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The aulos was a musical wind instrument played by the ancient Greeks. It was also known as the kalamos or libykos lotos, which referred to the material from which part of the instrument was made: respectively, the reed and the Libyan lotus plant. Perhaps the most commonly played instrument in Greek music, the aulos was played in festivals, processions of births and deaths, athletic games - for the athletes to keep their exercises in rhythm, social occasions, and performances of tragedy in the Greek theatre. It was associated with the god Dionysos and often played at private drinking parties.


The sound produced by an aulete (player) was rhythmical & penetrating & he often accompanied a male chorus.

Made from cane, boxwood, bone, ivory, or occasionally metals such as bronze and copper, the circular pipe (bombyke) was fitted with one, two or three bulbous mouthpieces which gave the instrument a different pitch. The pipe itself could be composed of up to five closely interlocking sections. Sound was produced by blowing and vibrating the single or double reed (glottides) within the mouthpiece. Seven holes (tremata) were cut down the length of the pipe with sometimes an additional hole to produce another octave of notes. Tonality could be adjusted through the turning of bronze rings between the mouthpiece and the pipe. Frequently, two auloi were fitted together (diaulos) at the mouthpiece to produce a richer sound or double melody. The sound produced by an aulete (player) was rhythmical and penetrating, and he often accompanied a male chorus.

Aulos players from Thebes (c. 400 BCE) are credited with inventing rings and keys (pronomos) made from silver and bronze which could open or close various holes on the instrument, functioning much like keys on modern wind instruments such as the clarinet.

Surviving Examples

The earliest surviving examples of auloi have been found at Koilada, Thessaly and date from the Neolithic period (c. 5000 BCE). These instruments are carved from bone and have five holes, irregularly placed down their length. A complete double aulos in bone with tonal bronze rings survives from 4th century BCE Thessaloniki and many fragmentary pieces have been excavated on Delos where there is also evidence of a workshop. The earliest representations in art come from small marble statues from Keros in the Cycladic islands (2700-2300 BCE). Aulos players, both male and female, are commonly depicted on Attic red- and black-figure vases from the 7th century BCE and include depictions of Hercules and Satyrs playing the instrument. Decorated pottery also, on occasion, depicts the leather strap (phorbeia) which held the instrument in position over the mouth and even the instrument case (sybene) over the shoulder of the player.


An aulos (Ancient Greek: αὐλός , plural αὐλοί , auloi [1] ) or tibia (Latin) was an ancient Greek wind instrument, depicted often in art and also attested by archaeology.

Classification Double reed
Related instruments
Launeddas · Sorna · Rhaita · Suona
Sopila · Shawm · Zampogna · Zurna

Though aulos is often translated as "flute" or "double flute", it was usually a double-reeded instrument, and its sound—described as "penetrating, insisting and exciting" [2] —was more akin to that of the bagpipes, with a chanter and (modulated) drone.

An aulete ( αὐλητής , aulētēs) was the musician who performed on an aulos. The ancient Roman equivalent was the tibicen (plural tibicines), from the Latin tibia, "pipe, aulos." The neologism aulode is sometimes used by analogy with rhapsode and citharode (citharede) to refer to an aulos player, who may also be called an aulist however, aulode more commonly refers to a singer who sang the accompaniment to a piece played on the aulos.

The Temple, the Church Fathers and Early Western Chant

It is a commonplace among music historians that there was a deep-seated aversion to the aulos in ancient Greece. At the root of this alleged aversion lies the identification of the instrument with Dionysos, the god of intoxication and frenzy, an outsider who came to Greece from the wilds of Phrygia. His wailing autos stands in sharp contrast to the restrained lyre or kithara of Apollo, god of reason and judgment, the quintessential Hellenic deity.

The aulos/kithara antithesis was given its first full exposition at the turn of the century by Hermann Abert in Die Lehre vom Ethos. He went so far as to claim that it underlay the origins of the ethos doctrine itself. According to Abert, the neutral-toned kithara, the instrument normally used for accompaniment in Greek musical life, was originally lacking in ethical connotation, but with the eruption of the exciting and sensuous sound of the Phrygian aulos upon sensitive Greek ears, it acquired a positive ethical association with traditional Hellenic virtues. "Thereafter," Abert concluded, "this dualism of the two types of instruments dominated the entire development of Greek art music." 1

Subsequently Curt Sachs, among others, restated the "radical antitheses" between, as he phrased it, "the immaterial-detached, noble-innocent, 'Apollinian'" nature of kithara music and "the earthy-sensuous, passionate-intoxicated, 'Dionysian"' nature of aulos music. 2 The duality can be traced back, says Sachs, to the very origins of Greek history, with kithara music being derived from the Cretan-Mycenaean side and aulos music from the Phoenician&mdashAsia Minor side.

A number of more recent authors have reasserted the antithesis&mdashamong them Jacques Chailley, a scholar who differs in some respects from the German tradition. 3 He shares with it the basic conception of a profound and intense opposition between the two instruments he speaks of "the struggle of the two instruments," which was "long, and by turns cruel, sly, or sordid." What is peculiar to his position is his explanation of the opposition. He sees it as the symbol of "the pitiless struggle" between two modes of civilization, the nomadic-pastoral and the sedentary-agricultural. The lyre, made from such animal materials as a tortoise shell, the horns of a deer, and sheep gut for strings, stands for the nomadic-pastoral society, while the aulos, made from the vegetable material of a reed, stands for the sedentary-agricultural society. This bold notion has a measure of plausibility, but certainly it cannot be sustained in the face of the objection that the aulos was frequently fashioned from the bone of an animal indeed its Latin name, tibia, means "shinbone." One can safely dismiss this explanation and focus here on the mainstream conception of a deep antithesis between the Apollinian and Dionysian principles.

Contemporary music historians might be tempted to dismiss in equally summary fashion the mainstream conception as having been the product of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German idealization of ancient Greece, a tendency brilliantly described by Eliza Marian Butler in The Tyranny of Greece over Germany. 4 The Apollinian conception of Greek culture, summarized in Winkelmann's famous phrase "noble simplicity and serene greatness," reigned unopposed for nearly a century, until the discovery of the Dionysian principle by Heine and Nietzsche. Within a generation of the publication of Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy (1872) the earlier monistic view was replaced by the new dualism&mdashan "immense antagonism" between the Apollinian and the Dionysian. In turn, music historians like Abert and Sachs applied the new conception to a supposed opposition between kithara and aulos, with the results indicated above. Expedient as it might be simply to operate at the same level of intellectual fashion and ignore their views as the product of romantic imaginings, we must admit that these ideas are too much a part of our musicological heritage to receive so cavalier a treatment. On the contrary, the conventional. view that the aulos was rejected on the grounds of an Apollinian-Dionysian conflict ought to be examined in the context of the primary sources.

First, the case for the rejection of the aulos. Perhaps the most important evidence is found in a pair of cognate statements from Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics. The passage from Plato follows immediately upon Socrates's famous rejection of all modes but the Dorian and the Phrygian:

Then, said I [Socrates), we shall not need in our songs and airs instruments of many strings or [those) whose compass includes all the harmonies.

Not in my opinion, said he.

Then we shall not maintain makers of the trigonon and pectis and all other many-stringed and polyharmonic instruments.

Apparently not.

Well, will you admit to the city aulos makers and aulos players? Or is not the aulos the most "many-stringed" of instruments and do not the pan-harmonics themselves imitate it?

Clearly, he said.

You have left, said I, the lyre and the cithara. These are useful in the city, and in the fields the shepherds would have a little syrinx to pipe on.

So our argument indicates, he said.

We are not innovating, my friend, in preferring Apollo and the instruments of Apollo to Marsyas and his instruments. 5

Since the passage from Aristotle's Politics is rather long, only especially relevant excerpts are given here:

Auloi must not be introduced into education, nor any other professional instrument such as the kithara. . . . Moreover the aulos is not a moralizing but rather an exciting influence, so that it ought to be used for occasions of the kind at which attendance has the effect of purification rather than instruction. And let us add that the aulos happens to possess the additional property telling against its use in education that playing it prevents the employment of speech. Hence former ages rightly rejected its use by the young and the free, although at first they had employed it. . . . But later on it came to be disapproved of as a result of actual experience, when men were more capable of judging what music conduced to virtue and what did not and similarly also many of the old instruments were disapproved of, like the pectis and the barbitos . . . the heptagon, the trigonon and the sambuca, and all the instruments that require manual skill.

Comment on both passages is reserved for later it suffices to point out here that Plato and Aristotle dearly propose a ban of some sort upon the aulos. The passage from Aristotle condudes with a reference to a myth that is another central element in the evidence for the conventional view:

The tale goes that Athena found an aulos and threw it away. Now it is not a bad point in the story that the goddess did this out of annoyance because of the ugly distortion of her features but as a matter of fact it is more likely that it was because education in aulos-playing has no effect on the intelligence, whereas we attribute science and art to Athena. 6

Aristotle alludes here to just one episode in the myth. Equally relevant to our subject is the famous one about the musical contest between, Apollo and Marsyas. The mythographer Apollodorus succeeded in narrating the oft-told tale with all its essential elements in a relatively brief passage:

Apollo also slew Marsyas, the son of Olympus. For Marsyas, having found the auloi which Athena had thrown away because they disfigured her face, engaged in a musical contest with Apollo. They agreed that the victor should work his will on the vanquished, and when the trial took place Apollo turned his lyre upside down in the competition and bade Marsyas do the same. But Marsyas could not. So Apollo was judged the victor and dispatched Marsyas by hanging him on a tall pine tree and stripping off his skin. 7

The story differs in detail from mythographer to mythographer. Certain of these variations are relevant to the point at issue and will be cited later. For now, one need mention only the most fundamental of them: in Ovid's version Marsyas is replaced by Pan, and Marsyas's punishment is replaced by one for the sole judge of the contest who dared to vote against Apollo. The judge was Midas, who for his error grew the ears of an ass. 8 This of course, is the version of the myth that is marvelously celebrated in J. S. Bach's Der Streit zwischen Phoebus and Pan (BWV 201).

