The aulos is shown in a developed form in Greek vase-paintings of  the sixth century BC, and its outward appearance (or, at any rate, the  way of representing it) seems to have changed little during the  following century.
Each pipe of the instrument was usually made in five separate parts—the body (usually in two parts), the two bulbs and the reed mouthpiece  (Figure 2a.3). The stem of the reed was inserted into the top bulb and, as  it was particularly vulnerable, it was removed when the aulos was not in  use. The pipes were carried around in a long, narrow double pouch,
usually depicted as made from the skin of a dappled animal (a leopard, or  perhaps a deer) and the reeds were stored in a small oblong box fixed to  the side of the pouch near the top. Its size was about 5×1 1/2×1 1/2 ins  (12×4 ×4 cm) and it was called a ‘reed-carrier’ (glottokomeion in Greek).
The same word was also used for any ‘long box’ including (with a touch of dark humour) a coffin (Figure 2a.4).6


These parts will be treated in order, starting from the mouthpiece and  working downwards.
In the great majority of vase-paintings the aulos is shown actually  being played, with the most interesting and vital part of the instrument,the reed, hidden in the player’s mouth. Usually the lips cover the reed to  the top end of the upper bulb. In the few pictures in which the pipe is  shown out of the player’s mouth, the reed appears to be something like a  modern bassoon reed in size and shape (Figures 2a.5 and 2a.6).
These pictures quite certainly represent double reeds, and not single  ones (as used in the drones of Scottish bagpipes), which would appear as  long, thin tubes with rounded tips. And apart from the pictorial evidence,
there are other good reasons for believing that the reeds used on the  aulos were double reeds.7 We also have some literary evidence, albeit  vague and difficult to interpret, on how they were made. This is mainly  derived from an account in Theophrastos’ Researches into Plants (Bk 4  Chapter 6) of how the ‘aulos-reed’ (auletikos kalamos) was grown and  prepared for reed-making. This plant has been identified as the species  arundo donax, or a species closely akin to it, which still grows in large  quantities all around the Mediterranean basin, though not in central or  northern Europe, and is used to make the reeds for most modern
woodwind instruments.8
The general gist of Theophrastos’ account is as follows. He says that in   early times, when the technique of aulos-playing was ‘natural’ or  ‘unforced’ (in Greek, aplastos), the reeds were cut about mid-September  in the second year of their growth, provided that the marsh in which they  grew had not dried out during that season. (If that occurred, the reeds  were presumably discarded as useless.) These reeds were not ready for  use until ‘quite a number of years later’, and needed a long period of  manipulation and playing-in before they would speak properly. The  openings of the reeds ‘tended to close up easily’, a feature which was
useful for the early technique of playing.9
When aulos-players changed over to a ‘forced’ or ‘artificial’ technique  (plasis in Greek) the reeds were cut earlier in the season—late June or  early July—and they became usable ‘after two or three years’. It is surely  significant that in modern times the reed-makers’ cane grown in the south  of France is cut and stacked for two to three years before use. The  change-over to plasis was associated with Antigeneidas, a famous virtuoso  player from Thebes, who was active in the late fifth and early fourth
century BC. The word itself literally means ‘moulding’ or ‘shaping’, and  would be appropriate for any technique by which the pitch or tone was  modified by the player’s embouchure, such as a glide from one note to  another (glissando) or a tremolo or vibrato effect. It might possibly refer  to the production of harmonics; this is discussed later.
One possible explanation of the change from one technique to the  other is that the older one involved putting the whole length of the reed tongues  inside the mouth, leaving them free to vibrate without any  control from the lips. For this purpose, it is indeed necessary to have  reeds which ‘close up easily’ —if they do not, they cannot be made to  vibrate. The later ‘forced’ technique should then be interpreted as the  modern one, used on an oboe or bassoon, in which the reeds, which are  much stronger and more open,10 have to be squeezed in order to make  them speak; this is done by inserting only about half the length of the  reed-tongues into the mouth, drawing the lips inward over the upper and  lower teeth, and then squeezing the reed-tongues between the lips. The  great advantage of this ‘forcing’ is that the volume, pitch and tone of the  instrument can be varied, whereas with the reed uncontrolled in the  mouth there can be little variation of loudness between pianissimo and  fortissimo, and only very limited control of pitch.


