“The thoughts of men true
to the divine are the key to the thoughts of God ; and here in the Greek
Myths especially we have the Greek fancy, not an unfaithful one, of the
Gods’ fact. Read candidly, they speak wrorthily and truly.”— Rev. James
PALLAS ATHENE was at one
time a very real personage, in the eyes of the uncultured Greek youth
especially; but she was also held to be very real by the best and more
sincere of the cultured classes. She was to the Greeks what Minerva was
to the Latins, but a great deal more. She was originally an adoption by
the nation from some outside race—introduced by the Phoenician or other
trader;—but the Greeks, when the nation was at its best, made the
Goddess as we know her, their very own, by the lavish and loving care
bestowed upon her. Painter, and poet, and sculptor, vied with each other
in depicting her many charms. A vision of all the wisdom and virtues of
a charming sisterhood, and the greatness of the greatest of the gods,
foregathered in one sweet body: this was Athene.
Perpetual youth and
ever-sweet maidenhood, wisdom “beyond rubies,” and beauty never fading,
imperial strength combined with an infinite patience; these were a few
of her attributes.
To the aesthetic Greek
mind Athene was indeed the embodiment of all that is pure, and modest,
and lovely in woman, and brave and noble in man.
Her virgin heart alone
yielded not to the blandishments of love; but yet she was no prude!
She constantly interested
herself in the affairs of men, and interfered at times in their
quarrels—only, however, to right the wrong, and she always strove to
lighten the burden of the suffering and the heavy laden.
Strong in her heaven-born
armour, she never used her god-like powers to oppress; but merciful
withal, and full of compassion, she went about like a knight-errant of
old, succouring the oppressed and down - trodden. Like a breath of
sweetest purest air—which, indeed, she was, and this is why Ruskin calls
her “Queen of the Air” —she swept into the sick-chamber, and dispelled
the ill vapours, and infused fresh courage into the hearts of all those
nigh unto death. She gave breath—which means endurance—to the runner and
the wrestler, and strength to the warrior; but she was also the patron
of the peaceful arts of letters and of agriculture.
If the following story
shews that she had her little weakness—a woman’s weakness—one only loves
her the more for it.
The Greek goddess Athene,
so the story runs, discovered the secret of wind music: the music which
had hitherto lain hidden in the little reeds growing by the marsh lands
She made herself a
beautiful chanter or “aulos,” as the Greeks called it, out of the leg
bone of a hart. The hard, smooth bone out of which she fashioned it gave
it a more permanent form, and one which lent itself to artistic
decoration, such as is seen on the blow-pipe of the little Egyptian
Bagpipe shewn here, better than any mere cane, however excellent.
This form of pipe,
possibly this very “aulos” of Athene, suggested the name “tibia” to the
Romans: a name which they applied to all chanters, whether made of reed
or bone, because of this first one, which was made from the tibia or
The Goddess seems to have
kept her secret to herself until she had perfected her play: when, proud
of her invention and of her skill in piping, it seemed right to keep the
secret a secret no longer, and with this intent she sent out invitations
to all her acquaintances among the gods to come and hear her play upon
this, the first instrument of its kind in the history of the gods or of
man. The meeting-place was on Mount Ida, near by where flows the sacred
fountain. The gathering was, I presume, somewhat of the nature of a
modern afternoon party, which is called together by Lady So-and-So, one
of the leaders of fashion, to hear some famous scientist discourse upon
the latest discovery in frogs’ spawn, or to listen to some new singer
wrestling with the top D.
On the day appointed, no
distant relatives having died in the meantime, and none of the gods
being from home on business, or ill, the expected guests turned up
punctually, as well-bred people always do. Zeus himself was there, and
the outspoken Here, and the exquisite Aphrodite surrounded by her
admirers, and many others. Athene charmed the company with her sweet
music, as she could not fail to do ; and when the piping was over, and
the applause had died down, expressions of opinion on this new art which
had delighted them so were invited, and were freely given.
But while the gods to a
man—to descend from the clouds for a little — expressed themselves as
wholly charmed with the performance, the ladies, as is not uncommon
where one of their own sweet sex is concerned, qualified their praise
with ominous nods, and wrinkling of foreheads, and shrugs of lovely
shoulders, which hinted at something behind the praise.
Was it ever otherwise?
