Introducing the aulos of Poseidonia

Last week, I had the honour of playing the aulos of Poseidonia beside the original in the ancient city of Poseidonia, 100km south of Naples. Here I am with Marco Sciascia, who made a reproduction for the EMAP exhibition in 2015:


Marco finished making a reproduction for me in October 2016. Since then, I have been slowly learning to play it with the help of excellent reeds and mentoring from Robin Howell.

The original was buried in around 480 BCE, two centuries before the Romans took control and gave this prosperous city its modern name of Paestum. This is also the date of the site’s most famous mural, the Tomb of the Diver, which depicts a symposium featuring two aulos players and two lyre players:

Tomb of the Diver (480–70 BCE)

The colours of the two auloi and the relative size of their players suggests two different instrument types: a smaller wooden aulos (above), and a larger bone aulos (below).


As well as accompanying songs at exclusive parties, the aulos of Poseidonia could have been played in two of the city’s great temples: the so-called Basilica (to Hera or Apollo?) and the Temple of Athena. Building work on the largest sanctuary, the Temple of Neptune, was just beginning at around the time the aulos was buried.

The Poseidonia aulos was found in 1969. Detailed studies were published by Paul and Barbara Reichlin-Moser in 2012 and by Stelios Psaroudakis in 2014, each with meticulous measurements and close-up photographs. It is sometimes called the Paestum aulos, but this name dates from a later period.

It is an exceptionally well-preserved instrument from a time and place that represents a summit of ancient Greek culture. Poseidonia was founded in the 6th century BCE by Greek colonists. Walking around the museum today, it is clear that their pre-eminent musical instrument, both in sacred and secular contexts, was the aulos. Fancier types with more holes and metal keys probably began to be developed in the 5th century, but the archaeological record points to them being a 4th-century phenomenon. The Poseidonia aulos appears to be not only Classical in period but classical in form. A practically identical instrument was buried in Pydna, ancient Macedonia, a century later (400–350 BCE).

Perhaps this doublepipe occupied a place in 4th-century Greek culture comparable to that of the violin in Western culture today; and the doublepipes with moving parts occupied a place more like that of clarinets and saxophones. The point of making this comparison is that it helps us to imagine a more complex and nuanced ancient reality. Musical styles, repertoires and conceptions would overlap and intermingle. A mechanised instrument with more notes does not imply greater artistry in the players, a more refined type of music, or the loss of elite status for an earlier type of instrument – certainly not among those of educated or conservative taste.

Despite lacking chromatic mechanisms, the Poeseidonia-type aulos is compatible with the modulating style that became popular in the 5th-century BCE, the so-called ‘New Music’ scorned by Plato and others. In the following videos, I demonstrate how it is possible to play any scale with accurate intonation. Although I would not exclude half-holing, I find it relatively clumsy. For precision and speed, I prefer to use tiny movements from the elbow in combination with micro-adjustments in lip compression.

My playing in these videos represents humble beginnings, miles short of what the instrument is capable of. I am just far enough down the path to know that this type of aulos is a noble musical instrument, promising rich rewards in proportion to the hours spent practising. The professional auletes of ancient Greece probably put in as many hours as music students do today. I wish I was starting in my teens, not in my 40s! I certainly want to continue and hope others will join me.

Thanks to Angelo Meriani (Università di Salerno), Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the staff of the Parco Archeologico di Paestum and residenza “Il Granaio dei Casabella”.

Text lightly revised 2 February 2018

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Delphic Paean by Athenaios Athenaiou

Updated on 17 Jan 2019

Here is a draft of some performing materials I am developing with Armand D’Angour and Stefan Hagel. This is an experiment – we would welcome feedback from singers and academics. Our idea is to move away from a single solution, a single recording, a single edition. Instead of fixing and controlling, we want to make it easy for others to adapt these performing materials to suit themselves – a vision prompted by Peter Robinson in ‘The Digital Revolution in Scholarly Editing’ (2016).

Updates and alternative versions will appear from time to time under each heading below.

The words spoken

• by Armand D’Angour:

• by Stefan Hagel:

The words sung

• by Stef Conner in Reading, 21 June 2018 (v. AD4), with subtitle translations:

• by participants of the 1st Euterpe Doublepipe School in Tarquinia, 6 May 2018. This was an educational experience adapting Stefan Hagel’s reconstruction (see this page for score and notes). Some of the performers had never played the aulos before — our focus was on  active participation and creativity, making something new:

• by Miriam Andersén in Ljubljana, 26 August 2017 (v. AD3).  Here we introduced more breathing spaces to help articulate the text and to heighten the drama of Apollo slaying the serpent:

• by a mixed chorus in Oxford, 28 July 2017, directed by Tosca Lynch (v. AD1):


EMAP Resources for Euterpe, vol. 5, is in preparation (expected February 2019). This revises the drafts below and reflects on a 2-year development process. It aims to make all the decisions and differences (scholarly and artistic) transparent. An introduction to the EMAP Resources is here.

