Stinging Auloi

Aristophanes, Acharnians 860-71

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies
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When Dikaiopolis calls the auletai accompanying the Theban who comes to trade with him wasps (Ach. 864), he responds in part to a buzz-like sound produced by their auloi. Contributing to the instruments’ buzzing may have been dissonance caused by so many pipes played at once, the pipes’ material (bone), and a playing technique that placed emphasis on the lowest notes. The instruments’ music is out of place because the scene is in iambic trimeters, which were almost always performed without accompaniment. Dikaiopolis also calls the auletai wasps because their arrival reminds him of the Spartan army, which regularly marched, fought, and performed rituals to the accompaniment of multiple auloi.

Stinging Auloi

Aristophanes, Acharnians 860-71

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies


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The text is that of Olson 2002and Olson’s commentary (2002 71 287-90) is the principal source of the explanations in notes 2-4 below. All translations are my own. On the Theban’s Boeotian dialect see Colvin 1999 129-32 and passim.


Cf. Barker 1989100 n. 7. Pollux appears at one point to use βόµβυκες generically for the pipes of auloi (4.70) but elsewhere he describes βόµβυκες as a type of auloi especially conducive to the orgiastic: τῶν δὲ βοµβύκων ἔνθεον καὶ µανικὸν τὸ αὔληµα πρέπον ὀργίοις (‘the aulos playing of βόµβυκες is god-inspired and inclined to madness and appropriate for orgiastic rites’ 4.82). Aeschylus uses βόµβυκες of pipes of auloi in a Dionysiac context (fr. 57 Radt); and Plutarch lists βόµβυκες along with πολυχορδίαι as elements of aulos playing that can stir up the soul (Quaest. Conv. 713a).


Text and scansion from Dunbar 1995.

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