Did woman ever find perfection in one of her own sex? Is this wherein
woman, “lovely woman,” is so much wiser than man?
“Most excellent,” said
Here, “your playing is a perfect revelation, and how sweet you looked,”
at which latter part of the sentence a ripple of quiet laughter went
round the circle of lady critics.
“An exquisite gift! such
style!' said a second, with a lift of the eyebrows and a marked emphasis
upon “style”; and again that ripple of musical laughter!
“Your piping was
entrancing, Goddess fair, but is not the blowing very severe upon your
cheeks?” said a third, glancing at the company roguishly, and with a
movement of the eye-lid, which in an ordinary mortal might easily be
mistaken for a wink.
And so the pretty critics
chattered on, one after another giving her opinion, each new comment
punctuated with fresh bursts of merriment, the while the graceful Athene
stood, with heightened colour, in perplexity and wonder; until at length
Aphrodite, the “Queen of Love,” who, herself beautiful, was also perhaps
a little jealous of Athene’s good looks, said, “It is not the music,
Athene dear, which has set these giddy ones a-laughing. The music is
everything that is beautiful. But have you seen your own face while
piping? Your cheeks are like this : saying which Aphrodite puffed out
her own lovely face to unnatural dimensions; at which the laughter broke
out afresh, some of the younger gods joining in the mirth thus provoked
by her who was voted easily the wit of the party.
Now, Athene was but a
woman after all. Her one weakness was feminine vanity. She shewed too
great a concern for her beauty, which was too assured, too pronounced,
to be easily slighted, and Aphrodite’s action rather than her words
So flying to the sacred
fountain, which stood close by, she looked down into the clear waters
the while she piped, and there she saw mirrored as in polished silver
her face, so altered, with its pursed-up lips and blown-out cheeks, that
she scarcely recognised the picture as her own.
Everything was in an
instant clear to her as noonday sun; the laughter! the innuendo! the
“becks and nods, and wreathed smiles!” and, in a sudden pet, she flung
far out into space—far as her strong young arm could fling it—the little
Pipe which had brought her to this impasse, and registered a solemn vow
that she would never, never touch the accursed thing again.
Now, it happened upon
this very day—the day on which Athene challenged the admiration of the
gods, with such a doubtful result—that Marsyas, the Phrygian, was on his
way home, and was taking a short cut across the shoulder of Mount Ida.
When more than half-way up the ascent—the sky being then clear of
clouds, and of a lovely blue—he saw the lightnings begin suddenly to
play round the top of the mountain, and he shrewdly guessed that a
meeting of the gods was being held there, with Zeus presiding, else why
this shaking of his thunderbolts? So being a wise man, and not reckless
of his life, he immediately turned aside and took the longer way home,
round the base of the mountain. He had not gone very far on his new
course when his sharp ears were assailed with the sound of distant Pipe
Above is a full-sized chanter covered
with silver of Indian design; belonging to Pipe-Major Gregor Fraser
of the Gordon Highlanders.
Below is a Chinese
chanter sent from Weihaiwei by A. R.A.M.C. at one time ST. Phaser,
Startled at so unusual an
occurrence in such a lonely place, he dropped suddenly behind a huge
moss-grown boulder, with the quick instinct of the wild animal, which
still lurked underneath his hairy skin, and crouched, and waited.
Nearer and nearer came
the mysterious sounds, and louder and clearer they ever grew ; but of
the musician, there was not a sign that the quick eye of the shepherd
could detect. The thing was altogether uncanny, and got upon his nerves.
The hair upon his satyr’s legs stiffened with fear; his goat’s beard
shook ; his teeth chattered as with intense cold ; terror clogged his
feet, else would he have fled. But just then he spied Athene’s Pipe— the
Pipe with the music in it—come rolling down the hill.
It struck the top of the
rock behind which he lay, and rebounding, dropped at his feet, breathing
forth the strangest, sweetest music this shepherd had ever listened to.
The possibilities of the
future with such a Pipe in his possession opened up a delightful vista
to his hopes and ambitions; for he was already famous as a musician. He
saw himself already a piper of fame: the shepherds of the plain gathered
round him at night, listening to the new art in open-mouthed wonder; the
shy, soft-eyed nymphs showering favours upon him as they danced in the
twilight to his music. So, taking up the “Magic Pipe” tenderly, he
placed it in his bosom, and rising from his lair invigorated and
refreshed, he started off eagerly for home. Connecting in his own mind
the meeting of the gods on Mount Ida with the “aulos’ which had come to
him so mysteriously, he murmured to himself, as he trudged stoutly
along: “A gift from the gods! a gift from the gods!” and the little reed
the while made music at his heart.