Unfortunately, it is not possible to discover from Theophrastos’ text the exact method by which the reeds were made.11 In this context, he is dealing  strictly with the choice and preparation of the material, and he writes on the  assumption—perfectly justified—that his readers know exactly what the  finished product looks like. It is unlikely, however, that the modern method,
which involves splitting the cane longitudinally into three segments, bending  one of them in the middle and binding its ends on to a metal tube (called a  staple) was used. It is much more likely that the end of a short section of  cane was softened by some process (perhaps by steaming), and then  flattened and scraped into the characteristic double-reed shape.
A number of other terms which relate to the control of the reed and  embouchure are used in the literary sources, and some are apparently  illustrated in vase-paintings. Some authors speak of ‘separating’ the pipes  and ‘putting them alongside’, and players in vase-paintings are shown  holding the pipes at various angles of divergence, up to about 45 degrees  at the extreme (Figure 2a.7).
According to the literary sources,12 these movements were used for  delicate adjustments of pitch, which was sharpened by separating the pipes,and flattened by bringing them together. They might have brought about a  very slight adjustment of the embouchure; the aulos-player had no thumbrests,and it must have been very difficult to control the position of each reed on the lower lip with one hand only. Incidentally, the ability of the  player to separate the pipes is a strong argument against the use of single  reeds, which are by their construction necessarily much longer than double  reeds, and would surely have collided inside the player’s mouth. There is a  rather incredible story told by an ancient commentator on Pindar Olympian  12 about an aulos-player whose reeds stuck on the roof of his mouth, and  were so badly damaged that he had to play the two pipes as though they
were pan-pipes. The first part of the story would be quite credible if they  were double reeds, but the reed-tongues of single reeds, which are cut in  the sides of the tubes, would have been protected by the closed tips of  their tubes from such damage. (One should never be too sceptical about  stories of remarkable achievements by woodwind players: on being told  this one, an oboist friend removed the reed from her instrument and, to my  great surprise, played it as a trumpet.)


In the treatise on acoustics attributed to Aristotle (see p. 138) there are  two references to tightening the embouchure, which he calls ‘squeezing   the reeds’ (piezein ta zeuge).13 The word zeuge means ‘pairs’ (in the  plural), and this must surely mean two double reeds.
Many illustrations show an aulos-player wearing a mouthband made of  leather, which the Greeks called phorbeia; the word was also used to  mean a strap or halter used to tether a horse to its feeding-trough or,
more probably, to tie its nosebag on. The version worn by an aulos player  consisted of a broad strap with two round holes, looking rather  like a highwayman’s mask, but worn over the mouth and around the  cheeks. In the great majority of vase-paintings it is shown in profile, but  where the player is drawn full-face, the reed mouthpieces can be seen  emerging from the holes. The strap tapered towards the back of the  player’s neck where, presumably, there was some kind of buckle or hook,
and a thin cord ran from the cheekpieces up over the top of the head, to  prevent it from sliding down on to the chin (Figure 2a.8).
A number of explanations have been offered for this device. Some  ancient scholars said that it was to prevent the cheeks from bulging, but  this is hardly satisfactory; the cheeks can normally be held in without any  such aid, and an explanation so closely tied up with the story of Athena’s  rejection of the aulos must be suspect (see p. 154). I have suggested  another explanation for the phorbeia which seems much more  satisfactory. In all illustrations (leaving out a few ambiguous ones) the  player wearing it is male, and he is taking part in a public competition, or  at least playing out of doors.


This would require strong, open reeds, and
the lip muscles which control the embouchure (and, incidentally, restrict  the bulging of the cheeks) would be subject to fatigue after a short time—present-day players of the shawm would testify to this. I do not know of  any undisputed illustration of a woman wearing a phorbeia, presumably  because women normally played indoors, and used softer, weaker reeds.
The phorbeia could, I believe, have been used to put pressure on the  lips, squeezing them together and keeping them in position over the  teeth, thus taking some of the strain off the lip muscles. The pressure  could be varied and controlled to some extent by movements of the head,and in fact the illustrations usually show the chin thrust out; this would be  the natural way to increase the tension in the strap. Moreover, when the  phorbeia is used, the pipes are usually held well up in front of the  player— horizontal or even higher. In a few exceptional cases the pipes   slope downwards, but this is clearly artist’s licence, intended to improve
the composition of the picture.
There is ample evidence to show that the behaviour, or rather  misbehaviour, of the reed was as much of a problem as it is today. The  Greeks had two words for the odd noises made by beginners on the  aulos— krizein (to squeak) and cheniazein (to blow a goose). We are also  told of aulos-players who drew frantic applause in a crowded theatre by  ‘playing with a slack embouchure and blasting out a lot of repetitive, off key  shrieks’ —early practitioners, it would seem, of a punk rock style.14
Between the reed and the body of the aulos there were normally two  bulbs, sometimes only one. They took one of two forms, as shown in Figure 2a.9.
Two Greek words were used for these parts of the mouthpiece  section— holmos, meaning ‘mortar’ (the kitchen utensil), and hypholmion,meaning ‘mortar-stand’. Aristotle remarks on the similarity of shape  between this part of the aulos and the egg-cases of dogfish, popularly  known as mermaids’ purses (Figure 2a.10).15
Some illustrations which show only one bulb give it a cone-shaped  extension, making the mouthpiece as a whole thistle-shaped. This is  exemplified in illustrations of the post-classical period, and in the  Pompeian pipes. The function of this part may have been to act as a  ‘pirouette’, to give support to, and relieve strain on, the lip muscles. If so,it would have been an alternative to the phorbeia.16




