Ancient Greek aulos

Contributed by Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology

The 'aulos' in the Ure Museum is the best known example of a popular musical instrument from ancient Greece. Although it looks like a flute, our single pipe was actually half of a double aulos, a wind instrument played by blowing through a reed. Blowing air through one reed to make noise on two pipes would have been hard work, resulting in red faced boys with puffed up cheeks and some ancient written sources tell us it caused people to make fun of each other. Our aulos, which seems to have a wooden core, encased in bronze and silver, has been mistakenly restored as a single aulos. The Ure Museum bought it in 1967 for £100 and it was perhaps undervalued because it was so rare and people were suspicious of its restoration. Reading's Classics Department, however, had on staff an expert in ancient music, Dr. John Landels, who advised the Ure's Curator, Annie Ure, of its value. He studied it using x-ray technology and concluded that most of the materials were original. Bone, ivory and wooden parts of similar instruments have been found in excavations in Greece and the Mediterranean but the metal parts have usually disappeared, degraded beyond recognition, or weren't used on some pipes

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  • 1 comment
  • 1. At 22:37 on 19 September 2011, Sean Folsom the Piper wrote:

    The "Disfigurement of Athena" was caused by the playing technique known as "Circular Breathing" which was used to play the Aulos. This kind of breathing (also called "Nasal Inhalation") caused the player's cheeks to inflate, then sag down after some time. The Aulos itself, and the "Phorbia", a leather strap that fit over the player's head,was said to be the invention of the Goddess Athena. She invented the Phorbia, after the rest of the Gods and Goddesses laughed at her on Mt. Olympus. Athena looked for a reflection of her Face in the Water, and found that her Cheeks were sagging and her eyes were bloodshot.
    The Leather Strap supported the player's Cheeks, to prevent any possible disfigurement.

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