An aulete (αὺλητής, 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.
There were several kinds of aulos. A single pipe without a reed was called the monaulos (μόναυλος, from μόνος "single"). A single pipe held horizontally, as the modern flute, was the plagiaulos (πλαγίαυλος, from πλάγιος "sideways"). The most common variety must have been a reed instrument. Archeological finds, surviving iconography and other evidence indicate that it was usually double-reeded, like an oboe, although simple variants with a single clarinet-type reed cannot be ruled out.
Though aulos is often erroneously translated as "flute", it was a reed instrument, and its sound — described as "penetrating, insisting and exciting" — was more akin to that of the bagpipes, with a chanter and (modulated) drone. Like the Great Highland Bagpipe, the aulos have been used for martial music, but it is more frequently depicted in other social settings. It was the standard accompaniment of the passionate elegiac poetry. It also accompanied physical activities such as wrestling matches, the broad jump, the discus throw and to mark the rowing cadence on triremes, as well as sacrifices and dramas. Plato associates it with the ecstatic cults of Dionysus and the Korybantes, banning it from his Republic but reintroducing it in "Laws".
It appears that some variants of the instrument were loud, shrill, and therefore very hard to blow. A leather strap, called a phorbeiá (φορβεία) in Greek or capistrum in Latin, was worn by the auletai to avoid excessive strain on the lips and cheeks due to continuous blowing. Aulus players are sometimes depicted with puffed cheeks. The playing technique almost certainly made use of circular breathing, very much like the Sardinian launeddas which would give the aulos a continuous sound.
Although aristocrats with sufficient leisure sometimes practiced aulos-playing as they did the lyre, after the later fifth century the aulos became chiefly associated with professional musicians, often slaves. Nevertheless, such musicians could achieve fame. The Romano-Greek writer Lucian discusses aulos playing in his dialogue Harmonides, in which Alexander the Great's aulete Timotheus discusses fame with his pupil Harmonides. Timotheus advises him to impress the experts within his profession rather than seek popular approval in big public venues. If leading musicians admire him, popular approval will follow. However, Lucian reports that Harmonides died from excessive blowing during practicing.
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In myth, Marsyas the satyr was supposed to have invented the aulos, or else picked it up after Athena had thrown it away because it caused her cheeks to puff out and ruined her beauty. In any case, he challenged Apollo to a musical contest, where the winner would be able to "do whatever he wanted" to the loser - Marsyas's expectation, typical of a satyr, was that this would be sexual in nature. But Apollo and his lyre beat Marsyas and his aulos. And since the pure lord of Delphi's mind worked in different ways than Marsyas's, he celebrated his victory by stringing his opponent up from a tree and flaying him alive. King Midas got donkey's ears for judging Apollo as the lesser player. Marsyas' blood and the tears of the Muses formed the river Marsyas in Asia Minor.
This tale was a warning against committing the sin of "hubris", or overwhelming pride, in that Marsyas thought he might win against a god. Strange and brutal as it is, this myth reflects a great many cultural tensions that the Greeks expressed in the opposition they often drew between the lyre and aulos: freedom vs. servility and tyranny, leisured amateurs vs. professionals, moderation (sophrosyne) vs. excess, etc. Some of this is a result of 19th century AD "classical interpretation", i.e. Apollo versus Dionysus, or "Reason" (represented by the kithara) opposed to "Madness" (represented by the aulos). In the temple to Apollo at Delphi, there was also a shrine to Dionysus, and his Maenads are shown on drinking cups playing the aulos, but Dionysus is sometimes shown holding a kithara or lyre. So a modern interpretation can be a little more complicated than just simple duality.
It should be noted, however, that this opposition is mostly an Athenian one. We[who?] might surmise that things were different at Thebes, which was a center of aulos-playing. And we know that at Sparta – which had no Bacchic or Korybantic cults to serve as contrast – the aulos was actually associated with Apollo, and accompanied the hoplites into battle.
The sounds of the aulos are being digitally recreated by the Ancient Instruments Sound/Timbre Reconstruction Application (ASTRA) project which uses Physical modeling synthesis to simulate the aulos sounds. Due to the complexity of this process the ASTRA project uses grid computing to model sounds on hundreds of computers throughout Europe simultaneously.
- αὐλός, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- Based on archaeological remains found at Pompeii
- Howard, Albert A. (1893). "The Αὐλός or Tibia". Harvard Studies in Classical Philology (Department of the Classics, Harvard University) 4: 1–60. doi:10.2307/310399.
- West, Martin L. (January 1992). Ancient Greek Music. Clarendon Press. pp. 81–5. ISBN 0-19-814975-1.
- The History of Musical Instruments, Curt Sachs, 1940
- Herodotus, The Histories, 1.17.1, on Perseus
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Auloi.|
- "The Aulos and Drama: A Performer's Viewpoint," by Philip Neuman
- "Ancient Greek Music - The Aulos, with sound examples"
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aulos". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Ginsberg-Klar, Maria E. (February 1981). "The Archaeology of Musical Instruments in Germany during the Roman Period". World Archaeology 12 (3, Archaeology and Musical Instruments): 313–320. doi:10.1080/00438243.1981.9979806. Retrieved December 22, 2007. "The tibiae (is) an instrument of the Romans."