Another key element in the case for the conventional view is the fascinating anecdote of Alcibiades's rejection of the aulos. It is best told in the rather lengthy version of Plutarch:

At school, he usually paid due heed to his teachers, but he refused to play the aulos, holding it to be an ignoble and illiberal thing. The use of the plectrum and the lyre, he argued, wrought no havoc with the bearing and appearance which were becoming to a gentleman but let a man go to blowing on an aulos, and even his own kinsmen could scarcely recognize his features. Moreover, the lyre blended its tones with the voice or song of its master, whereas the aulos dosed and barricaded the mouth, robbing its master both of voice and speech. "Auloi, then," said he, "for the sons of Thebes they know not how to converse. But we Athenians, as our fathers say, have Athene for foundress and Apollo for patron, one of whom cast the aulos away in disgust, and the other flayed the presumptuous aulos‑player." Thus, half in jest and half in earnest, Alcibiades emancipated himself from this discipline&hellip. 9

The final element in the case for the conventional view concerns the part played by Pythagoras. There are two sources from late antiquity that refer to his preference for the lyre over the aulos. They may strike the reader as having a somewhat different flavor from the previous passages. The Neoplatonic philosopher Iamblichus (d. A.D. 325) said in his biography of Pythagoras that "he used the lyre, but maintained that the sound of the aulos was ostentatious and suited to festivals, but in no wise suited to a free man." 10 Again the roughly contemporary music theorist Aristides Quintilianus tells us that Pythagoras likewise advised his students who had heard the sound of the aulos to cleanse themselves as if stained in spirit and to chase away the irrational desires' the soul with melodies of good omen played on the lyre. For the former instrument serves to rule the active part of the soul while the latter is dear and pleasing to the management of the logical part. 11

The documents cited above comprise the principal evidence upon which modern scholars base their idea of a profound antithesis between the Apollinian lyre or kithara and the Dionysian autos. The case against it is of a somewhat different nature, for it does not consist in a similar series of extended passages but rather of many shorter references. One must first establish a chronological perspective on the issue and analyze the relevant texts.

As for the matter of chronological perspective, the conventional view maintains that the antithesis goes back to the very origins of the Greek people after-all, if the antithesis is so deep-rooted, so elemental, it cannot be an ephemeral thing. However, the evidence cited above is chronologically very restricted with the exception of the references to Pythagoras, it is all confined to the Classical period of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Also it is confined regionally to Athens. There have been attempts to present earlier evidence, but at best it would cover a period antedating other sources by only a century or so. The two references to Pythagoras are a case in point. Music historians tend to accept them quite literally as authentic Pythagorean sayings. 12 One could, for the sake of argument, acquiesce in this conclusion, which distorts only minimally the chronological perspective suggested here. But surely a more plausible view is that these references, which postdate the lifetime of Pythagoras by nearly a millennium, are a manifestation of Neopythagorean thinking. They therefore combine echoes of the Classical Athenian notion of the "free man" with Neopythagorean preoccupation with the purity of the soul.

There are two other possibly relevant sources that do predate the time of Plato and Aristotle. One is a fragment by Pratinas of Philus, who was active in Athens around 500 B.C. It asserts that "Song's queen Muse hath made the aulos, he must dance second as becometh a servant." 13 Helmut Huchzermeyer interprets this to mean that Pratinas "is altogether averse to the noisy music of the aulos." 14 This, however, is an unwarranted inference, and one must agree with Warren Anderson, who argues that "Pratinas was presumably not condemning the instrument itself' but rather "felt outraged by virtuoso displays on the aulos at the expense of the text." 15 The second source is a poetic reference by Critias to Anacreon, an Ionian lyric poet active in Athens toward the end of the sixth century. Critias, a Sophist and early associate of Socrates, describes Anacreon as "an antagonist of the aulos and a friend of the barbiton." 16 Huchzermeyer takes Critias at his word and cites Anacreon as the only Ionian poet who preferred strings to the aulos and the man who "embodied in his person the kitharodic reaction against aulos music.&rdquo 17 Although this is a defensible interpretation, one must consider the possibility that Cridas's remarks are anachronistic.

There exists, then, a scattering of uncertain references to antagonism toward the aulos from the century preceding the time of Socrates and Plato. Each of them is open to serious question, but even if all were authentic, they would have only a relatively minor effect on the chronological limitations suggested here. On the other hand, a massive body of evidence points to the honorable status of the aulos in Greek musical life during the centuries preceding the Classical period. 18 In Homer, it is true, the aulos plays a subsidiary role and the lyrelike phorminx has pride of place, but by the time of Altman (fl. 654-611 B.C.) the aulos was firmly established in Sparta as the principal accompaniment instrument of choral lyrics. Among the Ionian poets the aulos occupied a similar position, and it was only on Lesbos that strings seem to have been preferred. One notes that there is no question of opposition here, but simply that strings were cited more frequently than the aulos in Lesbian verses, and further that the strings generally mentioned are the pektis and barbiton, both excluded later on by Aristotle along with the aulos. 19 But the lyric poet whose references have the most relevance to our subject is the Boeotian Pindar no less than six times does he cite aulos and lyre or phorminx together, as when he alluded to the brave soldiers of Aegina, "celebrated on the phorminx and in, the harmony of the many-voiced aulos." 20

In fifth-century Athenian drama, as is well known, the aulos occupied a position of nearly exclusive usage. And not only was it used it was also occasionally referred to with fondness by the great dramatists of the rime. To Sophocles it was "sweet" and "pleasant-sounding," 21 and to Euripides it was "blended with light laughter." 22 With Aristophanes the situation is somewhat more complex. In general it can be said that he fails to convey to us any evidence of serious antagonism toward the aulos in the Athens of his time. This constitutes something of an argumentum ex silentio against the conventional view because Aristophanes otherwise has so much to say about music. Surely if Athenians had been all that aware of an antithesis between kithara and aulos, there would have been some allusion to it in the scene in the Frogs where Dionysos weighs the respective musical merits of Aeschylus and Euripides. The only reference to the aulos in Aristophanes that can be construed as at all negative is of an entirely different nature. In the Acharnians, a Boeotian, who speaks in dialect and seems meant to be something of a bumpkin, mentions his compatriot aulos players. 23 We are reminded, of course, of Alcibiades, who exclaimed, "Auloi, then, for the sons of Thebes."

To summarize, there is little trace of antagonism toward the autos or of opposition between it and the kithara up to the time of Plato and Aristotle. Before discussing their views, the historical context must be made complete by a brief survey of the following centuries. Aside from the two references to Phythagoras given above and repetitions of the Athena-Apollo-Marsyas myth, later authors are similarly silent on the subject. This is particularly significant when one considers the character of a gossip-inclined historical work like the Musica of Pseudo-Plutarch. He mentions the aulos again and again but not once with reference to a Greek rejection of it. The situation with Athenaeus, the author of the massive Deipnosophists, is only slightly different. There are two rambling passages in his lengthy work that cite the aulos on virtually every page. 24 It is fair to say that he looks on music with consistent favor or at least with benign curiosity. Moreover, the aulos figures as one of the most prominent specific objects of his praise. Nonetheless, there are a few references that might be construed out of context as supporting the conventional view. For instance, he cites Athena's discarding of the aulos and in a nearby citation Pratinas's injunction that it not get out of hand in exercising its accompaniment function 25 One had best consider this an echo of Classical Athens, keeping in mind Athenaeus's tendency to quote each and every reference he can muster. Moreover, he has Telestes immediately step into the breach with a spirited defense of the aulos.

On a related point, Athenaeus discusses the harmoniae and their ethical character. 26 What is noteworthy from our point of view is that while he and other writers of late antiquity show some consistency in the ethical qualities they attribute to the two principal harmoniae, the Dorian and the Phrygian, they show no such consistency in associating the kithara with the former and the aulos with the latter, and thus no consistency in assigning ethical character to the two instruments. For instance, Lucian speaks of Harmonides as a performer who wishes to display on his autos the "enthusiasm of the Phrygian and the restraint of the Dorian" 27 and Apuleius tells of Antigenidas, who performed on his aulos the "religious Phrygian and the warlike Dorian. 28

To summarize the situation in the later centuries: aside from the troubling Pythagorean references, one detects no general awareness of an antithesis between kithara and aulos but, at most, an occasional echo of the Classical period's rejection of the aulos.

What precisely was the character of that rejection? Since it had its most explicit expression in Plato's and Aristotle's exclusion of the instrument from their ideal states, an examination of the question ought to begin with this. The first point to establish is the context of the exclusion. We can keep matters in perspective if we recall that Plato and Aristotle are philosophers describing utopian societies, not active political figures seriously advocating that the autos be banned from contemporary Athens. Indeed the context is still more narrow, for they do not propose a general ban on the autos in their ideal states, but only in education. Aristotle, especially, is quite explicit on this point, excluding the autos and all modes but the Dorian from education while allowing them in other areas of society. "It is dear that we should employ all the modes," he writes, "but use only the most ethical ones for education." He goes on to cite some of the beneficent uses of exciting music for adults&mdashin the dithyramb, the tragedy, and "sacred melodies" (ieroi meloi)&mdashall accompanied by autos 'such music has the effect of purgation and of harmless pleasure. At the same time he notes in Plato's Republic the inconsistency of Socrates, who, while excluding the aulos, admits the Phrygian mode into education along with the Dorian, whereas "the Phrygian mode has the same effect among harmonies as the aulos among instruments."

On this distinction between Aristotle and Plato, Warren Anderson makes the important point that, while in Aristotle's view education is meant for youth alone, in Plato's view it extends to the entire life of a citizen. 29 One might argue, then, that his ban on the autos was absolute. However, it defies historical good sense to claim that Plato's one brief remark in the Republic should be applied with inexorable logic to his views throughout his life. Indeed he supplies explicit evidence against such an interpretation when later, in the Laws, he provides for judges at aulos-playing contests. 30

Another point of contrast with Plato is Aristotle's more pragmatic and tolerant approach. This is of some relevance because we are seeking to define general Athenian attitudes more than those of an individual. That Plato's views should be taken as somewhat eccentrically intolerant is warranted by his proposed legislation against the changing of rules in children's games. 31

Whatever the extent of Plato's and Aristotle's proposed ban on the aulos, the reasons underlying it are another 'matter. Was it primarily that they felt that a deep ethical antithesis existed between the aulos and string instruments? This, it must be said, is the aspect of the conventional view that finds the least support in the sources. Plato does indeed exclude the aulos while retaining the lyre and the kithara, but he also allows the syrinx "to shepherds in the fields" and excludes the trigonon, the pectis, and "other many-stringed instruments." Aristotle destroys the antithesis completely when he excludes not only a host of string instruments such as the pectic, barbiton, trigonon, heptagon, and sambuca, but also the kithara itself. This is perhaps the crucial point: he retains Apollo's lyre and excludes Apollo's kithara! Why? He tells us simply enough that "the aulos must not be admitted into education nor any other professional (technikos) instrument like the kithara." And again, at the end of the list of string instruments given above, he adds "and all those requiring manual skill." Thus he excludes instruments that require professional skill&mdashindeed, virtually all instruments.

