Catiline's Ptera, Auli, Hydrauli, etc.




The first two items are from The Story of the Organ by C.F. Abdy Williams, published in 1903 by Walter Scott Publishing and Charles Scribner's Sons. The third is from William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (New York, Harper, 1874).


Appendix A.

Two small bronze instruments have been found at Pompeii (which was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79) somewhat similar in appearance to the portative organs of the Middle Ages. They are now in the Naples Museum. The cases and pipes only remain, together with some fragments of bronze which may have had to do with regulating the supply of wind to the pipes. The blowing arrangements have disappeared entirely, as have the feet of the pipes, which were probably of wood. The cases are in three portions, the middle being ornamented with designs of three temples. The smaller instrument contains nine pipes; the larger, of which we give a diagram, eleven. The mathematical proportions of the pipes of the larger instrument give the following series of intervals: 1:middle-c 2:c-sharp 3:d 4:e 5:f 6:flattened a 7:sharpened a 8:b-flat 9:d 10:f 11:a, of which, if Nos. 6 and 7 form an enharmonic diesis, the series 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 gives the Iastian mode described by Aristides Quintilianus. A writer of the twelfth or thirteenth century, called the Hagiopolite, whose tract is published by A.J.H. Vincent in his Notices des Mss. du Bibliotheque du Roi, 1847, says that the Iastian mode suits the pteron, which would appear to be a wing-shaped instrument from its name - for pteron means any wing-shaped thing. (The Germans call the grand piano Fluegel - i.e., "wing," from its shape.) The pteron is enumerated with the auloi and hydrauloi amonst wind instruments by Bellermann's "anonymus," (Anonymi de Musica, published by F. Bellermann, 1847) but he makes no further reference to it. It is possible that the two fragments in the Naples Museum are ptera, and that the pteron was a portative organ; it seems to be a connecting link between the bagpipe and the organ. Whether it was blown by the lungs or by some mechanical bellows cannot be ascertained; but it is not impossible that the excavations in progress at Pompeii, which have been rich in results of late, may in the near future throw more light on the matter.

Nero, just before his death, was much interested in a new kind of syrinx that had lately been invented, and wished to appear in public as a performer upon it. It may be this instrument that he had in view.


Appendix B. The Rev. F.W. Galpin's Hydraulus

After a careful study of all known representations of the Hydraulus on contorniates, pictures in ancient manuscripts, and a well-preserved model in pottery found at Carthage in 1885, the Rev. F.W. Galpin has succeeded in constructing a complete working model of this instrument, by following in every detail the instructions given by Hero of Alexandria and Vitruvius. Two wooden levers are attached to two brass cylinders, the raising of which pumps air into a wind-chest. From the wind-chest a large pipe leads the wind to the top of a dome immersed in water, contained in the central vessel shown in the photograph, and in this lies the whole secret of the application of water. The principle is, as explained in Chapter I. [of the book for which this is the Appendix], the reverse of that of the fire-engine, in which the pressure of air confined in a dome causes water to flow in a continuous stream from the nozzle. In the hydraulus, the water endeavouring to rise in the dome (after being pressed down by the air which is pumped in) compresses the wind, and causes a fairly steady supply to reach the pipes. The "wind pressure" in Mr. Galpin's model is of the weight of 3 to 3 1/2 inches, being about that of the ordinary modern organ. By increasing the size of the tank, the depth of the water and the height of the dome, this pressure could be increased ad libitum, and the powerful sounds mentioned by ancient writers could be easily obtained by this means.

Above the wind-chest there are three channels running the length of the instrument, to which the wind is admitted by taps constructed on the ancient model, one of which can be seen in the photograph. Above the three channels are placed the three ranks of pipes, sounding the unison, octave, and superoctave, and the organ has therefore, in modern parlance, three "stops." To cause the pipes to sound, one or more of the taps are turned to admit wind to the required channel, and the keys, called by Vitruvius pinnae, are pressed by the fingers, as in the modern organ.

The keys, however, do not act on pallets, but push in regulae, or metal sliders, which have holes pierced in them, through which the wind passes to the pipes, on the same principle as in the sliders of modern organs. Vitruvius lays stress on the necessity of keeping the regulae well oiled, probably to relieve the touch and to help to prevent escape of wind. On removing the finger from a key the regula is brought back to its place by means of a spring, thus shutting off the wind from the pipes. Hero says that the springs should be of horn, but Vitruvius describes them as of metal, and Mr. Galpin has used metal springs similar to those found on ancient Roman brooches.

