Monday, November 24, 2014



M.L. West, Ancient Greek Music (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992; rpt. 1994), pp. 1-2:
The most pervasive sign of the average classicist's unconcern with the realities of music is the ubiquitous rendering of aulos, a reed-blown instrument, by 'flute'. There was a time when it was legitimate, because the classification of instruments had not been thought out scientifically and it was quite customary to speak of a 'flute family' that included the reed-blown instruments.2 But that tolerant era is long past, and now the only excuse for calling an aulos a flute is that given by Dr Johnson when asked why he defined 'pastern' as the knee of a horse: 'Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance.' Yet countless literary scholars and even archaeologists persist in this deplorable habit, deaf to all protests from the enlightened. One might as well call the sȳrinx a mouth organ. Those who rely on the standard Greek-English lexicon are not well served in this matter: 'flute' appears erroneously in at least seventy articles.

2 See Becker, 36-8.
Id., p. 81:
Aulos is a native word meaning basically 'tube' or 'duct'. The musical aulos was a pipe with finger-holes and a reed mouthpiece. The player almost always played two of them at once, one with each hand, so we shall often refer to auloi in the plural.2

2 It is curious that Greek writers never seem to use the dual form aulō, as might be expected in the Attic dialect with objects so obviously making a pair.
Id., pp. 84-85:
Under the Hornbostel-Sachs system, therefore, the aulos should be classified as an oboe. Those who regard the form of the bore as the decisive criterion will seek a different term.19

It must be admitted that 'oboe-girl' is less evocative than the 'flute-girl' to which classicists have been accustomed, and that when it is a question of translating Greek poetry 'oboe' is likely to sound odd. For the latter case I favour 'pipe' or 'shawm'.20 I have found no very satisfactory solution to the girl problem.

19 Becker's 'euthyphone' (cylindrical) and 'enclinophone' (conical) cannot be called felicitous.

20 Some musicologists do use 'shawm' in the generic sense of double-reed pipe, while others reserve it for particular species (see NG XV. 665). The word derives from calamus.
Becker is Heinz Becker, Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der antiken und mittelalterlichen Rohrblattinstrumente (Hamburg: H. Sikorski, 1966), and NG is The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1980).


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