Yes, dear old Marsyas —
first of pipers—it is a gift from the gods, and a fatal gift, too!
Better throw it away from you while there is time ; throw it away before
it exercises its full fascination on you, and your head strikes the
stars, and you come to sudden, signal grief. No?
Then, know that it will
bring you two things— Fame and Death. No doubt many men before you have
bravely courted death—even seeking, as Shakespeare puts it, “the bubble
reputation at the cannon’s mouth,” for the thing which they called Fame!
And why, if this be your choice, should not you?
’Tis better to be great
in something, however small, than only “middling this and middling that”
in larger matters.
Now, it happened unto
Marsyas, as foreseen by him ; his fame as a piper quickly grew, and
spread, and reached other countries. At all the gatherings where he
competed he won the prize with ease, until at last he felt, and—better
still— knew that no man was his equal, and through this knowledge he got
what is vulgarly known as “swelled head.”
His ambition—fed upon the
pride which grew with each fresh victory—impelled him in an unguarded
moment to challenge the gods themselves.
He accordingly sent a
message to Apollo offering to pit his Pipe against the god’s own
invention and favourite instrument, the cithara or lyre.
The challenge, which
caused no little stir and indignation in the upper circles, was
accepted, and a mighty gathering, wherein the sons of gods mingled with
the daughters of men and found them fair, assembled at the appointed
time and place to witness the great contest. After a long trial, in
which the goatherd played as he had never played before, the judges—as
was only to be expected, they being of the “upper ten”—gave the victory
to Apollo, and poor Marsyas, the hitherto unbeaten one, for his
presumption in daring to challenge the gods, was tied to a tree and
flayed alive. And so in this way, the gift which brought Marsyas fame
brought him also a cruel death.
There are many points of
likeness between this story of Marsyas and the story of Pan, only in the
contest of Pipe versus Lyre between Pan and Apollo, Midas, the Phrygian
king, who was judge, decided in favour of the Pipe, and was presented
with a pair of ass’s ears by Apollo, who was very angry with his
The oldest-named Pipe
tune in the world is called after this incident, “King Midas has Ass’s
Ears,” and was composed by the king’s barber, to whom of all men living
the poor king confided his dread secret, for the very good reason that
he could not hide it from him and also have his hair cut.
In both stories, the
instrument is the Shepherd’s Pipe, and is opposed in both by Apollo’s
In both, the players are
goatherds, as the hairy legs and the goat’s beard shew.
In each case the
instrument is invented and made by the gods. In the one case, however,
Pan, the god who made the Pipe, also makes the music on the Pipe which
he had made—he is himself the piper ; while, in the other case, the man
Marsyas got the Pipe from the gods with the gift of music in it :
Athene’s Pipe invited no exertion on his part, it could play by itself.
Here it seems to me that we have the first suggestion of a Bagpipe.
I have been in the habit,
when lecturing upon this subject, of illustrating my theory in the
following way. I use a simple Bagpipe without drones, which I conceal
under my Highland cloak, the latter representing the minstrel’s cloak of
olden days. The chanter, which I first slip through one of the
buttonholes before inserting it in the bag, is all that the audience
sees. Through a very short blowpipe I quickly fill the bag, and having
done so, I let the blowpipe drop inside the cloak. I then play upon the
chanter, which is the only part of the Pipe in view of the audience,
without any apparent effort, a complete tune, such as the “Reel of
Tulloch ” or “The Lads of Mull.”
Now, if instead of a
small bag I used a large sheep or goatskin bag, such as you see on the
opposite page, and a very light reed made of straw, such as the early
pipers fitted their Pipes with, I could easily, with one fill of the
bag, play six or eight tunes in succession without any visible exertion.
Some such playing the
Greeks must have heard at a very early period: long before the idea of
the Bagpipe caught on with the nation: and even at first such piping
must have seemed little short of miraculous. The player was some
wandering minstrel who found his way into Grecian territory, his Pipe
and minstrel’s cloak his only passport.
