by Douglas Bishop
My research into the pan flute's history sometimes leads to unexpected discoveries. It is known the Romans borrowed much of what became known as Roman culture from peoples whom they conquered. When Rome conquered Greece, they also adopted the Greek pan flute (syrinx). However, I became curious as to whether the Romans also adopted the Greek name for their pan flute form (syrinx), or had created their own name. I decided to search through some early Roman literary works, and in book 5, chapter 10, line 25 of Ovid's "Tristia", written during the reign of Ceasar Augustus, this is what I found:
"Sub galea pastor iunctis pice cantat auenis"
English translation: "Under a helmet, the shepherd plays his reed-pipe glued with pitch".
auenis (ow-in-is): reed, straw; shepherd's pipe, pan pipe; oats, wild oats, other allied grasses
Book 5 of Ovid's "Tristia": Latin text and English translation / Words by William Whitaker / Latin Dictionary
Independent corroboration of this can be found in the late Costel Puscoiu's and Brad White's, "History of the Pan Flute", which likewise attributes Ovid's reference in "Tristia" to the pan flute. Further investigation on my part led me to the location of two other references in Roman literature. The first of these can be found in Ovid's, "Metamorphoses", in book 1, line 677:
"....dum uenit abductas, et structis cantat auenis."
English translation: "...through solitary lanes, and plays his reed pipe as he goes".
Book 1 of Ovid's "Metamorphoses" / Line 677 (Latin text with French translation) and English translation
The second additional reference is contained in a passage from the Eclogues of Titus Calpurnius Siculus - Eclogue #4, lines 147-151:
"Rustica credebam nemorales carmina uobis concessisse deos et obesis auribus apta; uerum, quae paribus modo concinuistis auenis, tam liquidum, tam dulce cadunt, ut non ego malim, quod Paeligna solent examina lambere nectar".
English translation: "I used to think they were but rustic lays which the sylvan deities bestowed on you — lays fit for cloddish ears; but what you have even now sung on well-matched pipes has so clear, so sweet a fall that I would not liefer sip the nectarous honey which Pelignian swamps are wont to sip".
Titus Calpurnius Siculus - Eclogue 4 / Latin text and English translation
I had stumbled on a lost Roman name for the pan flute! Whether this name was lost through having fallen into disuse among panflutists, or for other reasons, is unknown. However, when one considers the above-cited translations, it is clear that the translations of "auenis" to the more descriptive "reed pipe", the more colloquial "panpipe", or even the more simplistic "pipes", are not points of contention among Latin specialists. These various translation sources also serve to verify the William Whitaker Latin dictionary source, and thus aid the enquiring mind in avoiding the trap of stereotype by credentialism.
"Auenis" is clearly different from the alternative Latin term "fistula panis" (literally, pan flute), and is clearly being used as a standalone word, similar to the interchangeable and generic usage of the modern English terms, "pan flute", or "panpipes". One thing is made obvious by both Ist century Roman literature and Pompeii frescoes dating from the same period: The Greek figure of Pan (Known as Faunus or Silvanus to the Romans) was well-known to the Roman elite of the 1st century CE, as was the syrinx (Greek pan flute). However, two Roman authors from the same period did not use the Greek name for the instrument in their writings, but auenis - an important point.
In the above references, alternative correct translations of "auenis" are "reeds" or "pipes", and thus it may be argued that the aforementioned authors merely meant to speak of reeds or pipes. However, this interpretation falters when one considers the musical connotations present in the context of all three references. Interestingly, a similar instance of the importance of context, can still be observed in English today, in the phrase, "The Pipes of Pan", which uses the attachment of the prepositional phrase "of Pan". This grammatical device allows its writer to communicate the proper context, leaving the reader in no doubt of the intended meaning of the word "pipes".
The argument may also be made that "auenis" is a plural, and therefore does not represent a singular object such as a panpipe. However, upon closer examination of the contexts of each reference, it may be noted that in each case, it is a single individual that is playing the reeds in question. So, in all three of the above passages, we have a plurality of reeds or pipes, being played by a single individual as a single musical instrument - unmistakable references to the pan flute.
Ovid was one of Rome's most prominent literary figures, and he wrote "Tristia" and "Metamorphoses" during the Roman Empire's golden age, the "Pax Romana" (27 B.C.E. - 180 C.E.). The Eclogues of Titus Calpurnius Siculus date from the same period in Roman history. In light of both Ovid's and Titus Calpurnius Siculus' usage of the word "auenis" with reference to this musical instrument, there could be little doubt this was indeed a word understood by Romans to signify the pan flute.