THUCYDIDES, the most authoritative of Greek historians, tells us 1 that the Lacedaemonians, greatest of warriors, made use in battle, not of signals by horns or trumpets, but of the music of pipes, certainly not in conformity with any religious usage or from any ceremonial reason, nor yet that their courage might be roused and stimulated, which is the purpose of horns and trumpets; but on the contrary that they might be calmer and advance in better order, because the effect of the flute-player's notes is to restrain impetuosity. So firmly were they convinced that in meeting the enemy and beginning battle nothing contributed more to valour and confidence than to be soothed by gentler sounds and keep their feelings under control. Accordingly, when the army was drawn up, and began to advance in battle-array against the foe, pipers stationed in the ranks began to play. Thereupon, by this quiet, pleasant, and even solemn prelude the fierce impetuosity of the soldiers was checked, in conformity with a kind of discipline of military music, so to speak, so that they might not rush forth in straggling disorder. But I should like to quote the very words of that outstanding writer, which have greater distinction and credibility than my own: “And after this the [p. 55] attack began. The Argives and their allies rushed forward eagerly and in a rage, but the Lacedaemonians advanced slowly to the music of many flute-players stationed at regular intervals; this not for any religious reason, but in order that they might make the attack while marching together rhythmically, and that their ranks might not be broken, which commonly happens to great armies when they advance to the attack.” Tradition has it that the Cretans also commonly entered battle with the lyre playing before them and regulating their step. Futhermore, Alyattes, king of the land of Lydia, a man of barbaric manners and luxury, when he made war on the Milesians, as Herodotus tells us in his History, 2 had in his army and his battle-array orchestras of pipe and lyre-players, and even female flute-players, such as are the delight of wanton banqueters. Homer, however, says 3 that the Achaeans entered battle, relying, not on the music of lyres and pipes, but on silent harmony and unanimity of spirit:
In silence came the Achaeans, breathing rage,What then is the meaning of that soul-stirring shout of the Roman soldiers which, as the annalists have told us, was regularly raised when charging the foe? 4 Was that done contrary to so generally accepted a rule of old-time discipline? Or are a quiet advance and silence needful when an army is marching against an enemy that is far off and visible from a distance, but when they have almost come to blows, then must the foe, already at close quarters, be driven back by a violent assault and terrified by shouting? [p. 57] But, look you, the Laconian pipe-playing reminds me also of that oratorical pipe, which they say was played for Gaius Gracchus when he addressed the people, and gave him the proper pitch. But it is not at all true, as is commonly stated, that a musician always stood behind him as he spoke, playing the pipe, and by varying the pitch now restrained and now animated his feelings and his delivery. For what could be more absurd than that a piper should play measures, notes, and a kind of series of changing melodies for Gracchus when addressing an assembly, as if for a dancing mountebank? But more reliable authorities declare that the musician took his place unobserved in the audience and at intervals sounded on a short pipe a deeper note, to restrain and calm the exuberant energy of the orator's delivery. And that in my opinion is the correct view, for it is unthinkable that Gracchus' well-known natural vehemence needed any incitement or impulse from without. Yet Marcus Cicero thinks that the piper was employed by Gracchus for both purposes, in order that with notes now soft, now shrill, he might animate his oratory when it was becoming weak and feeble, or check it when too violent and passionate. I quote Cicero's own words: 5 “And so this same Gracchus, Catulus, as you may hear from your client Licinius, an educated man, who was at that time Gracchus' slave and amanuensis, 6 used to have a skilful musician stand behind him in concealment when he addressed an audience, who could quickly breathe a note to arouse the speaker if languid, or recall him from undue vehemence.” [p. 59] Finally, Aristotle wrote in his volume of Problems 7 that the custom of the Lacedaemonians which I have mentioned, of entering battle to the music of pipers, was adopted in order to make the fearlessness and ardour of the soldiers more evident and indubitable. “For,” said he, “distrust and fear are not at all consistent with an advance of that kind, and such an intrepid and rhythmical advance cannot be made by the faint-hearted and despondent.” I have added a few of Aristotle's own words on the subject: “Why, when on the point of encountering danger, did they advance to music of the pipe? In order to detect the cowards by their failure to keep time.” * * * 8
Resolved in mind on one another's aid.