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p215 Buccinaa

Article by Benjamin Jowett, M.A., Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford
on p215 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

BUCCINA (βυκάνη, a kind of horn-trumpet, anciently made out of a shell. It is thus happily described by Ovid (Met. 1.335):—

"Cava buccina sumitur illi

Tortilis, in latum quae turbine crescit ab imo:

Buccina, quae in medio concepit ut aëra ponto,

Littora voce replet sub utroque jacentia Phoebo."

The musical instrument buccina nearly resembled in shape the shell buccinum, and, like it, might almost be described from the above lines (in the language of conchologists), as spiral and gibbous. The two drawings in the annexed woodcut agree with this account. In the first, taken from a frieze (Burney's History of Music, vol. I pl. 6), the buccina is curved for the convenience of the performer, with a very wide mouth, to diffuse and increase the sound. In the next, a copy of an ancient sculpture taken from Blanchini's work (De Musicis Instrum. Veterum, p15, pl. 2, 18), it still retains the original form of the shell.


[image ALT: An engraving of two horns: the first curved back on itself and with a widely flaring mouth; the other straight and narrowly conical. They are illustrations of the buccina, an ancient Roman musical instrument.]

The inscriptions quoted by Bartholiniº (De Tibiis, p226) seem to prove that the buccina was distinct from the cornu; but it is often (as in Aen. VII.519) confounded with it. The buccina seems to have been chiefly distinguished by the twisted form of the shell, from which it was originally made. In later times it was carved from horn, and perhaps from wood or metal, so as to imitate the shell. The buccina was chiefly used to proclaim the watches of the day (Senec. Thyest. 798) and of the night, hence called buccina prima, secunda, &c. (Polyb. XIV.3; Liv. XXVI.15; Sil. Ital. VII.154; Propert. IV.4.63; Cic. Pro Mur. 9). It was also blown at funerals, and at festive entertainments both before sitting down to table and after (Tac. Ann. XV.30). Macrobius (I.8) tells us that tritons holding buccinae were fixed on the roof of the temple of Saturn.

The musician who played the buccina was called buccinator.


Thayer's Note:

a Also fairly often spelled bucina.


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Page updated: 4 Feb 09