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p1130 Tibia

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp1130‑1131 of

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

TIBIA (αὐλός), a pipe, the commonest musical instrument of the Greeks and Romans. It was very frequently a hollow cane perforated with holes in the proper places Plin. H. N. XVI.36 s66; Athen. IV p182). In other instances it was made of some kind of wood, especially box, and was bored with a gimblet (terebrato buxo, Ovid. Fast. VI.697). The Phoenicians used a pipe, called gingrus, or αὐλὸς γιγγραϊνος, which did not exceed a span in length, and was made of a small reed or straw (Athen. IV p174F; Festus, s.v. Gingriator). The use of the same variety in Egypt is proved by specimens in the British Museum, which were discovered in an Egyptian tomb.

When a single pipe was used by itself, the performer upon it, as well as the instrument, was called monaulos (Mart. XIV.64; μόναυλος, Brunck, Anal. I.484). Thus used, it was much in fashion at Alexandria (Athen. IV p174B). When its size became considerable, and it was both strengthened and adorned by the addition of metallic or ivory rings (Hor. Art. Poet. 202‑205; Propert. IV.6.8), it must have been comparable to the flageolet, or even to the clarionet of modern times.a Among the varieties of the single pipe the most remarkable were the bag-pipe, the performer on which was called utricularius Suet. Nero, 54) or ἀσκαύλης (Onomast.); the αὐλὸς πλάγιος or πλαγίαυλος (Theocrit. XX.29; Longus, I.2; Heliodor. Aethiop. V; Aelian, H.A. VI.19; Eustath. in Hom. Il. XVIII.495), which, as its name implies, had a mouth-piece inserted into it at right angles. Its form is shown in a restored terminal statue of Pan in the Townley collection of the British Museum. Pan was the reputed inventor of this kind of tibia (Bion, III.7) as well as of the fistula or Syrinx.

But among the Greeks and Romans it was much more usual to play on two pipes at the same time. Hence a performance on this instrument (tibicinium, Gellius, IV.13), even when executed by a single person, was called canere or cantare tibiis (Gellius, N.A. XV.17; Corn. Nepos, XV.2 §1). This act is exhibited in very numerous works of ancient art, and often in such a way as to make it manifest that the two pipes were perfectly distinct, and not connected, as some have supposed, by a common mouth-piece. We see this more especially in two beautiful paintings, which were found at Resina and CivitຠVecchia, and which represent Marsyas teaching the young Olympus to play on the double pipe (Ant. d' Ercolano, I. tav.9, III. tav.19; compare Paus. X.30 §5). The tibiae pares in the British Museum, which were found with a lyre in a tomb at Athens, appear to be of cedar. Their length is about 15 inches. Each of them had a separate mouth-piece (γλῶσσις), and besides the hole at the end it has five holes along the top and one underneath. The circumstance of these three p1131instruments being found together, is in accordance with the fact, that they are very commonly mentioned together by ancient authors (Pind. Ol. III.9, XI.97, 98, Isth. IV.30, ed. Böckh, Cor. xiv.7); and the reason of this was, that performances on the double pipe were very frequently accompanied by the music of the lyre (Hor. Epod. IX.5). The mouth-pieces of the two pipes often passed through a Capistrum. (See woodcut, p553.)

