as if he had taught in the 19th century at the Berlin University, like Zeller himself, and not at the Platonic Academy. When we have really grasped this concretely, we see how impossible it is, for obviously Plato could not have taught at the Berlin University in the 19th century. Yet all that tradition relates of Plato is changed into conceptions of the 19th century, and people do not realise that they must transport their whole disposition of soul into an entirely different age, if they really wish to understand Plato.


is on the principles of Greek education


is on Greek education and the middle ages


considers three periods, before Aristotle, after Julian Apostate, and the interim period of some 700 years (lasting from about 356 BC to about 363 AD). For what happens further, see Transition between 4th and 14th century

Of peculiar importance for the understanding of the history of the West in its relation to the East is the period that lies between three or four hundred years before, and three or four hundred years after, the Mystery of Golgotha.


At the beginning of the period we are considering, stands the burning of Ephesus; and the day of the burning of Ephesus is also the day on which Alexander the Great was born. At the end of the period, in 363, we have the day of the death — the terrible and significant death — of Julian the Apostate far away in Asia. Midway between these two days stands the Mystery of Golgotha.


And now let us examine a little this period of time as it appears in the setting of the whole history of human evolution.


Note 1 - Elements of Greek science and culture

  • Antikythera mechanism - astronomical gear based device that predicted orbits and eclipses, only a single such device exists that was found in the 20th century and analyzed with modern technology. Also called the first analog or mechanical computer.

Related pages

Further reading and references