Plato implies similar motivation in his strictures. He excludes "many-stringed and polyharmonic instruments" and goes on to cite the aulos as the "most 'many-stringed' of instruments," in fact, the one that the polyharmonic instruments imitate. The context of his remarks is a discussion of modal ethos. Plato objects to instruments that have the capacity to play all the modes without retuning and mix the modes within a single composition. Professional virtuosos were doing this in the new music of the late fifth century, both on the versatile aulos and on the string instruments of the time, to which strings were being added in an effort to keep pace with the aulos. The kithara had evidently undergone this sort of development by the time of Aristotle. Such instruments, then, were out of place in the musical education of well-born Athenian youth.

This antithesis between vulgar professional and genteel amateur is altogether more authentic than any antithesis between aulos and lyre as such. It lies at the very heart of the Classical conception of "liberal" education: skills which tradesmen and technicians exercise to earn a living are merely tolerated, as opposed to those prized intellectual pursuits whereby the "free man" improves himself. Indeed this is the central point of Aristotle's doctrine of education as presented in Book VIII of the Politics and provides the context of his views on music.

Once it is established that antiprofessionalism is the primary motive behind Plato's and Aristotle's position concerning the aulos, there remains a chance to accept various elements of the conventional view as secondary motives. Plato does, after all, conclude the above-quoted passage with the afterthought that "we are not innovating . . . in preferring Apollo and the instruments of Apollo to Marsyas and his instruments." And Aristotle doses with a similar reference when he invokes the same legend and goes so far as to say that the aulos contributes nothing to intelligence (dianoia) whereas science (episteme) is an attribute of Athena. Now it can be said that there is a suggestion of the Apollinian&mdashDionysian antithesis in these references. On the one hand, Athena and Apollo are easily identified as copatrons of both Athens and reason, while, on the other, Marsyas, the Phrygian satyr, is a devotee of Dionysos. It would be wrong, however, to take Plato and Aristotle further than they themselves went and to attribute to them anything like a profound aversion to the orgiastic aulos of Dionysos. We have already seen that Aristotle acknowledged the usefulness of orgiastic music. 32 Plato's attitude is more complex, perhaps ambivalent, or even contradictory. While it is clear that he prized reason above all else, it cannot be said that he rejected religious frenzy outright. "Divine madness" is his general term for such manifestations, which he describes with apparent approval in the Phaedrus. 33 A passage of special relevance appears in the Symposium, where Alciabiades in a eulogy of Socrates compares him to Marsyas. He exclaims that Socrates had in his speech the same marvelous effect as had Marsyas in the aulos tunes of divine origin with which he charmed mortals. 34 In short, to claim that either Aristotle or Plato rejected the aulos because of its association with religious frenzy is at best a caricature of their authentic views. To claim, on the other hand, that they betrayed an occasional trace of uneasiness over this kind of association is at least an arguable position.

Now to turn to a direct consideration of the Athena-Apollo-Marsyas myth. Its various versions offer many indications that the Greeks failed to read into it the sort of antithesis in question here. Consider the roles taken in it by the deities involved. Athena throws away the aulos in this particular myth because it distorts her appearance, and yet she is frequently associated with the aulos in others. She gave an aulos as a present at the wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia 35 she actually invented it, according to Pindar 36 and, according to Corinna, she taught none other than Apollo to play it. 37 Telestes takes an interesting approach to the subject in denying outright that Athena discarded the aulos she was a virgin, he argues, and therefore had no reason to worry about her appearance. 38 To add a final note of contradiction on Athena, Diodorus Siculus cites Marsyas as her closest associate and adds, still more surprisingly, that he was admired for his intelligence and chastity. 39 Regarding the musical aspects of the contest between Apollo and Marsyas, the more commonly expressed view among the ancients is that Marsyas was superior! And how did Apollo win then? By trickery. We observe, for example, in the version of Diodorus given above that Apollo played his lyre upside down, a feat that could hardly be matched by Marsyas with his aulos. Here is what the goddess Hera has to say to Apollo's mother, Leto, on the subject:

You make me laugh, Leto. Who could admire one that Marsyas would have beaten at music and skinned alive with his own hands, if the Muses had chosen to judge fairly? But as it was, he was tricked and wrongly lost the vote, poor fellow, and had to die. 40

The anecdote about Alcibiades similarly fails to support the sort of ethical antithesis set forth in the conventional view. Although one finds a clearly expressed preference for the lyre over the aulos, perhaps the most unambiguous in the literature, the motives fail to match. Central again is the context of education, and accordingly the aulos is seen to be "illiberal" (aneleutheron) the translation nicely captures the proper connotation when it declares the instrument to be unbecoming to the bearing and appearance of a "gentleman" (eleutheros). The whole issue is described as a light rather than a profound one: "Thus, half in jest and half in earnest Alcibiades emancipated himself from this discipline." Finally, there is the nasty remark about the countrified Theban mentioned above: "Auloi, then, for the sons of Thebes: they know not how to converse." If one is to summarize the unifying motive of Alcibiades, it is snobbery, not ethos.

In drawing conclusions here, one may recognize some claims that can be accepted with a fair degree of confidence&mdashfor example, that the Hellenic animus against the aulos is not perennial but, rather, confined almost exclusively to the Athens of the Classical period. Again it seems clear enough that the principal reason for the phenomenon was the antiprofessional bias in the Athenian educational ideals. Contributory to it were the disdain of Athenian "free men" for mercenary activity of any sort, a disapproval of the rapid musical development of the time, and a touch of prejudice against the contemporary virtuosos who hailed from rural Boeotian. Still, one does detect a measure of unease in Classical Athens concerning the orgiastic associations of the aulos, even if not an unequivocal disapproval. It is difficult to measure this element precisely&mdashit seems more to lurk below the surface than to be expressed&mdashbut it can at least be said that the conventional view greatly exaggerates it.

To engage for the moment in somewhat less guarded speculation, let it be said that music historians must be disabused of any notion that the Athenian rejection of the aulos, particularly in the form it takes with Plato, amounts to anything like a positive, noble statement on behalf of the perennial Apollinian principle in music. For all its artistry of expression, it is a negative and essentially antimusical position. We must associate it with Plato's own strictures against poetry, with the Neoplatonic Augustine's scorn for practicing musicians, 41 with the twelfth-century humanist John of Salisbury's criticism of polyphony, 42 with the classical scholar Johann August Ernesti's disapproval of Bach, and, yes, to at least some extent with the artistic control exercised by twentieth-century totalitarian regimes. 43

As for Nietzsche's "immense antagonism" between the Apollinian and the Dionysian, whatever its merits per se, enough has been said to demonstrate the invalidity of its application by German musicologists to an antithesis between kithara and aulos. 44 We English-speaking music historians, incidentally, would do well to note an analogous Victorian influence on our thinking. 45 In particular, Benjamin Jowett's much-read translations tend to give Plato's remarks on subjects like the aulos and ritual frenzy more the tone of nineteenth-century religiosity than Athenian musical conservatism. 46

It is not my intent here to deny totally a role in this subject to the historical imagination. Once the simplistic application of the Apollinian&ndashDionysian antithesis is set aside, there remains room for more plausible dualistic conceptions. It is interesting to note that Sachs came to reject the Apollo&ndashDionysos antithesis and proposed instead an antithesis between ethos and pathos, from which stems a tendency in Western art to oscillate between classic and romantic poles. 47 And Walter Wiora has recognized the emergence of an Apollinian ideal in Classical Greece alongside the existence of a more primitive artistic vitality. He denies, however, that the Greeks looked upon the two as absolute opposites rather, they cultivated both in an undogmatic manner. 48 It is not for us here either to accept or to reject such speculations. While expressing admiration for them, we have undertaken the more pedestrian task of indicating that they are applied at peril to a subject as specific as the Greek attitude toward the aulos.

1. Leipzig, 1899: repr. ed. (Tutzing, 1968), 64-65.

2. Die Musik der Antike, Handbuch der Musikwissenschaft, ed. Ernst Bucken, I (Potsdam, 1928): 25.

3. La Musique grecque antique (Paris, 5979), 9-12.

4. (Cambridge, 5935) 2nd ed. (Boston, 1958).

5. Republic, 399c&mdashe trans. Paul Shorty in Plato: The Collected Dialogues, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (New York, 1963), 644. All translations quoted here will be altered in one respect: terms for musical instruments will be given in transliteration as opposed to such common misleading renderings as flute for aulos and harp for kithara.

6. Politics, 1341a-b sans. Harris Rackham, Aristotle: Politics, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1932), 667-69.

7. Apollodorus t. 4. 2 11211S. James Frazer, Apollodorus: The Library, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1921), 2: 29-31.

9. Alcibiades, 2: 4-5 trans. Bernadotte Perrin, Plutarch's Lives, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1916), 4: 7-9. See also Autos Gellius, Nocte atticae, 15, 17.

10. De vita pythagorica liber, [25] 111 ed. Michael von Albrecht (Zurich, 1963), 116.

11. De musica libri tres, 2: 19 ed. Reginald Pepys Winnington-Ingram (Leipzig, 1963), 91.

12. For example, Helmut Huchzenneyer, Aulos arid Kithara in der griechischen Musik bis zum Ausgang der klassischen Zeit (Emsdetten, 1931), 52-53 Annemarie J. Neubecker, Die Bewertung der Musik bei Stoikern und Epikureern (Berlin, 1956), 77.

13. Fragment I, ed. and trans. John Maxwell Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1959), 3: 51.

15. "Pratinus of Philus," The New Grove 15: 203.

16. Hermann Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsocratiker, 6th ed., ed. Walther Kranz (Zurich, 1951), 2: 376.