Or the story of the magic
Pipe may have been brought back by some soldier home from the wars, or
by some merchant returned from distant markets. In whatever way the
story arose, it would be passed on from father to son, the marvel of it
growing with each telling, the details as the years sped, getting
mistier and mistier; until one generation would forget that the piper
first blew into the bag before playing, and the next forget that there
was a bag, and a third forget that there was a piper. And when the Pipe
alone was remembered ! of course it played by itself.
According to the
imagination with which each of us is gifted, will this suggestion of
mine appear wise or the reverse. I make a present of it to my
antiquarian friends, and only hope that one day a drawing of a Celt
piping on such a Bagpipe to a crowd of wonder-eyed Greeks will be found,
engraved on burnt brick or other material, in some of the ancient ruins
now being explored round about Athens or elsewhere.
The usual interpretation
of the contest between Marsyas and Apollo is the very obvious one, that
it was a contest for supremacy between wind and stringed instruments;
and the result shewed that the Greeks preferred the stringed instrument.
Ruskin, however, draws
from this incident a different meaning altogether. He says, “Whatever in
music is measured and designed belongs therefore to Apollo and the
Muses; whatever is impulsive and passionate, to Athene; . . . but the
passionate music is wind music, as in the Doric flute. Then, when this
inspired music becomes degraded in its passion, it sinks into the Pipe
of Pan and the double Pipe of Marsyas, and is then rejected by Athene.”
Ruskin evidently forgot here that Marsyas only got the Pipe after Athene
rejected it, a thing which he immediately afterwards remembers. “The
myth which represents her doing so, is that she invented the double Pipe
from hearing the hiss of the Gorgonian serpents; but when she played
upon it, chancing to see her face reflected in water, she saw that it
was distorted, whereupon she threw down the flute which Marsyas found.
Then the strife of Apollo and Marsyas represents the enduring contest
between music in which the words and thought lead, and the lyre measures
or melodises them, and music in which the words are lost, and the wind
or impulse leads,— generally therefore between intellectual, and brutal
or meaningless music.
“Therefore when Apollo
prevails, he flays Marsyas, taking the limit and external bond of his
shape from him, which is death, without touching the mere muscular
strength; yet shameful and dreadful in dissolution.”
Now Ruskin when he wrote
the above was not thinking of the Bagpipe: he knew nothing about the
Bagpipe, and yet unknowingly he supplies a link in my chain of reasoning
as I will immediately prove.
For there is, according
to my interpretation of the myth a great deal more meaning in it than
either of the above interpretations gives. The contest was in my
opinion, a contest between Town and Country, and this is very important
with regard to the claim recently put forward, that the Pipe is an
invention of the Greeks, when we recall the fact that the old Greek
state or colony, was little more than a state town, or city, with little
or no jurisdiction beyond its own walls, and surrounded on all sides by
hostile peoples of different nationalities. If the Pipe, therefore, came
from the country to the town, as we learn from this myth, it came to the
Greeks from an outside source.
I hope to prove also that
this Pipe of Athene’s was a Bagpipe, and—this by the way—that Marsyas
was not really flayed alive, but was merely stripped of his clothes.
Apollo then represents
the city, the Greek colony. He is the dandy about town; tall, handsome,
effeminate, scented. With his minstrel’s cloak, which is made of richest
stuff and dyed of the most costly dyes, thrown carelessly over his left
shoulder, he looks the ideal of grace and breeding. His instrument is
the lyre; a feeble tinkling thing, suitable enough for the ladies’
boudoir, or as an accompaniment to the voice in song, but fitted only
for the sweep of delicate fingers : a maiden’s weapon and not suited to
turbulent times or peoples.
Marsyas, on the other
hand, represents the country: the outside world, and is entirely
awanting in anything like Greek culture. He is strong and muscular,
stout, healthy, ruddy-cheeked ; rude and unsophisticated, and smelling,
not of sweet scents distilled from rarest flowers, but of the hillside
and the sheepfold. His minstrel’s cloak is a new goatskin fresh from its
late owner’s back, and smelling fresh of the rennet. He has newly donned
it to grace the occasion. His instrument is “the rude and barbarous
Bagpipe,” sprung from the soil, and as yet unknown to the dweller in
Marsyas no doubt has a
bet with Apollo on the event,—or he differs sadly from the goatherd of
Theocritus’ time—and this it is which gives rise to the story of the
flaying of him alive.