What was the function of the bulbs? We cannot be sure. They may  have been purely decorative (there are pictures of auloi without any) or  they may have contributed somehow to the balancing of the instrument—a difficult problem for the player, with only one hand to control each  pipe. Where they appear to be larger in diameter than the body of the  pipe, they may have served to protect the reed when the aulos was laid  down on a flat surface: on some instruments, particularly the Reading  aulos, the bulb is quite large.17 It is unlikely that they had an acoustical  function; the internal bore is the same as that of the rest of the pipe, and
they could hardly have influenced the pitch or the tone of the instrument.


The material most commonly used for the body of the aulos in the  classical period was the same species of reed (arundo donax) that was  used to make the reed mouthpiece, except that it was cut at a much later  stage of growth, when the stalks had reached an internal diameter of about  9–15 mm (0.3–0.6 in.). The length between two knots on the stem would  usually be sufficient to make the body in one piece. Other woods were  used, particularly one which they called lotos, probably to be identified as
the nettle-tree, celtis australis. (It was native to north Africa, hence both the  wood and the aulos made from it are referred to as ‘Libyan’.) Two pipes in  the British Museum, the ‘Elgin auloi’, were made from sycamore wood,
which shows that solid stems could be used as well as hollow ones.
Unfortunately, instruments made from these materials do not as a rule  survive. Bone was almost as commonly used, though a more difficult  material to work in. The tibia bones of small animals such as sheep or  deer were most suitable, and the portion of such a bone which can be  bored out and shaped is usually not more than about 9 cm (3.5 in.) long,
which means that the aulos body has to be put together from two or three  sections. These were jointed together, as are the sections of a modern  instrument, with tenons and sockets. There is some doubt whether the  tenons were padded with some soft material, or lapped with thread, as  they sometimes are on modern instruments. I am inclined to think that  they were not, because the sections were permanently glued together.
The carrying-case is almost always shown as being long enough to hold  the complete instrument without its reed.


BY John G.Landels


6 In Hero’s description of the organ (see Appendix 2, Figure Appendix 2.2) the
socket into which the key-block slid was called glottokomeion.
7 K.Schlesinger, in her formidable work The Greek Aulos (Methuen, London
1939, reprinted Groningen 1970) argued that they were replaced by a single
reed in the late fifth century, and some other authors who accepted her modal
theories (notably N.B.Bodley) have supported this view; but it is not justified
by the evidence.
8 The main reed-beds in Southern France were almost destroyed in the Second
World War, but have re-grown, and other sources have been found in the
U.S.A. and Australia.
9 The Greek word in the MS which I have interpreted as ‘the early technique’ is not
intelligible; some editors think it means ‘for purposes of accompaniment’ (see note 10).
10 I am sure that Barker (I, p. 188 n. 9) is right in interpreting kataspasmata in
this way. The verb ischein need not, as Schlesinger thought, mean ‘curb’ —it
can just mean ‘have’.
11 For a detailed discussion, see Barker I, pp. 186–189.
12 Aristoxenos II, 42 (Barker II, p. 158); Plutarch, Moralia 948b and 1096a.
13 801b, Barker II, p. 103 and 804a, ibid. p. 108.
14 Porphyrios’ commentary on Ptolemy, p. 20 1–2 During.

15 Historia Animalium (Zoological Researches) 565a23.
16 The top end of the Reading aulos has a flare which could have served this
purpose, though it is rather small.
17 See my article, ‘A newly-discovered aulos’, in the Annual of the British School
at Athens 63 (1968):231–238.

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