18. The references are set forth with admirable thoroughness in Huchzenneyer.

19. On Lesbos, see Huchzenneyer, 40-42.

20. Isthmian, 5: 27 see also Nemean, 9: 8 Pythian, 10: 39 Olympian, 10: 94 Olympian, 7: 12 Olympia, 3: 8-9.

21. Ajax, 1202, and The Woman of Trachis, 640.

24. Deipnosophists, 4: 174-15 14: 616-39.

25. Deipnosophists, 14: 616-17.

26. Deipnosophists, 14: 624-26.

29. Ethos and Education inGreek Musc (Cambridge, Mass., 1966), 137-38.

32. In support of this point, see Jeanne Croissant, Aristote et les mysteres (Liege, 1932), repr. ed. (New York, 1979).

33. Phaedrus, 244d&mdashe see Ivan M. Linforth, "Telestic Madness in Plato, Phaedrus 244de," University of California Publications in Classical Philology, 13/6(1946): 163-72.

35. Diodorus Siculus, 5: 49, I.

36. Phythian, 12: 19-24 see also Diodorus, 3: 58, 2.

37. See Ps.-Plutarch 14 indeed, in the same passage Soterichus maintains that Apollo himself invented the aulos.

38. Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, 14: 617.

40. Lucian, Dialogues of she Gods, t8 (i6) tans. M. D. Macleod, Lucian, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1969), 7: 327 see also Diodorus, 3: 58, 2-6. The one version that clearly gives the musical victory to Apollo is that of the Roman poet Ovid. Metamorphoses, II: 165-74.

43. In citing this relationship it is not necessary to go so far as to ally oneself completely with the bitter anti-Platonic revisionists of the twentieth century such as Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), 5rh ed. (Princeton, NJ., 1966).

44. On this aspect of the subject, see Martin Vogel, Apollinisch and Dionysisch (Regensburg, 1966).

45. See Richard Jenkyns, The Victorian and Ancient Greece (Cambridge, Mass., 1980).

46. Compare, for example, Jowett on Republic, 399a&mdashe, Laws, 669d-70, and Laws, 700a&mdashb, with more recent translations.

47. The Commonwealth of Art (New York, 1946), 199-206.

48. The Four Ages of Music, trans. M. D. Herter Norton (New York, 1965), 74-75.


The origin of music is unknown as it occurred prior to recorded history. Some suggest that the origin of music likely stems from naturally occurring sounds and rhythms. Human music may echo these phenomena using patterns, repetition and tonality. Even today, some cultures have certain instances of their music intending to imitate natural sounds. In some instances, this feature is related to shamanistic beliefs or practice. [5] [6] It may also serve entertainment (game) [7] [8] or practical (luring animals in hunt) [7] functions.

It is probable that the first musical instrument was the human voice itself, which can make a vast array of sounds, from singing, humming and whistling through to clicking, coughing and yawning. As for other musical instruments, in 2008 archaeologists discovered a bone flute in the Hohle Fels cave near Ulm, Germany. [9] [10] [11] Considered to be about 35,000 years old, the five-holed flute has a V-shaped mouthpiece and is made from a vulture wing bone. The oldest known wooden pipes were discovered near Greystones, Ireland, in 2004. A wood-lined pit contained a group of six flutes made from yew wood, between 30 and 50 cm long, tapered at one end, but without any finger holes. They may once have been strapped together. [12]

It has been suggested that the "Divje Babe Flute", a cave bear femur dated to be between 50,000 and 60,000 years old, is the world's oldest musical instrument and was produced by Neanderthals. [13] [14] Claims that the femur is indeed a musical instrument are, however, contested by alternative theories including the suggestion that the femur may have been gnawed by carnivores to produce holes. [15]

Prehistoric music, once more commonly called primitive music, is the name given to all music produced in preliterate cultures (prehistory), beginning somewhere in very late geological history. Prehistoric music is followed by ancient music in most of Europe (1500 BC) and later music in subsequent European-influenced areas, but still exists in isolated areas.

Prehistoric music thus technically includes all of the world's music that has existed before the advent of any currently extant historical sources concerning that music, for example, traditional Native American music of preliterate tribes and Australian Aboriginal music. However, it is more common to refer to the "prehistoric" music of non-European continents – especially that which still survives – as folk, indigenous or traditional music.

"Ancient music" is the name given to the music that follows music of the prehistoric era. The "oldest known song" was written in cuneiform, dating to 3400 years ago from Ugarit in Syria. It was a part of the Hurrian songs, more specifically Hurrian hymn no. 6. It was deciphered by Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, and was demonstrated to be composed in harmonies of thirds, like ancient gymel, [16] and also was written using a Pythagorean tuning of the diatonic scale. The oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world, is the Seikilos epitaph, dated to either the 1st or the 2nd century AD.

Double pipes, such as those used by the ancient Greeks, and ancient bagpipes, as well as a review of ancient drawings on vases and walls, etc., and ancient writings (such as in Aristotle, Problems, Book XIX.12) which described musical techniques of the time, indicate polyphony. One pipe in the aulos pairs (double flutes) likely served as a drone or "keynote," while the other played melodic passages. Instruments, such as the seven holed flute and various types of stringed instruments have been recovered from the Indus valley civilization archaeological sites. [17]

India Edit

Indian classical music (marga) can be found from the scriptures of the Hindu tradition, the Vedas. Samaveda, one of the four vedas, describes music at length.

Ravanahatha (ravanhatta, rawanhattha, ravanastron or ravana hasta veena) is a bowed fiddle popular in Western India. It is believed to have originated among the Hela civilization of Sri Lanka in the time of King Ravana. This string instrument has been recognised as one of the oldest string instruments in world history.

The history of musical development in Iran (Persian music) dates back to the prehistoric era. The great legendary king, Jamshid, is credited with the invention of music. [18] Music in Iran can be traced back to the days of the Elamite Empire (2500–644 BC). Fragmentary documents from various periods of the country's history establish that the ancient Persians possessed an elaborate musical culture. The Sassanid period (AD 226–651), in particular, has left us ample evidence pointing to the existence of a lively musical life in Persia. The names of some important musicians such as Barbod, Nakissa and Ramtin, and titles of some of their works have survived.

Greece Edit

Greek written history extends far back into Ancient Greece, and was a major part of ancient Greek theatre. In ancient Greece, mixed-gender choruses performed for entertainment, celebration and spiritual reasons. Instruments included the double-reed aulos and the plucked string instrument, the lyre, especially the special kind called a kithara. Music was an important part of education in ancient Greece, and boys were taught music starting at age six.

According to Easton's Bible Dictionary, Jubal was named by the Bible as the inventor of musical instruments (Gen. 4:21). The Hebrews were much given to the cultivation of music. Their whole history and literature afford abundant evidence of this. After the Deluge, the first mention of music is in the account of Laban's interview with Jacob (Gen. 31:27). After their triumphal passage of the Red Sea, Moses and the children of Israel sang their song of deliverance (Ex. 15). But the period of Samuel, David, and Solomon was the golden age of Hebrew music, as it was of Hebrew poetry. Music was now for the first time systematically cultivated. It was an essential part of training in the schools of the prophets (1 Sam. 10:5). There now arose also a class of professional singers (2 Sam. 19:35 Eccl. 2:8). Solomon's Temple, however, was the great school of music. In the conducting of its services large bands of trained singers and players on instruments were constantly employed (2 Sam. 6:5 1 Chr. 15:16 235 25:1–6). In private life also music seems to have held an important place among the Hebrews (Eccl. 2:8 Amos 6:4–6 Isa. 5:11, 12 24:8, 9 Ps. 137 Jer. 48:33 Luke 15:25). [19]

Music and theatre scholars studying the history and anthropology of Semitic and early Jewish culture, have also discovered common links between theatrical and musical activity in the classical cultures of the Hebrews with those of the later cultures of the Greeks and Romans. The common area of performance is found in a "social phenomenon called litany," a form of prayer consisting of a series of invocations or supplications. The Journal of Religion and Theatre notes that among the earliest forms of litany, "Hebrew litany was accompanied by a rich musical tradition:" [20]

While Genesis 4.21 identifies Jubal as the "father of all such as handle the harp and pipe", the Pentateuch is nearly silent about the practice and instruction of music in the early life of Israel. Then, in I Samuel 10 and the texts which follow, a curious thing happens. "One finds in the biblical text", writes Alfred Sendrey, "a sudden and unexplained upsurge of large choirs and orchestras, consisting of thoroughly organized and trained musical groups, which would be virtually inconceivable without lengthy, methodical preparation." This has led some scholars to believe that the prophet Samuel was the patriarch of a school which taught not only prophets and holy men, but also sacred-rite musicians. This public music school, perhaps the earliest in recorded history, was not restricted to a priestly class—which is how the shepherd boy David appears on the scene as a minstrel to King Saul. [20]

Early music Edit

Medieval music Edit

While musical life was undoubtedly rich in the early Medieval era, as attested by artistic depictions of instruments, writings about music, and other records, the only repertory of music which has survived from before 800 to the present day is the plainsong liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest part of which is called Gregorian chant. Pope Gregory I, who gave his name to the musical repertory and may himself have been a composer, is usually claimed to be the originator of the musical portion of the liturgy in its present form, though the sources giving details on his contribution date from more than a hundred years after his death. Many scholars believe that his reputation has been exaggerated by legend. Most of the chant repertory was composed anonymously in the centuries between the time of Gregory and Charlemagne.

During the 9th century several important developments took place. First, there was a major effort by the Church to unify the many chant traditions, and suppress many of them in favor of the Gregorian liturgy. Second, the earliest polyphonic music was sung, a form of parallel singing known as organum. Third, and of greatest significance for music history, notation was reinvented after a lapse of about five hundred years, though it would be several more centuries before a system of pitch and rhythm notation evolved having the precision and flexibility that modern musicians take for granted.

Several schools of polyphony flourished in the period after 1100: the St. Martial school of organum, the music of which was often characterized by a swiftly moving part over a single sustained line the Notre Dame school of polyphony, which included the composers Léonin and Pérotin, and which produced the first music for more than two parts around 1200 the musical melting-pot of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, a pilgrimage destination and site where musicians from many traditions came together in the late Middle Ages, the music of whom survives in the Codex Calixtinus and the English school, the music of which survives in the Worcester Fragments and the Old Hall Manuscript. Alongside these schools of sacred music a vibrant tradition of secular song developed, as exemplified in the music of the troubadours, trouvères and Minnesänger. Much of the later secular music of the early Renaissance evolved from the forms, ideas, and the musical aesthetic of the troubadours, courtly poets and itinerant musicians, whose culture was largely exterminated during the Albigensian Crusade in the early 13th century.

