WE shall now leave the
flowery mazes of Mythland,that realm of fancy and imagination and
descend to the safer, if more prosaic paths of written History, in our
search after further information on the Bagpipe.
If I have not already
wearied you with my idle excursions into the dim and misty past as we
have it represented in Greek myth ? If you do not reckon me one of the
people whoas the Psalmist says imagine a vain thing? I shall ask
you once more to accompany me to the sunny South: to the land of
romance, and song, and piping: to the land which the old Greek has
revealed to us: a land full of wonder and beauty, full of grandeur and
majesty, haunted by the echoes of human laughter and tears: where truth
and fiction still live in loving union together, and truth borrows grace
from fiction, and fiction gathers dignity from truth. And in this
country I shall introduce you to a man who knew more of pipers and of
piping than any other man of his day and generation. Some of you will
immediately recognise in him an old friend: to others he will be a
comparative stranger : while to a few he may be wholly unknown, as his
writingsand how delightful these are! have been too much neglected
both at school and college.
It is of Theocritus the
Greek poet that I would write. He is the great authority on the Piob or
Shepherds Pipe : the great delineator of Greek pastoral life in the old
days. What he did not know of the shepherd and his Pipe is not worth
knowing. While his writings are worthy of being read for their own sake,
the poet is at the same time the prince of good fellows, in whose
charming company the cares and worries of daily life are forgotten.
Should it ever be your
unhappy lot to suffer from brain-fag, while the needful holiday is still
in the far distance, try what a study of the old Greek poets Idylls
will do for you. If your Greek has gone musty, there are several good
translations to choose from. Of these, I prefer the one by Lang, in the
Golden Treasury series, for the sake of its scholarly introduction.
There is also a metrical translation by Calverly: a delightful book in
its way: a poets translation of a poet. And if you wish a more literal
rendering of the Greek, you will find it in Bohns Library. But the
charm of the original infects all three, and for us, in this way,
Theocritus becomes thrice eloquent.
Here, without doubt, we
have a writer who can describe for us things and men as he saw them two
thousand years ago. In his Idylls, there is no stilted artificiality :
naturalness overflows in every line : the laughter of bygone years still
echoes through his pages ; the tears still wet them. With curtains drawn
to shut out the slushy, sloppy streets, and feet made comfortable in
well-toasted slippers, you canwith this little book in your handenjoy
the pleasures of a country life while seated comfortably at your own
The poet, who makes the
most fascinating of guides, will put back for you the hands of the clock
of time two thousand years and more. In the twinkling of an eye he will
transport you from this cold, bleak climate of ours, dark with winter
fogs, or moist from dripping autumn skies, to a land of perpetual
sunshine and blue ethers, and midsummer spice-laden airs and passionate
flower-blossoming. Basking in the sunshine of his geniality, you will
forget to shiver at the cold. The winter blast, rocking without and
making the shuttered window creak and groan like some disembodied spirit
in pain, will blow past unheeded, as you walk arm-in-arm with the poet
through the streets of Syracuse, the city of his birth : the city he
most lovedsunniest of sunny cities, and Greekest of Greek.
Or passing out through
the city gates into the country beyond that country which he knew and
loved so well, and where he spent so many happy days you will find
your cares fall from your shoulders, like a cast-off garment, as you
wander with him in the meadows, already brilliant with bells and
flowerets of a thousand hues, where first he met the little girl piping
to Hippocoons field-workers.
In these Idylls the poet
has caught and made captive for us the warm spice-laden breezes that
ever float up from the blue waters of the Mediterannean.
The sunshine of cloudless
skies he has enticed into his pages, and it still warms the figures of
Demeter and his love-feasters, of shepherd and shepherdess, of piper and
singer, so that they, too, look out of the page at you with laughter in
their eyes and smiles on their lips as real as when in life. So
life-like, indeed, are this poets creations that, as Mrs Browning once
said of those of another and greater poet, if you were to put real men
and women beside them, the best stop-watch in the world could not detect
the least difference in the beating of their hearts.
Butyou may well ask the
question!what has all this got to do with the Bagpipe? Not much,
perhaps, but I was led to study Theocritus because more than one
writerin a more or less vague sort of way, certainlyhad referred to
Theocritus as being the first author to mention the Bagpipe.