Chorus part v. AD 3 (26 September 2017). This has larger lyrics, full word-for-word translation, a revised translation of part 1, and additional rests suggested by Tosca Lynch (bars 71, 113) and Miriam Andersén (bars 92, 98, 108, 112). All other rests were introduced in rehearsals with Geoffrey Webber and the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, in February 2017.

Aulos part v. BB2 (20 October 2017). This matches Chorus part v. AD3 above and introduces paphlagmata from pibroch. Its development process is documented at

DRAFT (7 May 2017) 7.4 MB. This gives much more information and discussion. We are grateful to Stefan Hagel for substantial input which will make the next release much stronger, presenting two solutions rather than one.

Editable file formats

Please download the PDFs above first. The editable formats below are unlikely to open correctly on your system. To avoid gobbledegook in your browser, right-click (or ctrl-click) to download the XML files.

Introduction. Texts 1,  4, and 5. Bibliography

DRAFT (7 May 2017): DOCX

Text 6. Chorus only

v. AD2 (8 September 2017): XML | SIB v7
DRAFT (7 May 2017): XML | SIB v7

Text 7. Chorus + blank staff

DRAFT (7 May 2017): XML | SIB v7

Text 8. Chorus + aulos

DRAFT (7 May 2017): XML | SIB v7.

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Some Trial Reeds for the Berlin Aulos

Here is a link to a short video of some work I have done this week on the Berlin Aulos.


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Making reed caps 1

A very exciting package arrived 10 days ago from Robin Howell in Toronto – just before we left for a family holiday in Cornwall. Here are two videos kindly made by my 10-year-old son Sebastian, documenting my holiday project: a better solution to that all-important item, the reed cap.

These reed caps are for new reeds, i.e. they go further down the blades and serve to teach the reed its unfamiliar new shape over the breaking-in period, preventing lateral slippage of the blades and, fundamentally, making them playable. Reeds of this type are unusable without caps and I have learned since my aulos debut in January that well-fitting caps make a huge difference to being able to pick up an instrument and be its master in front of an audience, reliably. Hence the effort invested here, tailoring each cap to its reed.

Having to make 24 caps all at once for 12 beautifully-made Pydna reeds gave me an opportunity to develop my system and production method. I would welcome feedback – I am a new student at this and in these videos present only one of many possible solutions. Next time I make a batch, I think I will try using two strips of large-diameter cane, carved flat on the inside, then hot-soaked and bent around a hardwood carved reed shape, tied and dried before the final step of customising to fit an individual reed.

My “Towan” solution (the farm cottage where we are staying in Cornwall) is more labour-intensive. Rather than bending a flexible material, here I carve a hard one. Garden prunings are much better than dowel rod bought from a DIY store because they split perfectly. In these videos, I use rose I cut back last October and tied in a bundle to straighten the canes, but long straight shoots of some shrub or tree with softer wood and solid section (rather than pith) might be better. Rose is very hard, but I am pleased with the results and hope you can pick up something useful from these videos.

Part 1

Part 2


tip end


back end




roughly sanded




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Libation tune

After a lot of Louvre and Pompeii on this site, here’s a move towards the Archaic and Classical period: the Dorian aulos I have recontructed from textual evidence in my Ancient Greek Music: A New Technical History, playing the intervals recorded by Aristoxenus for the traditional Libation tune ascribed to Olympus, which seems to have remained in ritual use for many centuries.

I’ve made new reeds for it, returning to the hard cane I had started work on aulos reeds almost twenty years ago. And yes, I’ve toasted them a bit.

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Toasting and preservation of Aulos reeds

Idioglot double reeds (tubular reeds) have a natural tendency to return to their open, round condition when wet, making them harder to play. I find that ‘toasting’ the reed helps to maintain a closed tip. This is done as a matter of course with Duduk and Mey reeds, various bagpipe reeds, and even clarinet reeds in some cultures, especially Albania and Turkey.

