Ancient Greek woman standing playing the flute
A woman standing, wearing a long dress, and her hair in a bun, playing the flute.
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An aulos (Ancient Greek: αὐλός, plural αὐλοί, auloi) or tibia (Latin) was an ancient Greek wind instrument, depicted often in art and also attested by archaeology.
An aulete (αὐλητής, 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 has 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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