The nineteen keys give the following notes ... : d, e, f-flat, f, g, a, b-flat, b, c, d-flat, d, e-flat, e, f-flat, f, g, a-flat, a, b, which embrace the six modes mentioned by "Anonymus" as those used by players of the hydraulus, namely, the Hyperlydian, Hyper-Iastian, Lydian, Phrygian, Hypolydian, and Hypophrygian; the first, being an octave above the last, is played by using the octave "stop."

Mr. Galpin is to be congratulated on his success in having constructed the first working model of this interesting instrument. When one runs one's fingers at random over the keys, one is struck by the old-world effect produced by their modal arrangement and the slight unsteadiness of the wind, owing to the impossibility of keeping the water absolutely at a fixed point. This little unsteadiness, which would ruin modern harmonic music, gives a peculiar piquancy to the unison passages in the old modes, and seems to go far to account not only for the immense popularity enjoyed by the instrument before the advent of harmony, but also for its gradual disappearance when the growing use of harmonic progressions demanded some means of producing a more decided steadiness in the wind supply.

The labor of pumping wind into a large hydraulus must have been very great. It could never cease for a moment; the blower could not, as now, fill his bellows and rest for a little while till the "tell-tale" lets him know that he must resume his labours. Hence in the MS. pictures of hydrauli the players seem to be spending half their energies in urging the weary blowers, whose backs are bent double, to fresh exertions.

The instrument excited the keenest interest and admiration amongst the ancients on account of its ingenuity; while the bubbling of the hidden water (caused by over-blowing) is frequently alluded to, and was probably a great mystery to the uninitiated.


Hydraula

an organist. According to an author quoted by Athenaeus [iv, 75 - compare Pliny H.N. vii, 38] the first organist was Ctesibius of Alexandrea, who lived about B.C 200. He evidently took the idea of his organ from the Syrinx or Pandean pipes, a musical instrument of the highest antiquity among the Greeks. His object being to employ a row of pipes of great size, and capable of emitting the most powerful as well as the softest sounds, he contrived the means of adapting keys with levers (agkoniskoi), and with perforated sliders (pomata) to open and shut the mouths of the pipes (glossokoma), a supply of wind being obtained, without intermission, by bellows, in which the pressure of water performed the same part which is fulfilled in the modern organ by a weight. On this account, the instrument invented by Ctesibius was called the water-organ (hydraulis[Athen. l.c.]; hydraulikon organon[Hero, Spirit. - Vitruv. x, 13 - Schneider ad loc. - Drieberg, die Pneum. Erfindungen der Griechen, p. 53-61 - Pliny. H.N., ix, 8 - Cic. Tusc. iii, 18]).Its pipes were partly of bronze (chalkeie aroura[Jul. Imp. in Brunck's Anal. ii, 403]; seges aena[Claud., De Mall. Theod. Cons. 316]), and partly of reed. The number of stops, and, consequently, of its rows of pipes, varied from one to eight[Vitruv. l.c.], so that Tertullian[De Anima, 14] describes it with reason as an exceedingly complicated instrument. It continued in use so late as the ninth century of our era: in the year 826, a water-organ was erected by a Venetian in the church of Aquis-granum, the modern Aix-la-Chapelle[Quix, Muenster Kirche in Aachen, p. 14].

The organ was well adapted to gratify the Roman people in the splendid entertainments provided for them by the emperors and other opulent persons. Nero was very curious about organs, both in regard to their musical effect and their mechanism[Sueton. Nero, 41, 54]. A contorniate coin of this emperor in the British Museum (see woodcut) shows an organ with a sprig of laurel on one side, and a man standing on the other, who may have been victorious in the exhibitions of the circus or the amphitheatre. It is probable that these medals were bestowed upon such victors, and that the organ was impressed upon them on account of its introduction on such occasions[Havercamp, De Num. contoniatis]. The general form of the organ is also clearly exhibited in a poem by Publilius Optatianus, describing the instrument, and composed of verses so constructed as to show both the lower part which contained the bellows, the wind-chest which lay upon it, and over this, the row of 26 pipes. These are represented by 26 lines, which increase in length each by one letter, until the last line is twice as long as the first[Wernsdorf, Poet. Lat. Min., v, ii, p 394-413].


Return to Bellum Catilinae Home Page