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The Louvre Aulos

Click here to listen to the sound of a detailed replica of the Louvre aulos, played by Callum Armstrong in 2017 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).

This is a 3D model of the Louvre aulos (inv. nr. E10962) that I created in 2021, following the measurements published by Stefan Hagel. As I will explain in greater detail elsewhere, I have reconstructed the double reeds that are needed to complete these pipes on the basis of archaeological parallels combined with a mathematical model of this pipe, which gives a basic estimate of the scale it produces.









These wooden pipes of unknown dating were probably produced in Graeco-Roman Egypt, but their design reflects a harmonic model that was firmly established in the 4th century BC. Classical poets including Euripides often described such instruments as ‘Lybian lōtos’ (Eur. Tr. 544, Hel. 170, IA 1036), referring to a particular type of African wood that was employed to produce these instrument as an alternative to ivory or bone (see also the Elgin aulos).

These pipes are preserved in their entirety—a fortunate coincidence that provides us with a solid starting point for 3D modelling, as well as acoustic and harmonic analyses.

Aulos reeds Kylix with a Symposion Scene Yale University Art Gallery public domain.jpg
detail of a Kylix attributed to: Gales Painter, ca. 520–510 B.C—Yale University Art Gallery, 1913.163.
working replicas by Callum Armstrong,
double reed reconstruction Lynch.jpg
Louvre aulos reeds Callum Armstrong.jpg
3d reconstruction of Louvre double reed, 
Lynch, 2022.

As I will show in forthcoming publications, the basic scales played by the Louvre aulos played well-known Greek tunings that correspond to the Phrygian and Hypophrygian keys.


In Classical times, these keys were used in their standard variety based on mésē G Mand corrsepond to the basic tuning employed in Athenaeus' PaeanThis piece is discussed in detail in Lynch 2022b.

Lynch_Louvre Aulos Basic scales Classical and Aristides' Phrygian.png
The Louvre aulos in its Classical setting — Phrygian and Hypophrygian (Lynch 2022c)

In Imperial times, Aristoxenus’ ‘lower’ Phrygian key, based on mésē F# O, was by contrast prevalent, in keeping with the general shift from the Classical Dorian-based system to the Imperial, Hypolydian-based system discussed in Lynch 2023a.  


As I will show in Lynch forthcoming, the Imperial setting of the Louvre aulos therefore corresponded to the Iastian and Hypoiastian notation keys. The Iastian (= lower Phrygian) tuning is employed for example in the Seikilos Song (DAGM 23).


In both settings, the top note of both pipes represents their conjunct nḗte and the fourth hole from the top their mésē.

Lynch_Louvre Aulos Basic scales Imperial and Aristides' Lower Phrygian diatonic.png
The Imperial setting of the Louvre aulos  — Lower Phrygian/Iastian and Hypoiastian (Lynch 2022d)
The Seikilos Song (Lynch 2020)

Callum Armstrong is currently undertaking  practical experiments to establish the best reed settings needed to produce these scales, with A ~432 Hz.

Lynch forthcoming will also show that the model I have reconstructed matches the relevant iconography very closely

Screenshot 2022-05-27 at 10.51.30.png
detail of Amphora, Peleus Painter
(ca 440BC), BM E271. 1847,0909.7
Screenshot 2022-05-27 at 10.51.42.png

The cultural significance of the scale played by this instrument will also be discussed in one of the books I’m currently working on (Plato’s musical ethos: ancient modes, instruments and rhythms).

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