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CHAPTER VIII: THE WATER ORGAN


1. WITH regard to water organs, however, I shall not fail with all possible brevity and precision to touch upon their principles, and to give a sufficient description of them. A wooden base is constructed, and on it is set an altar-shaped box made of bronze. Uprights, fastened together like ladders, are set up on the base, to the right and to the left (of the altar). They hold the bronze pump-cylinders, the moveable bottoms of which, carefully turned on a lathe, have iron elbows fastened to their centres and jointed to levers, and are wrapped in fleeces of wool. In the tops of the cylinders are openings, each about three digits in diameter. Close to these openings are bronze dolphins, mounted on joints and holding chains in their mouths, from which hang cymbal-shaped valves, let down under the openings in the cylinders.


2. Inside the altar, which holds the water, is a regulator shaped like an inverted funnel, under which there are cubes, each about three digits high, keeping a free space below between the lips of the regulator and the bottom of the altar. Tightly fixed on the neck of the regulator is the windchest, which supports the principle part of the contrivance, called in Greek the κανὼν μουσικός. Running longitudinally, there are four channels in it if it is a tetrachord; six, if it is a hexachord; eight, if it is an octachord.


3. Each of the channels has a cock in it, furnished with an iron handle. These handles, when turned, open ventholes from the windchest into the channels. From the channels to the canon there are vertical openings corresponding to ventholes in a board above, which board is termed πίναξ in Greek. Between this board and the canon are inserted sliders, pierced with holes to correspond, and rubbed with oil so that they can be easily moved and slid back into place again. They close the above-mentioned openings, and are called the plinths. Their going and coming now closes and now opens the holes.


4. These sliders have iron jacks fixed to them, and connected with the keys, and the keys, when touched, make the sliders move regularly. To the upper surface of the openings in the board, where the wind finds egress from the channels, rings are soldered, and into them the reeds of all the organ pipes are inserted. From the cylinders there are connecting pipes attached to the neck of the regulator, and directed towards the ventholes in the windchest. In the pipes are valves, turned on a lathe, and set (where the pipes are connected with the cylinders). When the windchest has received the air, these valves will stop up the openings, and prevent the wind from coming back again.


5. So, when the levers are raised, the elbows draw down the bottoms of the cylinders as far as they can go; and the dolphins, which are mounted on joints, let the cymbals fall into the cylinders, thus filling the interiors with air. Then the elbows, raising the bottoms within the cylinders by repeated and violent blows, and stopping the openings above by means of the cymbals, compress the air which is enclosed in the cylinders, and force it into the pipes, through which it runs into the regulator, and through its neck into the windchest. With a stronger motion of the levers, the air is still more compressed, streams through the apertures of the cocks, and fills the channels with wind.


6. So, when the keys, touched by the hand, drive the sliders forward and draw them back regularly, alternately stopping and opening the holes, they produce resonant sounds in a great variety of melodies conforming to the laws of music.

With my best efforts I have striven to set forth an obscure subject clearly in writing, but the theory of it is not easy, nor readily understood by all, save only those who have had some practice in things of this kind. If anybody has failed to understand it, he will certainly find, when he comes to know the thing itself, that it is carefully and exquisitely contrived in all respects.

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