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The Day the Music Died: Alcibiades and the Tibiae

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

One of his­to­ry’s most ardent col­lec­tors of curi­ous notes, inter­est­ing texts, and odd pas­sages, Aulus Gel­lius (c. 125–180 A.D.), relates quite an amus­ing sto­ry in his Noctes Atti­cae about the famous gen­er­al Alcibiades. 

Alcib­i­ades (c. 450–404 B.C.) was Greek, Athen­ian to be exact, and made a name for him­self as both a mil­i­tary com­man­der but also as an ora­tor and politician. 

How­ev­er, the Latin video les­son you’ll find below, has lit­tle to do with mil­i­tary strate­gies and pol­i­tics. Instead, we will read a text about the time when Alcib­i­ades was taught the lib­er­al arts as a young boy and what came to pass when he was hand­ed tib­i­ae (aulos)– pipes.

Daniel will explain the pas­sage in Latin, how­ev­er you will find Eng­lish sub­ti­tles as and option in the video (as well as Latin subtitles).

Video in Latin: Alcibiades, Tibiae and Athenian Music.

Latin Text: Noctes Atticae 15.17

ALCIBIADES Athe­nien­sis, cum apud avun­cu­lum Per­i­clen puer art­ibus ac dis­ci­pli­n­is lib­er­al­ibus erudi­re­tur et arces­si Per­i­cles Anti­genidam tibicin­em ius­sis­set, ut eum canere tibi­is, quod hon­estis­si­mum tum vide­batur, doceret, tra­di­tas sibi tib­ias, cum ad os adhibuis­set inflas­setque, pude­fac­tus oris defor­mi­tate abiecit infre­git­que. Ea res cum per­cre­buis­set, omni­um tum Athe­nien­si­um con­sen­su dis­ci­plina tibi­is canen­di desi­ta est. 

English Translation: Attic Nights 15.17

ALCIBIADES the Athen­ian in his boy­hood was being trained in the lib­er­al arts and sci­ences at the home of his uncle, Per­i­cles; and Per­i­cles had ordered Anti­genides, a play­er on the pipes, to be sent for, to teach the boy to play on that instru­ment, which was then con­sid­ered a great accom­plish­ment. But when the pipes were hand­ed to him and he had put them to his lips and blown, dis­gust­ed at the ugly dis­tor­tion of his face, he threw them away and broke them in two. When this mat­ter was noised abroad, by the uni­ver­sal con­sent of the Athe­ni­ans of that time the art of play­ing the pipes was giv­en up. 

Trans­la­tion by John C. Rolfe (1927)

Daniel Pettersson

Daniel Pettersson

Teacher and author Daniel Pettersson, M.A., is co-founder of Latinitium and is currently teaching Latin at Stockholm University, where he is also working on his Ph.D. dissertation on Humanist Colloquia. Daniel believes in the importance of Latin literature in the modern world and that you can teach yourself Latin with the right motivation, method, and material.
Written by Daniel Pettersson

Written by Daniel Pettersson

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