Athena and Hermes. Aulos and lyre. Pipes and strings. And the much neglected trumpet and shepherd's pipe. These are Gods of innovation, new uses and thoughts. These are also the Gods who gave away their creations without hesitation. To pay for a theft or because of a glance in the mirror, they tossed their instruments aside for others to play. They could always make more.
Hermes’s story is always good for a laugh so let’s begin
there. Three days after he was born, Hermes had already gotten bored with
behaving himself. So off he went to his brother’s pastures and stole Apollo’s cows.
He cooked them up and settled down to some inventing. He caught
and killed a tortoise and used it’s shell and the guts of the sun God’s cows to
build the first lyre in the world (well, so he said.) When Apollo finally found
the little thief, the chords that poured out of the lyre stopped him in his
tracks. Singing with the Muses and playing reed pipes suddenly seemed like
ancient history compared to the thought of playing this new instrument. And
Hermes, clever little trickster that he is, offered not only to give Apollo the
lyre but to teach him how to play it. In exchange for the cows that he had already
After Apollo left to write up he’s newly created rules of harmony,
Hermes skipped off and gathered reeds to build a syrinx (though some say he
stole that instrument from Pan and who’s to say which one of these two is more
trustworthy) and continued to fill his after dinner hours with new
Once, Zeus asked Hermes for help
getting past Argos,
the hundred eyed monster who never slept. Hermes took his syrinx and played
lullabies to Argos
until all of his eyes finally closed. Some say that Apollo traded his golden
staff and lessons in prophecy for Hermes’ shepherd's pipe.
Athena’s music by contrast seems to be tied to sorrow
and pain. She had given Perseus the tools he needed to kill Medusa of course
but when Medusa died, her sisters wept. And keened. And sang. Athena, the war
Goddess, promptly dropped her spear and began shaping a pair of reeds into a
double-reed instrument, the aulos. Athena could use this hollow tube to transform
all the sorrow and grief of the world into laments and dirges that broke and
healed the hearts that heard them. (Many people translate aulos as flute which is why so many sources say
Athena invented the flute. As a Goddess of wisdom, she herself would be
the first to point out how wrong that is.)
And then, as suddenly as she started, Athena
stopped playing. Some say she didn’t like how she looked in the mirror, others
that Hermes made fun of how her cheeks puffed out. But maybe she knew others
would need some way to release their deepest, musical voice and that is why she
dropped her reed pipes to the ground. But even after she stopped playing, the
Goddess’s breath still lived in the aulos. They hummed in the forest until a
satyr named Marsyas found them and brought their melodies back to the world.
She guarded and supported the musicians of Olympus, the
Muses. She caught and tamed
Pegasus, the winged horse child of Medusa, and gave him
to the Muses for their pleasure and delight.
She was called Athena Salpinx (war
trumpet) in Argos
and she is credited with inventing all forms of art that require time and study.
These two Gods are the inventors of their pantheon. Each new object they create draws gasps of amazement and becomes sacred in an eye blink. But these two beings barely seem to notice how precious their inventions are. They hand their creations off to others without a second thought, knowing that the most valuable gift they are giving us is the ability to imagine new ways to use the objects they leave scattered around us.
August 19, 2015
Posted by Gwyneth Whistlewood the Feral Flute
Labels: Musical Mythology
I record and play music in the woods and timber. My music can be found at CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, and other music sites. I've been playing flute for most of my life and I teach flute and music history. I try to create music that connects with the world around me, with myths and herb gardens, with old tunes and newly created melodies. Music is magic and the spark that makes each day roll easily on its way.