That such contests were
of every-day occurrence we know from the testimony of many writers.
That much betting also
took place at these friendly trials of skill is also certain.
The best ewe in his
flock, a carved bowl, a carved stick, the goatskin on his back, the Pipe
he played on; anything and everything the goatherd possessed he risked
in bets during a singing or piping contest.
Read any of the old Greek
pastorals if you doubt the truth of the above.
Here is an extract—the
translation by Calverly— from Theocritus :—
“Daphnis the gentle herdsman, met once as rumour tells
Menalcas making with his flock, the circle of the fells.
Both chins were gilt with coming beards : both lads could sing and play
Menalcas glanced at Daphnis, and thus was heard to say :
‘Art thou for singing, Daphnis, lord of the lowing kine,
I say, my songs are better, by what thou wilt, than thine.’
Then in his turn spake Daphnis, and thus he made reply :
‘O shepherd of the fleecy flock, thou pipest clear and high ;
But come what will, Menalcas, thou ne’er wilt sing as I "
‘This thou art fain to
ascertain, and risk a bet with me? ’
‘This I full fain would
ascertain, and risk a bet with thee.
I stake a calf: stake thou a lamb.’ ”
But Menalcas—to his
credit be it said—answered “No; the flock is counted every night, and
the lamb would be missed ; it is not mine to give, it is my father’s ;
but I will stake my Pipe of nine holes, which I have made myself, and
joined together with beautiful white wax, against yours.
To this Daphnis consents,
and they get a passing goatherd to act as referee. They lay their Pipes
aside on this occasion, and each in turn tries his hand at extempore
song. When finished, the goatherd gives judgment as follows :—
“‘O Daphnis, lovely is
thy voice, thy music sweetly sung:
Such song is pleasanter to me, than honey on my tongue.
Accept this Pipe, for thou hast won. And should there be some notes
That thou could’st teach me, as I plod alongside of my goats;
I’ll give thee for thy schooling this ewe, that horns hath none:
Day by day she’ll fill the can, until the milk o’er-run.’
Then how the one lad laughed and leaped and clapped his hands for glee!
A kid that bounds to meet its dam might dance as merrily.
And how the other inly burned, struck down by his disgrace!
A maid first parting from her home might wear as sad a face.”
In the same boastful
spirit Marsyas, I have no doubt—confident in his own skill—bet his new
goatskin coat against Apollo’s fine town-made cloak, that the judges
would decide in his favour; but, as we have seen, he lost. With sad
face, and downcast eye, the hitherto victorious one turned to leave the
scene of his discomfiture, first promising to send back his goatskin
when he got home. Apollo, however, insisted on having the bet settled
there and then : the judges held this to be the law, and so poor Marsyas,
stripped of everything by the attendants, fled from before the face of
the jeering crowd naked and ashamed. This was the flaying alive of
The other part of the
myth, in which we are told that the blood of Marsyas formed a river down
which his Pipe was carried for many a weary mile ; but which ultimately
cast them up, — notice the plural here !—one on each bank, symbolises
the spread of the “Pipe” in Arcadia.
Marsyas’ Pipe was
afterwards found and brought to Apollo, who made it his own instrument
thenceforward ; which conclusion to the story proves, in short, that the
City Greeks adopted the Shepherd’s Pipe, although reluctantly, and only
after it had spread throughout the country districts of Greece.
This latter part of the
myth is borne out by a small bronze statue of Apollo which was
discovered some time ago, in so far at least as he is there represented,
with a lyre strapped on in front and a Bagpipe behind: the Bagpipe still
taking an inferior position to the lyre in the Greek’s estimation.
Now, Ruskin tells us that
Athene was the author of the double Pipe, which she invented tc
represent the hissing of the Gorgonian serpent.
We know that this Pipe,
after the death of Marsyas, fell into Apollo’s hands. This is the myth,
but history now comes upon the scene and tells us that Apollo’s Pipe,
which was the Greek Pythaulos, was a
Bagpipe. And further,
that it was used to represent the hisses and the groans of the 'mounded
serpent, at the Pyt’nonic games, which were held annually in honour of
Apollo. If you have followed my argument so far, you will understand why
I believe that in the myth of Athene and her Pipe—the Pipe which played
by itself—we have the earliest suggestion of a Bagpipe.