Forms of sacred music which developed during the late 13th century included the motet, conductus, discant, and clausulae. One unusual development was the Geisslerlieder, the music of wandering bands of flagellants during two periods: the middle of the 13th century (until they were suppressed by the Church) and the period during and immediately following the Black Death, around 1350, when their activities were vividly recorded and well-documented with notated music. Their music mixed folk song styles with penitential or apocalyptic texts. The 14th century in European music history is dominated by the style of the ars nova, which by convention is grouped with the medieval era in music, even though it had much in common with early Renaissance ideals and aesthetics. Much of the surviving music of the time is secular, and tends to use the formes fixes: the ballade, the virelai, the lai, the rondeau, which correspond to poetic forms of the same names. Most pieces in these forms are for one to three voices, likely with instrumental accompaniment: famous composers include Guillaume de Machaut and Francesco Landini.

Renaissance music Edit

The beginning of the Renaissance in music is not as clearly marked as the beginning of the Renaissance in the other arts, and unlike in the other arts, it did not begin in Italy, but in northern Europe, specifically in the area currently comprising central and northern France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The style of the Burgundian composers, as the first generation of the Franco-Flemish school is known, was at first a reaction against the excessive complexity and mannered style of the late 14th century ars subtilior, and contained clear, singable melody and balanced polyphony in all voices. The most famous composers of the Burgundian school in the mid-15th century are Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois, and Antoine Busnois.

By the middle of the 15th century, composers and singers from the Low Countries and adjacent areas began to spread across Europe, especially into Italy, where they were employed by the papal chapel and the aristocratic patrons of the arts (such as the Medici, the Este, and the Sforza families). They carried their style with them: smooth polyphony which could be adapted for sacred or secular use as appropriate. Principal forms of sacred musical composition at the time were the mass, the motet, and the laude secular forms included the chanson, the frottola, and later the madrigal.

The invention of printing had an immense influence on the dissemination of musical styles, and along with the movement of the Franco-Flemish musicians, contributed to the establishment of the first truly international style in European music since the unification of Gregorian chant under Charlemagne. [ citation needed ] Composers of the middle generation of the Franco-Flemish school included Johannes Ockeghem, who wrote music in a contrapuntally complex style, with varied texture and an elaborate use of canonical devices Jacob Obrecht, one of the most famous composers of masses in the last decades of the 15th century and Josquin des Prez, probably the most famous composer in Europe before Palestrina, and who during the 16th century was renowned as one of the greatest artists in any form. Music in the generation after Josquin explored increasing complexity of counterpoint possibly the most extreme expression is in the music of Nicolas Gombert, whose contrapuntal complexities influenced early instrumental music, such as the canzona and the ricercar, ultimately culminating in Baroque fugal forms.

By the middle of the 16th century, the international style began to break down, and several highly diverse stylistic trends became evident: a trend towards simplicity in sacred music, as directed by the Counter-Reformation Council of Trent, exemplified in the music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina a trend towards complexity and chromaticism in the madrigal, which reached its extreme expression in the avant-garde style of the Ferrara School of Luzzaschi and the late century madrigalist Carlo Gesualdo and the grandiose, sonorous music of the Venetian school, which used the architecture of the Basilica San Marco di Venezia to create antiphonal contrasts. The music of the Venetian school included the development of orchestration, ornamented instrumental parts, and continuo bass parts, all of which occurred within a span of several decades around 1600. Famous composers in Venice included the Gabrielis, Andrea and Giovanni, as well as Claudio Monteverdi, one of the most significant innovators at the end of the era.

Most parts of Europe had active and well-differentiated musical traditions by late in the century. In England, composers such as Thomas Tallis and William Byrd wrote sacred music in a style similar to that written on the continent, while an active group of home-grown madrigalists adapted the Italian form for English tastes: famous composers included Thomas Morley, John Wilbye and Thomas Weelkes. Spain developed instrumental and vocal styles of its own, with Tomás Luis de Victoria writing refined music similar to that of Palestrina, and numerous other composers writing for the new guitar. Germany cultivated polyphonic forms built on the Protestant chorales, which replaced the Roman Catholic Gregorian Chant as a basis for sacred music, and imported the style of the Venetian school (the appearance of which defined the start of the Baroque era there). In addition, German composers wrote enormous amounts of organ music, establishing the basis for the later Baroque organ style which culminated in the work of J.S. Bach. France developed a unique style of musical diction known as musique mesurée, used in secular chansons, with composers such as Guillaume Costeley and Claude Le Jeune prominent in the movement.

One of the most revolutionary movements in the era took place in Florence in the 1570s and 1580s, with the work of the Florentine Camerata, who ironically had a reactionary intent: dissatisfied with what they saw as contemporary musical depravities, their goal was to restore the music of the ancient Greeks. Chief among them were Vincenzo Galilei, the father of the astronomer, and Giulio Caccini. The fruits of their labors was a declamatory melodic singing style known as monody, and a corresponding staged dramatic form: a form known today as opera. The first operas, written around 1600, also define the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque eras.

Music prior to 1600 was modal rather than tonal. Several theoretical developments late in the 16th century, such as the writings on scales on modes by Gioseffo Zarlino and Franchinus Gaffurius, led directly to the development of common practice tonality. The major and minor scales began to predominate over the old church modes, a feature which was at first most obvious at cadential points in compositions, but gradually became pervasive. Music after 1600, beginning with the tonal music of the Baroque era, is often referred to as belonging to the common practice period.

8 Of The Oldest Known Songs, You Should Listen To


When perceived from the lens of history, music and songs are counted among the fundamental expressions that are unique to humanity. And while rudimentary forms of music probably hark back to the prehistoric times, the evolved (and thus more refined) nature of musical expressions and songs in history pertain to what experts characterize as ‘ancient music’. This article does cover some of the specimens from such an era, including the world’s oldest known song and the world’s oldest known complete song. Other ‘oldest’ tags are used for variable parameters, like the world’s oldest known polyphonic music and the earliest surviving secular English song.

1) The Oldest Known Song In The World –

Hurrian Song to Nikkal(circa 1450 – 1200 BC).

The northern Syrian settlement of Ugarit had been inhabited since at least the Neolithic age (6000 BC), while by 15th century BC, it had turned into a strategic port city that had trade connections with the Hittite Empire, the Egyptian Empire, and even distant Cyprus. Given such extensive trade networks, the city-state reached its zenith in the epoch between 1450 BC – 1200 BC and its rise to glory could be surmised from varied archaeological remains that ranged from a grand palace, temples to even libraries (containing clay tablets) that were unique in such a period of history.

But beyond relics of past, archaeologists (in the 1950’s) were also able to discover something that had present-day context. We are talking about what turned out to be the oldest known piece of music ever found in the history of mankind – and it pertains to a 3,400-year-old hymn composed of cuneiform signs in the Hurrian language.

The musical compilation (found in the form of a musical notation system etched on clay tablets) is better known as the Hurrian Songs. These were probably played on contemporary lyres, while the most ‘complete’ of this musical series pertains to the Hurrian Song to Nikkal. Nikkal was a goddess entity of Ugarit/Canaan (and later of Phoenicia), and she was worshiped as the safe-keeper of orchards and gardens. Interestingly enough, experts have been able to recreate the melody of the Hurrian Song to Nikkal. Musician Michael Levy has a produced his lyre interpretation for the A Hurrian Cult Song from Ancient Ugarit, and the soulful version can be heard from the video above.

The midi keyboard version below offers a modern take on this ancient composition (oldest song), based on the interpretation produced by Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California, back in 1972.

2) Epic of Gilgamesh –

Opening lines of the Mesopotamian Epic (circa 18th century BC).

In the previous entry, we had talked about the oldest known song in the world, better known as the Hurrian Song to Nikkal, which was originally composed in the northern Syrian settlement of Ugarit almost 3,400-years ago. Well, this time around we are witness to yet another Mesopotamian cultural achievement in the form of Epic of Gilgamesh – possibly the oldest known epic in the world and also the earliest surviving great work of literature.

Now the literary history of the titular character Gilgamesh comes down to us from five Sumerian poems, though the first iterations of the epic itself were possibly compiled in ‘Old Babylonian’ versions (circa 18th century BC). Simply put, while the provenance of these literary works is based on Sumerian language and literature, the end product/s (as available to common people) of the epic were possibly composed in Babylonian and related Akkadian – languages that were different from Sumerian, based on their Semitic origins.

But since we are talking about origins, few ancient Mesopotamian bards and scholars might have still sung some of Gilgamesh’s heroic exploits in Sumerian. To that end, Canadian musician Peter Pringle has presented his version of the Epic of Gilgamesh in ancient Sumerian (above), with the video covering the opening lines of the epic poem. According to the musician –

What you hear in this video are a few of the opening lines of part of the epic poem, accompanied only by a long-neck, three-string, Sumerian lute known as a “gish-gu-di”. The instrument is tuned to G – G – D, and although it is similar to other long neck lutes still in use today (the tar, the setar, the saz, etc.), the modern instruments are low tension and strung with fine steel wire. The ancient long neck lutes (such as the Egyptian “nefer“) were strung with gut and behaved slightly differently. The short-neck lute known as the “oud” is strung with gut/nylon, and its sound has much in common with the ancient long-neck lute although the oud is not a fretted instrument and its strings are much shorter (about 25 inches or 63 cm) as compared to 32 inches (82 cm) on a long-neck instrument.

3) Oldest Known Complete Song –

Song of Seikilos, from the Seikilos epitaph (circa 1st century AD).

From the historical perspective, many scholars believe that music played an integral role in the lives of ordinary ancient Greeks, given its role in most social occasions – ranging from religious rites, funerals to the theater and public recitation of ballads and epic-poetry. Both archaeological and literary pieces of evidence rather bolster such a theory that points to the crucial nature of music in ancient Greece.

In fact, the Greeks attributed the ‘creativity’ of musical compositions to divine entities, and as such etymologically the very word ‘music’ is derived from ‘Muses‘, the personifications of knowledge and art who were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Interestingly, Mnemosyne herself was the personification of memory and was also one of the Titans, the children of Uranus the Sky and Gaia the Earth.

