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SYMPHO´NIA (συμφωνία) is mentioned by Cic. Ver. 3.44, 105; Hor. A. P. 574; Liv. 39.10; Plb. 26.10, 5, 31.4, 8 (Dind.), as being a musical entertainment at banquets. We hear also of specially-trained slaves, who were called symphoniaci, and were kept by rich men to provide this music (Cic. Mil. 21, 55; Verr. 5.25, 64: cf. Gel. 19.3; Macr. 4, 28): in Cic. Fam. 6.9 symphonia means a dinner so accompanied. It was one of the luxuries introduced from Asia about 187 B.C. (Liv. 39.6; Marquardt, Privatleben, 181; Becker-Göll, Gallus, 2.147, 3.373).

There has been much difference of opinion on the question what the symphonia was, and even whether it was vocal or instrumental music. Some, as Rich, hold that it was a sort of drum. This, which is surely highly improbable when we consider its use at dinner-parties, rests on the authority of Isidore (Orig. 2.21) and the lexicographer Ugutio, who follows him (see Du Cange, s. v.). It may be remarked on this that Isidore, writing in the 7th century, is probably interpreting a word which he finds in older writers, not describing an instrument which he had seen. On the other hand, Baumeister (Denkm. p. 563) connects it with the Italian sampogna, and considers it to be a sort of bagpipe: a view which had previously been taken by some commentators on the passages in Dan. iii., where the LXX. translates by συμφωνία the similar Hebrew word (see Dict. of the Bible, s. v. Dulcimer). Dr. Pusey, again, in a learned note on this passage (Lectures on. Daniel, p. 29), holds positively that in Greek and Latin the word never meant an instrument at all, but only chorus singing; and his view might find support in Jerome on St. Luke xv., who says that some Latin writers have wrongly taken it to. be an organ, whereas it means only vocal harmony. We cannot, however, be sure whether Jerome is speaking generally or only in reference to this passage.

It seems to us at any rate reasonable to demand that whatever sense is given to pueri symphoniaci should agree with that which we accept for symphonia. If the ordinary view is correct, that these slaves were trained singers (so Marquardt, Privatl. p. 337; Becker-Göll, l.c.), then it would follow that symphonia meant concerted vocal music. But there is, it seems to us, some evidence against this. In the passages cited above from Cicero, Horace, Livy, and Macrobius, it may safely be asserted that the sense suits vocal or instrumental music equally well; and so they bring us no nearer to a conclusion. But when we read in Cic. Div. in Caecil. 17, 55, that a praefectus took possession of some pueri symphoniaci for his fleet, it seems absolutely necessary to suppose that.these were slaves trained to play the flute and distributed through the fleet, to-act each as a τριηραύλης. Further confirmation of this may be gathered from the introduction of the symphonia in naval use by Prudentius (in Sym. 2.527), where the glosses (as also Ven. Fortunat. in the 6th cent.) take it to be a wind instrument, whether tuba or tibia. Again, in Plin. Nat. 9.24, “delphinus symphoniae cantu mulcetur et praecipue hydrauli,” it is hard to see how it could be coupled with the hydraulus, unless it was an instrument. (The passage in H. N. 10.84 is not decisive.) The same deduction may be made from Petron. 34, where “symphonia” is clearly distinguished from “chorus cantans,” as it seems to be also in Cic. Cael. 15, 35. Lastly, in spite of Dr. Pusey's denial, it seems to us necessary, in the two passages of Polybius cited at the beginning of this article, to understand συμφωνία as a band of flute-players (the κεράτιον being distinguished from it as a sort of cornet). Whether the flute so used was a special Asiatic pattern, or whether the point which differentiated it as Eastern consisted in the flutes being so graduated as to perform concerted music, cannot be determined: if the latter, the fact of the flutes being arranged for different parts may have distinguished the symphoniaci from the tibicines. We gather from Dig. 9, 2, 22, 1, that the music was so concerted that the loss of one of the symphoniaci would render the rest comparatively valueless, and therefore the damage was estimated in regard to the depreciation of the other “corpora” also, as in the case of a matched team of horses.

A single member of the συμφωνία was probably the χοραύλης, who appears in Martial, 9.77, as choraules, to avoid the awkward word symphoniacus. It is possible,, and indeed probable, that symphonia signified also a band composed of different instruments, and not of the flute only, like the private bands in some great houses at the present day: all the evidence seems to us against its meaning a-single instrument, except in very: late writers (see Du Cange), [p. 2.740]where the word seems to have been adopted as the term for a flute. In an inscription (Wilmanns, 1344) we find a “Collegium Symphoniacorum” employed for public sacrifices.

The question whether the word συμφωνία was adopted as the nearest Greek approach to a Hebrew or Chaldaic word, or whether the Hebrew writer borrowed from the Greek, it is beyond our scope to discuss: reference may be made to Dict. of the Bible, and to Dr. Pusey as cited above.


hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 6.9
    • Polybius, Histories, 31.4
    • Polybius, Histories, 31.8
    • Cicero, For Milo, 21
    • Cicero, For Milo, 55
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.3.105
    • Cicero, Divinatio against Q. Caecilius, 17
    • Cicero, For Marcus Caelius, 15
    • Cicero, For Marcus Caelius, 35
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 9.24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 6
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 19.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 9.77
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