Three different kinds of pipes were originally used to produce music in the Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian modes [Musica, p777] About the third century B.C., Pronomus, the Theban, invented adjustments (ἁρμονίαι) by which the same set of pipes might be fitted to all the modes (Paus. IX.12 § 4; Athen. XIV p631E). In what these adjustments consisted we are not clearly informed. Probably stopples or plugs (ὄλμοι) were used for this purpose. It appears also, that to produce the Phrygian mode the pipe had only two holes above (biforis, Virg. Aen. IX.617‑620), and that it terminated in a horn bending upwards (Tibull. II.1.86; Ovid. Met. III.533). It thus approached to the nature of a trumpet, and produced slow, grave, and solemn tunes. The Lydian mode was much quicker, and more varied and animating. Horace mentions "Lydian pipes" as a proper accompaniment, when he is celebrating the praise of ancient heroes (Carm. IV.15.30).º The Lydians themselves used this instrument in leading their troops to battle; and the pipes, employed for the purpose, are distinguished by Herodotus (I.17) as "male and female," i.e. probably bass and treble, corresponding to the ordinary sexual difference in the human voice. The corresponding Latin terms are tibia dextra and sinistra (laeva, Plin. l.c.): the respective instruments are supposed to have been so called, because the former was more properly held in the right hand and the latter in the left. The "tibia dextra" was used to lead or commence a piece of music, and the "sinistra" followed it as an accompaniment. Hence the former was called incentiva, the latter succentiva (Varro, de Re Rust. I.2).b The comedies of Terence having been accompanied by the pipe, the following notices are prefixed to explain the kind of music appropriate to each: tibiis paribus, i.e. with pipes in the same mode; tib. imparibus, pipes in different modes; tib. duabus dextris, two pipes of low pitch; tib. par. dextris et sinistris, pipes in the same mode and of both low and high pitch.

The use of the pipe among the Greeks and Romans was threefold, viz. at sacrifices (tibiae sacrificae), entertainments (ludicrae, Plin l.c.; woodcut, p308), and funerals (Ovid. Fast. VI.657). 1. A sacrifice was commonly attended by a piper (tibicen, Varro, de Re Rust. III.17; woodcut, p1045B), who partook of the food offered, so that "to live like a piper" became a proverb applied to those who maintained themselves at the expense of other people (Suidas, s.v. Αὐλητὴς: Aristoph. Pax, 952). The worshippers of Bacchus (Virg. Aen. XI.737), and still more of Cybele, "the Berecynthia mater" (Hor. Carm. IV.1.23), used the Phrygian pipe, the music of which was on this account denominated τὸ Μητρῶον αὔλημα (Paus. X.30 §5). 2. At public entertainments the tibicines wore tunics reaching down to their feet (Ovid. Fast. VI.686), as is exemplified in one of the woodcuts under Tunica. In conformity with the use of this kind of music at public festivals, a band of tibicines preceded a Roman general when he triumphed (Florus, II.2). 3. The gravity and solemnity of the Phrygian pipes, which adapted them to the worship of Cybele, also caused them to be used at funerals (Statius, Theb. VI.120; compare Joseph. B. J. III.9.5;º Matt. ix.23). The pipe was the instrument principally used to regulate the dance [Saltatio], whether at sacrifices, festivals, or private occasions in domestic life (Herod. VI.129); by means of it also the rowers kept time in a trireme (Max. Tyr. 23).

Notwithstanding the established use of the pipe for these important purposes, it was regarded, more especially by the Athenians, as an inelegant instrument, greatly inferior to the lyre (Plut. Alcib. p351; Gellius, N.A. XV.17; Aristot. Polit. VIII.6). Horace, however, represents Clio as performing according to circumstances either on the lyre or the pipe (Carm. 1.12.2; compare Philost. Sen. Imag. II.5); and it is certain that the pipe was by no means confined anciently, as it is with us, to the male sex, but that αὐλητρίδες, or female tibicines, were very common (Xen. Symp. II.1; Hor. Epist. I.14.25). The Thebans always esteemed this instrument, and excelled greatly in the use of it (Anthol. ed. Jacobs. II.633).


Thayer's Notes:

a When this article was written, probably around 1845 for the first edition of the Dictionary, the clarinet was still a fairly new instrument (notice the now obsolete spelling), and was closer in tone to its parent, the chalumeau — loosely speaking, a type of flute.

b In a subsequent edition, the text was apparently rewritten more clearly and with a bit of added information: see the footnote to the passage in Varro.


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