As for the historical side of affairs, scholars came across the world’s oldest (known) complete song – and this musical piece (in its entirety) was etched on the Seikilos epitaph. Judging by the ancient Greek characters on the inscription, the song is Hellenistic Ionic in origin, and the etching was probably made sometime in the 1st century AD. The vocalized recreation presented above was made by the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble (SAVAE). And in case one is interested, the lyrics roughly translated to English, excluding the musical notation, goes like this –

While you live, shine

have no grief at all

life exists only for a short while

and time demands its toll.

The discovery of the epitaph was made way back in 1883 by Sir W. M. Ramsay in Tralleis, a small town near Aydin (Turkey). The epitaph, according to some stories, was lost again, to finally reemerge after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922, due to its rediscovery in Smyrna in 1923. And interestingly, the region of Aydin has had a long tryst with human civilization in its flowering form, so much so that Aydin in itself translates to ‘lettered, educated, intellectual’. Consequently, the archaeological site in Tralleis boasts many cultural artifacts from human history, including theatrical masks that were symbolically arrayed alongside human burials.

Furthermore, when it came to the ancient Greek musical instruments, the musicians had a penchant for lyres (and kithara), aulos pipes and syrinx, and even the hydraulis – a setup that was the precursor to the modern organ. And with the aid of the flurry of archaeological and literary pieces of evidence of vocal notations and musical ratios, combined with the identification of these instruments, researchers have been able to recreate precise renditions of ancient Greek music. For example, Dr. David Creese, Head of Classics & Ancient History at the University of Newcastle, has devised the following reconstruction of a musical piece that was etched on the ‘Seikilos epitaph’ dating from 1st century AD –

4) 1500-Year Old Latin Songs Recreated For the First Time in a Millenium –

Excerpts from The Consolation of Philosophyby Boethius (circa 6th century AD).

If there is a God, whence proceed so many evils? If there is no God, whence cometh any good?” – one of the oft-quoted Roman philosophers who was born four years after the Western Roman Empire ‘technically’ ceased to exist, Boethius or Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius (480 AD – 525 AD) held many offices, including that of a senator, consul, and magister officious.

In 2017, one of his lingering legacies in the form of an ancient song known as the ‘Songs of Consolation’ was recreated and performed for the first time in the last thousand years. The musical piece pertains to the poetic portions of Boethius’ magnum opus The Consolation of Philosophy, considered as one of the most important and widely-read philosophical works of the Middle Ages.

In fact, from the historical perspective, the work’s eminence stemmed from its various translations by renowned personalities like King Alfred the Great, Chaucer and even Elizabeth I. And since we brought up the scope of history, the medieval period also witnessed a plethora of Latin songs being composed in neumes, in the period between circa 9th century to 13th century. Many of these musical pieces were not only derived from the works of late antiquity authors like Boethius, but also from the works of classical ancient authors like Horace and Virgil.

Cambridge University’s Dr. Sam Barrett had to delve into one of these incredible historical journeys to identify and then recreate the ‘Songs of Consolation’. And while the statement may seem straightforward, the process was anything but, especially since the medieval music was written on the basis of melodic outlines, as opposed to the modern-day recognition of what we know as notes. In other words, the thousand-year musical compositions were more dependent on the oral traditions of contemporary musicians. As Barrett clarified –

Neumes indicate melodic direction and details of vocal delivery without specifying every pitch and this poses a major problem. The traces of lost song repertoires survive, but not the aural memory that once supported them. We know the contours of the melodies and many details about how they were sung, but not the precise pitches that made up the tunes.

In spite of such limitations, Barrett was able to compile and piece together around 80 percent of what can be technically known about the melodies for Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. And while the project was painstaking, he was fortunately helped by Benjamin Bagby, the co-founder of Sequentia, a three-piece group of experienced performers who have formulated “their own working memory of medieval songs”. With their expertise, the two researchers tried versions that combined both the theoretical and practical approaches (based on periodic instruments), and step-by-step resurrected a musical side to the poems of The Consolation of Philosophy.

5) Earliest Known Practical Example of Polyphonic Music –

Chant Dedicated to Saint Boniface (circa 10th century AD).

A research completed in 2014 shed light into the what had been termed as the “earliest known practical example of polyphonic music”. Pertaining to an inscription found on a British Library manuscript in London, the piece of choral music was judged to be composed (written) for more than one part. The scholars believe that this composition (comprising a short chant) dates back to the early 10th century (circa 900 AD), and was dedicated to Boniface, patron Saint of Germany. In essence, it predates what was previously thought to be the earliest polyphonic music, from an 11th-century collection called The Winchester Troper, by almost a hundred years.

The musical piece was discovered by Giovanni Varelli, a Ph.D. student from St John’s College who specializes in early musical notation. His initial analysis revealed that the music consisted of two complementary vocal parts. The later assessment confirmed that the piece composed as a short antiphon (a sentence sung before or after a psalm) was accompanied by a secondary vocal arrangement. Interestingly enough, this type of composition goes against the contemporary convention – as mentioned in 10th-century musical treatises, thus suggesting that medieval composers were already beginning to experiment with their musical scopes at an intrinsic level. As Varelli said –

What’s interesting here is that we are looking at the birth of polyphonic music and we are not seeing what we expected. Typically, polyphonic music is seen as having developed from a set of fixed rules and almost mechanical practice. This changes how we understand that development precisely because whoever wrote it was breaking those rules. It shows that music at this time was in a state of flux and development, the conventions were fewer rules to be followed than a starting point from which one might explore new compositional paths.

Technically labeled as an organum, this early type of polyphonic music didn’t immediately come into the historical limelight probably because of the ‘rudimentary’ musical notation used for the piece, which could be rather abstruse to modern readers and aficionados. But as with a bevy of historical artifacts and discoveries, researchers are still not sure about the original composer of this earliest known practical example of polyphonic music. However, judging by the type of notation (probably Eastern Palaeo-Frankish), the origin of the music might have pertained to a monastic center in north-west Germany, possibly in proximity to Paderborn or Düsseldorf.

6) Oldest Known Secular Norse Song –

Drømde mig en drøm i nat(circa 13th century AD).

Codex Runicus, the medieval manuscript dating from circa 1300 AD, comprises around 202 pages composed in runic characters. Known for its content of the Scanian Law (Skånske lov) – the oldest preserved Nordic provincial law, the codex is also touted to be one of the very rare specimens that have its runic texts found on vellum (parchment made from calfskin). And interestingly enough, as opposed to Viking Age usage of runes, each of these ‘revivalist’ runes corresponds to the letters of the Latin Alphabet.

Now while a significant section of the Codex Runicus covers the Scanian Ecclesiastical Law (pertaining to Danish Skåneland), the manuscript also chronicles the reigns of early Danish monarchs and the oldest region along the Danish-Swedish border. But most interestingly, the last page of the codex also contains what can be defined as the oldest known musical notations written in Scandinavia, with their non-rhythmic style on a four-line staff.

One such Norse song verse, more famously known in modern Denmark as the first two lines of the folk song Drømde mig en drøm i nat (‘I dreamt a dream last night’), is presented in the video above, performed under the tutelage of renowned Old Norse expert – the ‘Cowboy Professor’ Dr. Jackson Crawford. One can also listen to the short instrumentation of this old Norse song by clicking here.

Lyrics (Old Norse):

Drøymde mik ein draum i nótt

um silki ok ærlig pell,

um hægindi svá djupt ok mjott,

um rosemd með engan skell.

Ok i drauminom ek leit

sem gegnom ein groman glugg

þá helo feigo mennsko sveit,

hver sjon ol sin eiginn ugg.

Talit þeira otta jok

ok leysingar joko enn —

en oft er svar eit þyngra ok,

þó spurning at bera brenn.

Ek fekk sofa lika vel,

ek truða þat væri best —

at hvila mik á goðu þel´

ok gløyma svá folki flest´.

Friðinn, ef hann finzt, er hvar

ein firrest þann mennska skell,

fær veggja sik um, drøma þar

um silki ok ærlig pell.

Lyrics (English translation):

I dreamed a dream last night

of silk and fair furs,

of a pillow so deep and soft,

a peace with no disturbance.

And in the dream I saw

as though through a dirty window

the whole ill-fated human race,

a different fear upon each face.

The number of their worries grow

and with them the number of their solutions —

but the answer is often a heavier burden,

even when the question hurts to bear.

As I was able to sleep just as well,

I thought that would be best —

to rest myself here on fine fur,

and forget everyone else.

Peace, if it is to be found, is where

one is furthest from the human noise —

and walling oneself around, can have a dream

of silk and fine furs.

And in case you are interested, the famous folk song (partly derived from the oldest secular Norse song) is presented below. It was performed by the Danish singer Louise Fribo.

7) Earliest Surviving Secular English Song –

Mirie it is while sumer ilast (circa 1225 AD).

Shifting our focus to another Germanic language which still retains around 400 million native speakers, we have come across what might be the earliest surviving secular English song, dating from the first half of 13th century (circa 1225 AD). Known as Mirie it is while sumer ilast (‘Merry it is while summer lasts’), the preservation of the song is quite fortuitous since it was composed on a paper that was kept inside an unrelated historical manuscript.

The manuscript in question here pertains to the Book of Psalms, originally written in Latin on parchment, dating from the latter half of 12th century AD. However after a few decades of its composition, an anonymous writer (probably not the original scribe) added a flyleaf – a blank page, at the beginning of the manuscript. This particular page contained handwritten compositions of two French songs, along with a verse (in Middle English) of what is now considered as the earliest surviving secular English song – Mirie it is while sumer ilast. This ‘rudimentary’ music has been recreated and performed on a medieval harp by Ian Pittaway, in the above video.

Translation to modern English –

Miri it is while sumer ilast with fugheles song, oc nu

neheth windes blast and weder strong. ei ei what this

niht is long. and ich with wel michel wrong, soregh and

murn and fast.

Merry it is while summer lasts with the song of birds

but now draws near the wind’s blast and harsh weather.

Alas, Alas! How long this night is! And I, most unjustly,

sorrow and mourn and fast.

And in case, you prefer a more standardized version of the medieval English song, the following performance was conducted for the Melodious Melancholye album by the Ensemble Belladonna.