First, put a clamp on the reed when it is completely dry, covering the top third or half of the blades. Then dab oil (olive, canola, almond…) on the exposed part of the blades. The oil will lightly penetrate the cane, and when heated will form a protective layer acting as a preservative to a small degree. Heat the entire exposed surface of the  blades, not neglecting the sides, until it begins to show signs of browning. You can also include the tube below the waist, especially if the rind has been stripped away, being very careful not to burn the binding. I prefer natural fibres over synthetics for the binding. They are less prone to damage during toasting, and in general seem to have a better chance of maintaining the proper tension. If the binding does burn, quickly rebind the waist while the reed is still hot, taking advantage of its temporary plastic state. While still hot, compress the back of the reed firmly for a minute or so between your fingers and thumbs to fix the reed blades close together (in the video above, I abbreviate this step). It will cool within a few minutes and be ready to finish scraping.

I use a Bernzomatic micro torch ( with the heating tip in place. I have come to prefer this to an open flame as it is much more controllable. A gas hob works fine, as does charcoal, an alcohol lamp or industrial heat gun, the only issue is focusing the heat in the proper area, and using a clean heat source which will not leave residue in its wake. I’ve tried toasting the entire reed and not had much luck. I have found though, that it is possible to bake a reed which is too light. A low heat (about 250 Fahrenheit or 120 Celsius) for half an hour or so will give it some more stiffness. Radical, but it does work.

I generally toast before the final scraping, so that if it comes out overly hard one can compensate. Toasted cane will still be somewhat malleable when wet, and if the form needs some touchup, reheating while the reed is wet will be more successful than retoasting, as there is a limit, a point at which the reed chars rather than toasts, and begins to lose its elasticity. One can also harden soft reeds using the same method, being quite delicate when approaching the tip area.

The inside of the reed may be wiped with canola (rapeseed or ‘vegetable’) oil – initially when first dried and occasionally throughout its lifespan. A heavier oil will impair the reed’s vibration, but a very light oil will lengthen the reed’s useful life. I have found that alcohol has no preservative effect on reeds, but many people disinfect a reed in either alcohol, mouthwash, or H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide). These, however, will dissolve any oil previously applied, so the two methods may be considered mutually exclusive. H2O2 is actually much more effective for cleaning and disinfecting reeds than any sort of solvent, and has fewer harmful effects on the cane. Alcohol eventually depletes the cane of some of its natural sugars, which are essential to its elastic properties.

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A selectively-tongued attempt at Bellermann, DAGM 37

Using Pompeii 2+3 with rather wide reeds.

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Practising episode 2: Seikilos song & tounging

I’m having fun with the Seikilos song, prompted by a collaboration  with Aleksandra Szypowska. I met her last month in Mark his Words, a semi-staged dramatisation of St Mark’s Gospel in Greek, by Patrick Boyde, in which we were both performing. Yesterday, she gave a presentation on Ancient Greek Music at the Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge, singing three items of ancient notation. In the first two, she explained and illustrated the nature of the problems; in the third, I had the pleasure of accompanying her on Louvre aulos.

This morning, I took forward the idea of using this melody as a study to develop my aulos technique. I practised tonguing each reed separately and, at the end (26:17), explained the good practising habit drilled into me by Seumas MacNeill at the College of Piping in Glasgow when I was 8 years old.

Episode 1

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Learning to play the aulos: practice documentation 1

It has been quiet on this blog for the last five months. Callum Armstrong has been busy, however – practising, composing and making reeds. I have kept up my documentation of his progress by pressing record on my video camera and audio recorder every time we meet, but I have fallen behind with the editing and publishing of this material, occupied by other projects (e.g. Highlights of Callum’s progress will be shared here in the coming weeks: he is a source of serious inspiration, leagues ahead of me in his capacity to bring the Louvre aulos to life!

For the documentation of my own journey learning the aulos, I am going to adopt a different policy. This is episode 1. I simply pressed record and am uploading my morning’s practice (with commentary, sharing my thoughts in the moment) without listening back. To avoid backlog, I want to get into the habit of recording and uploading on the same day. What you hear is fresh, unedited, direct from recorder to blog.

Why share a messy, organic process, warts and all? I want to encourage this revival and know that for learners it is more helpful to hear a co-learner struggle than to hear the polished end results of a master. How did the master get there? I’d like to know! I trust that this documentation of my practising will advance understanding of the slow process of conquest, reaching higher levels of competence on this glorious instrument.

It would be great if other learners joined me, in order that the library of practising here documented the struggles and breakthroughs of different types of learners at different stages. Episode 1 of my journey begins too late to be of much use to students who are climbing the circular breathing mountain. People sharing their trials and solutions at that vital stage would boost this revival more powerfully than I can because circular breathing is so fundamental (after efficient reeds – the most important thing of all).

As you will hear, I am at the foot of another mountain range, gazing up at distant peaks that are no less challenging. It is an exciting journey ahead, so much to learn!

Episode 2

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Some Aulos Techniques

Thoughts on Overblowing

Thoughts on Microtones



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