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Hellas-China One Culture

Common Musical Instruments in East and West

The Multiflute (Hydraulis) of Dion in Macedonia and Pai Xiao in China
by Theresa Mitsopoulou


The Hydraulis of Dion The bamboo, the cane and reed have given the inspiration for musical instruments and were this material not available in nature, the flute and the multiflute may have never been invented.

The flute is a very simple instrument and apparently it was invented by accident. But the multiflute (hydraulis and pai xiao) is on the contrary, a product of advanced technology. The instrument is described by Heron of Alexandria, a mathematician and expert in physics of the 1st Century BC, and its manufacture is attributed to Ktisivios, an engineer in Alexandria of that time. In 1992, during the excavations at Dion, at the foot of Mount Olympus, a multiflute was discovered and declared "the earliest musical instrument of that kind". However one must take into consideration that western archaeologists are not familiar with the art of the far east and in this case they may have jumped to conclusions about their exciting find.

Ktisivios had manufactured his instrument, which worked with compressed air passing through water, balancing the pressure and sending the sound through tubes of different height. In other words, water entering the different sized tubes displaced the air, and produced the different tones of the musical scale. The  19 corroded bronze tubes of the instrument found at Dion copied the bamboo found in nature. The instrument was described as the ancestor of the church organ harmonium which Byzantium "donated to the west". In Byzantium and Rome the playing of this instrument was the privilege of the emperor but it also had wide secular use in the theater and the hippodrome.

In NE China in the graves of the aristocrats of the 5th Century BC thousands of personal items of the dead were found. In the un-looted grave of Yi: Marquis of Zheng they found about ten thousand artifacts of jade, lacquer and bronze. In fact there was over ten tons of bronze. One of several musical instruments found was a multiflute, or pai xiao, of 13 bamboo tubes of different heights, fastened  three rows by bamboo strips. It was painted in red on a black background and decorated with patterns of snake symbolism (half lozenges or rope design) for averting evil.

It was believed that this instrument produced melancholic sounds and it is said that upon hearing it Confucius became depressed and his food lost its flavor. So  to the already known common instruments of the east and west (flute, drum, tambourine, cymbals, trumpet, guitar, lyre, harp, bouzouki, zither-santouri) we must add the multiflute, more evidence to the one culture theory of civilization.

Very often ancient artifacts of the west seem to predate those of the east, mainly due to the almost total human and natural destruction of the evidence in China. However, the pai xiao is older then the hydraulis of Alexandria since it was found in a sealed tomb from 433 BC, long before the city of Alexandria was even conceived.

The Hydraulis of Dion
The Hydraulis of Dion

Bronze 1st Century BC
Dion Museum (Macedonia)

The Pai Xiao of China
The Pai Xiao of China
5th Century BC
Hubei Museum

Bronze Pan from the British Museum
Bronze Pan from the British Museum. The discovery of the flute was attributed to the God Pan, who was half-human and half-goat with horns. The Chinese also had a country God with horns who used to wear animal skin. He too was called Pan (Gu)

pan flute

A native of the Salomon Islands in the Pacific, playing the Pan flute. It also exists in Asia, Europe, African and South American cultures.

Hotel Attalos, Athens

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