8) First Computer-Generated Song Ever Recorded (1951) –

Alan Turing, the man widely hailed as the father of modern computing, was also a brilliant music innovator, according to a team of researchers from New Zealand. As part of a project conducted in 2016, the scientists managed to recover what is most likely the first electronic song ever recorded. Dating back to 1951, the computer-generated music was produced with the help of a giant contraption designed by the British mathematician and cryptanalyst.

As pointed out by the scientists, the device eventually paved the way for a variety of modern-day musical instruments, including synthesizer. Speaking about the man who is best known for decrypting the famous WWII Enigma code, Jack Copeland and Jason Long of Christchurch-based University of Canterbury (UC), said:

Alan Turing’s pioneering work in the late 1940s on transforming the computer into a musical instrument has been largely overlooked.

The music was generated by one of BBC’s outside-broadcast unit using the enormous machine built by Turing. The contraption, the scientists reveal, was housed in the Computing Machine Laboratory, located in Manchester in the northern part of England. In fact, the device was so big that it took up most of the building’s ground floor.

Opening with Britain’s national anthem “God Save the Queen”, the two-minute-long audio included portions of two other songs: “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller and “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. It was recorded onto a 12-inch (approx. 30.5 cm) acetate disc that sadly damaged, leaving the music distorted. The team added:

The frequencies in the recording were not accurate. The recording gave at best only a rough impression of how the computer sounded.

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aulos

To produce the diatonic scale throughout the octaves of its compass, the stopped pipe requires eleven lateral holes in the side of the pipe, at appropriate distances from each other, and from the end of the pipe, whereas the open pipe requires but six. The acoustic properties of the open pipe can only be secured in combination with a reed mouthpiece by making the bore conical. The late Romans (and therefore we may perhaps assume the Greeks also, since the Romans acknowledge their indebtedness to the Greeks in matters relating to musical instruments, and more especially to the cithara and aulos) understood the acoustic principle utilized to-day in making wind instruments, that a hole of small diameter nearer the mouthpiece may be substituted for one of greater diameter in the theoretically correct position. This is demonstrated by the 4th-century grammarian Macrobius, who says (Comm. in Somn. Scip. ii. 4, 5): “Nec secus probamus in tibiis, de quarum foraminibus vicinis inflantis ori sonus acutus emittitur, de longinquis autem et termino proximis gravior item acutior per patentiora foramina, gravior per angusta” (see Bassoon ). Aristotle gives directions for boring holes in the aulos, which would apply only to a pipe of cylindrical bore (Probl. xix. 23). At first the aulos had but three or four holes to Diodorus of Thebes is due the credit of having increased this number (Pollux iv. 80). Pronomus, the musician, and teacher of Alcibiades (5th century B.C. ), further improved the aulos by making it possible to play on one pair of instruments the three musical scales in use at his time, the Dorian, the Phrygian, and the Lydian, whereas previously a separate pair of pipes had been used for each scale (Pausanias ix. 12. 5 Athenaeus xiv. 31). These three modes would require a compass of a tenth in order to produce the fundamental octave in each.

There are two ways in which this increased compass might have been obtained: (1) by increasing the number of holes and covering up those not required, (2) by means of contrivances for lowering the pitch of individual notes as required. We have evidence that both means were known to the Greeks and Romans. The simplest device for closing holes not in use was a band of metal left free to slide round the pipe, and having a hole bored through it corresponding in diameter with the hole in the pipe. Each hole was provided with a band, which was in some cases prevented from slipping down the pipe by narrow fixed rings of metal. The line on fig. 1 between r and s is thought to have been one of these rings.

Some pipes had two holes pierced through the bands and the bone, in such a manner that only one could be exposed at a time. This is clearly shown in the diagram (fig. 1) of fragments of an aulos from the museum at Candia, for which the writer is greatly indebted to Professor John L. Myres, by whom measured drawings were made from the instrument in 1893. These highly interesting remains, judging from the closed end (5), seem to belong to a side-blown reed-pipe similar to the Maenad pipes in the Castellani collection at the British Museum, illustrated below they are constructed like modern flutes, but played by means of a reed inserted into the lateral embouchure.

In the Candia pipe, it seems likely that Nos. 1 and 2 represented the bell end, slightly expanded, No. 3 joining the broken end of No. 2 at l there being a possible fit at the other end at s with a in No. 4 (the drawings must in this case be imagined as reversed for parts 3 and 4), and No. 5 joining on to No. 4 at k.

According to Professor Myres there are fragments of a pair of pipes in the Cyprus Museum of precisely the same construction as the one in Candia. In the drawing, the shape and relative position of the holes on the circumference is approximate only, but their position lengthways is measured.

(From a drawing by Prof. John L. Myres.)

Fig. 1. — Diagram of the Fragments of an Aulos (Candia Mus.).

the small hole shown is in the

The line between r and s is either a turned ring or part of bronze cover. The double lines to the right of t are engraved lines.

The double reed was probably used at first, being the simplest form of mouthpiece the word zeugos, moreover, signifies a pair of like things. There is, however, no difficulty in accepting the probability that a single beating reed or clarinet mouthpiece was used by the Greeks, since the ancient Egyptians used it with the as-it or arghoul (q.v.).

The beak-shaped mouthpiece of a pipe found at Pompeii (fig. 3) has all the appearance of the beak of the clarinet, having, on the side not shown, the lay on which to fix a single or beating reed. [9] It may, however, have been the cap of a covered reed, or even a whistle mouthpiece in which the lip does not show in the photograph. It is difficult to form a conclusion without seeing the real instrument. On a mosaic of Monnus in Trèves [10] is represented an aulos which also appears to have a beak-shaped mouthpiece.

Aristoxenus gives the full compass of a single pipe or pair of pipes as over three octaves:—“For doubtless we should find an interval greater than the above mentioned three octaves between the highest note of the soprano clarinet (aulos) and the lowest note of the bass-clarinet (aulos) and again between the highest note of a clarinet player performing with the speaker open, and the lowest note of a clarinet player performing with the speaker closed.” [20]

The Phrygian pipes or auloi Elymoi [26] were made of box-wood and were tipped with horn they were double pipes, but differed from all others in that the two pipes were unequal in length and in the diameter of their bores [27] sometimes one of the pipes was curved upwards and terminated in a horn bell [28] they seem to have had a conical bore, if representations on monuments are to be trusted. We may conclude that the archetype of the oboe with conical bore was not unknown to the Greeks it was frequently used by the Etruscans and Romans, and appears on many has-reliefs, mural paintings and other monuments. For illustrations see Wilhelm Froehner, Les Musées de France, pl. iii., “Marsyas playing the double pipes.” There the bore is decidedly conical in the ratio of at least 1 : 4 between the mouthpiece and the end of the instrument the vase is Roman, from the south of France. See also Bulletino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma, Rome, 1879, vol. vii., 2nd series, pl. vii. and p. 119 et seq., “Le Nozze di Elena e Paride,” from a bas-relief in the monastery of S. Antonio on the Esquiline Wilhelm Zahn, Die schönsten Ornamente und die merkwürdigsten Gemälde aus Pompeji, Herkulaneum und Stabiae (German and French), vol. iii., pl. 43 and 51 (Berlin, 1828–1859).

The bagpipe in Northern and Western Europe

With the invasion of Britain (at first by Caesar in 55 and 54 B.C., see his famous De Bello Gallico, later followed in 43 A.C. by Claudius) and the expansion of the Roman Empire, the bagpipe spread quickly over Europe, evident in the various types of bagpipes, like the gaita in Portugal and Spain, the gajda in the Balkan area resp. the gajdy in Eastern Europe, the duda in Hungary or the zampogna in the Italian area (as a direct descendant of the early Roman tibia utricularis as a merely adaptation of the bag principal to the divergent double-pipe, with two chanters).

Although the bagpipe apparently never had any official status as an instrument of the Roman army during the c. 350 years of the Roman presence there, it was played at the religious observances of the soldiers or at other, more secular occasions in their off-duty hours. And since there was plenty of fraternization between the Roman soldiers and the natives of Britain when the two nations were not engaged in warfare, the British people became aware of the Roman bagpipe and may very well have adapted it to their own instruments although there is only vague evidence from carvings or mosaics from that time.

More problems arise when we attempt to establish a link between the Roman double-pipes resp. the bagpipe and the probable ancestors of the nowadays Scottish Great Highland bagpipe. There is little doubt that the Highlanders (the Caledonians in those days), implacable enemies of the invading Romans, must have known all about the Roman tibia particularly from the Roman military altars along the fortified lines which always had a piper playing before it, as well as from civilian settlements near the Roman military base camps in southern Scotland. But despite their natural gift of music, they have totally rejected the Roman pipes. The ancient Egyptian parallel pipes, with their drone, resemble more closely to the today's full developed Highland pipes, but the question is how did this two-handed chanter and drone arrive in Britain, and in Scotland in particular. One of the various assumptions is that it had reached Scotland with immigrants from the Mediterranean by the way of the west coast between 2000 and 3000 B.C., or via Ireland with its close ties to Spain. It may also be that the Highlanders invented their pipes independently in pre-Roman times.

fig. 9 A man playing bagpipes from the Luttrel Psalter
British Library, London

The instrument has a carved king's head, and a pennon with a heraldic lion.

Another attempt to explain how the chanter and drone principle reached the Scots is suggested by the appearance of what is generally called the "hornpipe," which is the pibcorn (or pibgorn) in Wales, made by shepherds, and later in Scotland the stock and horn. These were either single pipes or parallel double-pipes (drone form), made of sheep's thigh-bone or bower-tree with cow horn bell and oaten reed. Some of the Welsh pibcorn had the reed covered with a cap of horn, while the Scottish stock and horn showed a wooden reed cap. Their origin may lay in the ancient Phrygian aulos (fig. 8) , appearing also a lot in the Roman period. The tubes had different lengths, the left one also looked like a horn. It is associated particularly with the Dionysios- and the Cybele-cult.

