Re: Off Topic: Flute Players and Brains

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Aug 17 1999 - 07:56:06 EDT

At 5:54 PM -0400 8/15/99, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Here's a quote from a flute player's web page:
>Trevor Wye ascribes the following to "A Greek Philosopher, 2000 years ago":
> "Flute players have brains, of that there's no doubt!
> but alas and alack, for they soon blow them out!"
>Any idea who said that? Can I find the original Greek on Perseus?

I don't know whether anyone else has played with this; I'm just speculating
on how to go about finding the reference. Two problems present themselves
immediately: (a) the rhyming couplet format itself suggests that we're
presented with a rather free re-expression of any ancient formulation of
the idea; and (b) "brains" (EGKEFALOS) doesn't ordinarily do service for
'intelligence' in ancient Greek as it does in modern English (I'd look
rather for NOUS or perhaps the older Homeric FRENES or FRHN).

As for the sentiment expressed, the flute is associated with Dionysus and
wild, emotional dancing and is thus antithetical in traditional lore to the
lyre as an instrument of controlled, rational rhythm and thought; Nietzsche
is more responsible than any other for popularizing these notions in modern
culture in his _Birth of Tragedy_. In antiquity, it was Plato especially
who disdained flute music as associated with immoderate unthinking
behavior, so it wouldn't surprise me to find the original of Trevor Wye's
notion in Plato. I suppose that I'd search for AULHTHS in Plato first of

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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