Well, I have searched for
Sitmphoma, the Greek word for Bagpipe, in the original text, and again
in the three different translations mentioned above, and I have
completely failed to find it.
Pythaulos, and Bumbaulos,
two other names given at a later date by the old Greeks to the Pipe, are
also conspicuous by their absence. In short, Theocritus, who was born
about 300 B.C., does not mention the Bagpipe at all.
But I learned two things
from my research.
I learned anew, and with
increasing emphasis, the beautiful truth which is embodied in the saying
of the old philosopher, If you offered me the choice of Truth in the
one hand, or the Pursuit after Truth in the other, I should choose the
I did not find any
reference to the Bagpipe in Theocritusthe truth which I was in
pursuit ofbut the pursuit itself was a delight and a treasure, and
through it I spent many weeks of unadulterated happiness some years ago,
wandering in the company of one of the worlds great masters, utterly
indifferent to the sleet and snow and biting cruel winds that so often
brought the short days of a particularly stormy winter to a close.
I learned also this
important fact, that the Bagpipe was unknown to Theocritus andby
implication to the Greeks of the third century B.C.
The Idylls are filled
with descriptions of pipers and piping.
The first Idyll opens up
with these words
Sweet are the whispers
of yon pine that makes Low music oer the spring-, and goatherd, sweet
Thy piping; thou art matched by Pan alone. While the last Idyll sings
somewhat after this fashionI have not the book before me!
Oh that my father had
taught me the care of sheep, that I might sit in the shade of the
wide-spreading tree, or in the cool of the overhanging rock, and there
pipe away my sorrows.
Every page, indeed,
betrays an intimate acquaintance with the different instruments used by
the shepherds or goatherds of his time. There are three different kinds
of Pipe mentioned by the poet, and these are called Aulos,
Aiilosceilamus, and Syrinx. We have a minute description given of these
various forms, even to the number of holes in each, and to the kind of
wax and thread used in binding the reeds together. We also find
continual references tc piping contests in the Idylls, so that it is
impossible to believe that the most important of the Pipe family could
be overlooked, by the poet whose delight was in minute word-painting of
pastoral scenes. This careful recorder of the old simple, kindly,
country lifewith those keen eyes of his that missed not the twittering
of a single leaf on the tree : with those keen ears of his that heard
voices in the murmur of the bratling stream, and in the whispering of
the flowers, as they bent and nodded to the gentle breeze could never
have so completely overlooked the King of Pipes if it had been in
existence in his day. Even against his will it would have forced itself
upon his attention during those constant country rambles in which he so
delighted. For, what does this poet write about? It is not of the city
and its busy life although occasionally he ruffled it at court with the
best of the young bloods : luxury and wealth he rarely mentions. His
theme is the country, with its simple joys and sorrows, where money
counts for little, because there is so little of it to count. Nothing is
too small for him to take notice of!
The grateful shade of the
pine tree ; the singing of the lark in the blue ether ; the restless
moaning of the sea by the lonely shore ; the cool sound of the waters
falling over the face of the rock ; the sweet scent of verbena, and
lily, and wild thyme ; the lowly goatherd contesting for the pipers
prize, dressed in a new goatskin, with the fresh smell of the rennet
still clinging to it; the little girl piping in the field to encourage
the harvesters in their work ; the midnight revel at the neatherds
cabin ; the poor fisherman in his hut of wattles, dreaming golden dreams
down by the marshesalmost the only gold he mentions. These are the
subjects he delights to dwell upon: always, however, coming back to
piping, piping, piping.
We may take it, then,
that in Theocritus time, say 270 B.C., the Bagpipe was unknown to the
Greek, whether of the town or country. This is something worth knowing,
something worth remembering. When the Bagpipe was introduced into Greece
the people had no name ready for it, and so they christened this
instrument of many sounds Sumphonia, or the many-sounding one. The
Romans came to know of it much later than the Greeks. They received it
from two sourcesa Celtic and a Greek sourceas I hope immediately to
prove. We must therefore look for the origin of the Piob-Mhor elsewhere
than in Greece or Rome.