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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 (Hagel 2014). 

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.

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.

As discussed in Lynch 2023c, I have reconstructed the scales produced by this instrument on the basis of archaeological evidence combined with mathematical tools that give a basic estimate of the pitches produced by different finger-holes.  

Aulos reeds Kylix with a Symposion Scene Yale University Art Gallery public domain.jpg

Kylix attributed to the 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 a forthcoming book, the scales produced by Louvre aulos correspond to the Phrygian and Hypophrygian keys.


In Classical times, these keys were used in their standard variety based on mésē G M, and corrsepond to the basic tuning employed in Athenaeus' Paean (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, replaced the Classical Phrygian key, in keeping with the general shift from the Classical Dorian-based system to the Imperial, Hypolydian-based system discussed in Lynch 2023a.  

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)

Lynch forthcoming will also illustrate how Ptolemy’s account of the tunings employed by Imperial kitharodes allows us to take our analysis a step further. 

The diagram provided below (Lynch 2023b) shows that the basic scales produced by the Louvre aulos conform to the Phrygian and Hypophrygian tunings recorded by Ptolemy (Hypértropa and Iástia) not only with regard to their octave species but also in connection with the fine tuning of key intervals of these scales.


For instance, the septimal tone d–e (8:7) that is featured in Ptolemy’s Phrygian tuning (Hypértropa) corresponds to the interval produced by the relative holes of the L pipe of the Louvre aulos (Φ and S). Likewise, the septimal tone A–B that was distinctive of the ‘relaxed’ Iastian mode (Iástia) is produced by the lowest holes of the H pipe (g and z).

In the book, we shall also see how the unique microtonal shades embedded into the basic Phrygian scales of the Louvre aulos enabled aulos players to produce other tunings very easily. As shown in the diagram below, a number of modulations could be produced by half-covering one or two holes at most—a technique that has been mastered by Callum Armstrong.

In other words, the Phrygian tuning of the Louvre aulos could easily make room for the Imperial versions of the harmoníai played by the legendary Pronomus of Thebes:
Dorian, Phrygian, and Tense Lydian, which came to correspond to the Imperial kithára tunings called Lýdia, Iástia and Iastiaiólia.

Lynch 2023 Louvre aulos – basic and expanded harmoniai Imperial setting 2023.png

The Louvre aulos : Basic and Expanded harmoníai, Imperial setting (Lynch 2023B)

This diagram also shows that the Imperial kithára tunings were doubled an octave higher by the Louvre Aulos. This octave shift suggests that the Louvre aulos was a ‘kitharistic’ aulos (kitharistḗrios), which was also known as mágadis (Ath. Deipn. 14.634e–35c) after the special ‘harp-like’ effect produced by playing melodies in parallel octaves (magadízein). 

Unlike the note-for-note (próschorda) accompaniment that was typical of traditional lyre playing, ‘kitharistic’ auloi replicated the male register characteristic of kithara scales an octave higher (cf. e.g. Ps.-Plut. De Mus. 1141b).

Callum Armstrong is currently undertaking  practical experiments to establish the best reed settings needed to produce these scales, with A4 ~432 Hz. He will also produce recordings of these scales in due course.

As shown below, this 3D model matches the relevant iconography very closely. The broader cultural significance of the scales played by this instrument will be discussed in a separate book dedicated to Plato’s musical ethos: ancient modes, instruments and rhythms.

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
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