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Some Reminiscences and the Bagpipe
Chapter XXII — Pallas Athene

“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 Wood.

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 of Phrygia.

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 shinbone.

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 annoyed her.

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 music.

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 judgment.

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 lyre.

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 town.

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 Marsyas.

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.

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