Such early hornpipes 6 (fig. 7) possibly had come with migrant invaders from the eastern Mediterranean at about 2000 B.C and might have originated with some megalithic cult. 7 The majority of hornpipes are, however, double pipes played with an inflated bag of goatskin, cow's stomach or suchlike (fig. 9) .

fig. 7 Various types of hornpipes, double-pipes and an early shawm

Enchanted Bodies: Reframing the Culture of Greek Aulos Performance

The double-pipe reed woodwind known as the aulos was the most pervasive instrument in ancient Greek life. Despite recent attention to affect and the senses and advancements in ancient musicology, there remains no comprehensive study of this cultural phenomenon. Bringing the burgeoning field of sound studies to bear on the diverse range of evidence, this dissertation offers the first cultural history of aulos performance, focusing on a crucial period of its activity spanning the sixth through fourth centuries BCE. I propose an interpretive model that works across textual and material sources to account for the ineffable, affective ways in which the instrument acts upon the embodied listener. When we consider the aulos as a sonic medium that works beyond the structural and semantic boundaries of music and language, we can identify how the instrument communicates across contexts through certain structures of feeling its sound. By exploring the world-building capacities of the instrument’s sound effects and harmonics, I chart the history of these embodied ways of knowing its sound. I argue that the aulos operates through a culturally conditioned interface with the body, exerting an agency that impacts social and civic identity, drives musical innovation, and poses a cultural threat to discursive ways of knowing and rational persuasion. The five chapters identify the interplay of tradition and innovation across the contexts of aulos performance, between musical and theatrical genres as well as civic practices involving corporate movement. Meanwhile, with the rise of prose, the emerging critical discourse on the aulos analyzes its effect on the body specifically and aims to expose how the listener is tricked into the “enchanting” soundworlds it constructs. This interdisciplinary media-based approach to ancient Greek performance thus presents a new register of meaning-making that articulates unexplored aspects of the artistic, literary, and philosophical works that preserve this culture.

What Did Ancient Music Sound Like?

Ancient works of art illustrate that music had a strong presence in daily life of classical Greece and Rome. Vase paintings and sculptures in the antiquities collection offer an eye-opening view of the variety of musical instruments that were played, as well as the contexts in which they were performed.

Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus (detail of a maenad, a female follower of Dionysos, playing the tympanum), Roman, A.D. 210–220. Marble, 67 15/16 in. wide. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 83.AA.275

By looking closely at works of art, we know that music played a role in rituals associated with Dionysos, the Greek god of theater and wine. Music, like wine, was perceived to have transformative qualities, transporting one’s consciousness from a state of awareness to ecstasis. The front panel of this Roman sarcophagus shows a Dionysiac revel, in which a symphony of instruments—from the aulos to the tympanum, the lyre to the kymbala—is played by maenads and satyrs alike.

Like today, music also played an important role at parties. One of the primary sources for understanding ancient music is artifacts used in and depicting the symposion (symposium), a male drinking party reserved for the aristocrats of Greek society. This drinking cup illustrates several musicians in action. Entertainers play the krotala and the aulos while dancers move to their rhythms.

Ancient musicians in action. Wine Cup with Flirtation Scene (inverted view of exterior, with detail below), attributed to the Briseis Painter, vase-painter, and Brygos, potter. Greek, made in Athens, about 480–470 B.C. Terracotta, 12 1/16 in. diam. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 86.AE.293

While few actual instruments or musical notations survive, iconography on works of art informs us quite a bit about possible performance techniques, the timbre of an instrument, how instruments were made, and the ways ancient instruments connect to modern-day ones.

At the Getty Villa, we took this idea a step further by inviting the contemporary musical duo Musicàntica for a series of artist-at-work demonstrations in February and May 2012. Art might provide a lot of information, but images of music really need a soundtrack.

Enzo Fina and Roberto Catalano, who make up Musicàntica, explore the oral traditions of the Italian outlier: the music of the southern Italian peasantry, fishermen, and street vendors whose musical history is passed from generation to generation by untrained players. While thousands of years separate Musicàntica from their ancient counterparts depicted in works of art at the Villa, their instruments connect them across time. As part of their repertoire, Musicàntica highlights instruments that are directly connected to their ancient roots.

For example, the benas, a single and double Sardinian reed clarinet, has its roots in the aulos, an ancient wind instrument like the modern clarinet and oboe.

The benas, a Sardinian reed clarinet, is the direct descendant of the ancient aulos.

Playing the aulos. Water Jar with a Reveler, attributed to the Eucharides Painter. Greek, made in Athens, about 480 B.C. Terracotta, 15 5/16 in. high. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 86.AE.227

Ancient musicians used the circular breathing technique, a method in which a player inhales from the nose, fills his cheeks with air, and slowly blows it out of the instrument in a circular fashion. The sound was continuous but imposed a great deal of stress on the musician.

To play the benas, Roberto wore a phorbeia, a leather strap used by ancient aulettes (players of the aulos) to compensate for the stress on the cheeks and lips caused by blowing into the instrument.

During the artist-at-work demo at the Villa, Roberto Catalano wears a phorbeia (leather strap) to play the benas, a Sardinian reed clarinet descended from the ancient aulos.

An ancient aulette blows on his instrument (now lost). Head of a Boy Piper, Greek, about 320 B.C. Marble, 9 7/16 in. high. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 73.AA.30

And in this video clip, Enzo Fina demonstrates how he plays the ancient tympanum using its direct modern descendant, the frame drum.

While today’s instruments give us a sense of what their ancient counterparts might have sounded like, reconstructions can be just as informative. In the video below, Roberto Catalano improvises on a replica chelys lyre, tuned in the Dorian mode. The name derives from the Greek word for the shell of a tortoise, chelys, which functioned as the sound box. According to Greek myth, the first lyre was made by the god Hermes from a tortoise shell, as well as the horns and hide of an ox stolen from his brother, Apollo. This lyre has a sounding box made from the shell of the European tortoise, once plentiful in Europe, and wooden arms.

These examples show that ancient music has not fallen silent!

To explore ancient music further, here are two of my favorite sources: sounds of ancient papyri with evidence of musical notations, sound bites, and a bibliography, and reconstructed ancient instruments and more sound examples.

Who Really Invented The Bagpipes?

Each year, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo puts on a spectacular performance of bagpipers and drummers in Scotland. The event draws crowds of 220,000. More than 100 million spectators tune in via television. Of course, the showstopper of the annual tattoo remains the pìob-mhór or Highland bagpipes.

No modern-day nation is as closely associated with the drone of pipes as Caledonia. (That’s the Latin name given by the Romans to Scotland.) Yet, the origins of the instrument stretch back many thousands of years and miles. Here’s what we know.

Archaeological and Historical Breadcrumbs

Tracing the history of the bagpipe is no easy task. Like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, clues about the instrument’s origins are scattered across time and geography. Nonetheless, history sleuths have compiled a lengthy lineage for the instrument.

The evolutionary chain originated in Sumeria during the third millennium BC. From Sumeria, the double pipes traveled to Egypt, Phrygia, Lydia, and Phoenicia. Then, they came to Greece and Rome. Eventually, they made their way to the northernmost frontiers of the Roman Empire. A military staple, they were often sounded along the walls dividing Roman-occupied Britain from unconquered Caledonia.

Disfigured Faces and the “Reproach of Athena”

Ancient references to bagpipes exist in literature. They start with accounts from Greek writers such as Aristophanes, Thucydides, and Aristotle. Medieval mistranslation of the Greek word “aulos” (and the Latin word “tibia”) as “flute” led to centuries of confusion, though. As it turns out, “aulos” and “tibia” were double-pipe reed instruments. The musical “great-grandparents” of today’s bagpipes.

There was one massive problem with the aulos, though. It caused the “reproach of Athena,” or facial disfiguration. The deformation resulted from continually puffing out the cheeks while playing. The resulting look was anything but pretty, according to ancient writers. What’s more, the instrument was tough to master. Students often broke their pipes out of frustration or fear of flappy cheeks. Fortunately, the bagpipe’s iconic “airbag” was added by the Romans, giving ancient faces a break.

Greeks stayed away from bags, though. Instead, they invented phorbeia to protect their cheeks. Phorbeia were leather bands, which passed around the cheeks and across the mouth. A hole in the leather allowed the wearer fill the pipes with air. The contraption supported the cheeks, preventing disfigurement. It also looked like a dog muzzle. Nevertheless, it let Greeks keep playing without compromising their good looks.

Auletes wearing a leather strap called a phorbeiá (φορβεία) in Greek or capistrum in Latin, to avoid excessive strain on the lips and cheeks due to continuous blowing.

Who was the first army to march to pipes and drums? If you guessed the kilted Celts, you’re wrong. It was the Spartans. According to Aristotle, “It was their custom of entering battle to the music of pipe players which was adopted in order to make the fearlessness and ardour of the soldiers more evident.”

The music also had practical applications. It allowed thousands of Spartans to march in sync. Thucydides noted, “They advance slowly to the music of many pipe players which were stationed at regular intervals throughout the ranks, marching together rhythmically, that their ranks might not be broken.” Take that, Xerxes!

Nero Was a Piping Fool

Romans “borrowed” the aulos from the Greeks, along with their gods, mythology, togas, columns, etc. Then, they formed a piper’s guild. Soon pipes were featured at public games, funerals, religious ceremonies, and theater performances. Some say Caesar decided to cross the Rubicon only after seeing and hearing a lone piper on the other side.

Ovid talks about pipers dressed in elaborate costumes, and the Roman Emperor Nero may have been piping (instead of fiddling) when Rome burned. According to the Roman historian Dio Chrysostom, “They say [Nero] can…play the aulos both with his mouth and also with his armpit, a big bag being thrown under it, in order that he might escape the disfigurement of Athens.”

So how did the bagpipes finally get to Scotland? Double reed pipes were already a familiar sight in ancient Britain by 43 AD when the Romans invaded. The Latin army introduced the bag. By the time the Romans left, the instrument flourished in Britain and Gaul (modern-day France). There’s even a fascinating oral tradition passed down among Italian bagpipers to this day. Frank J. Timoney learned the legend while in Italy.

More Piping Escapades with Caesar

According to tradition, when Caesar invaded Britain, he hid his bagpipers from the mounted Celtic forces who opposed him. When the cavalry moved in, Caesar ordered the pipes to sound. The unexpected nasally drone spooked the Celts’ horses, causing them to lose to the Romans. Understanding the reason for their defeat, the Britons came to worship the instrument for its magical qualities.

Whether there’s any truth to the myth, we’ll likely never know. It’s ironic to think Caesar may have defeated the Britons with bagpipes, though. No matter the case, they remain a staple of Celtic culture in Scotland and Ireland to this day.