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date: 14 October 2019

Hydraulis (from Gk. hudōr: ‘water’ and aulos: ‘pipe’ or aulē: ‘chamber’)locked

  • James W. McKinnon


(from Gk. hudōr: ‘water’ and aulos: ‘pipe’ or aulē: ‘chamber’)

The ancient water organ (an Aerophone, an important musical instrument of later classical antiquity and the direct ancestor of the modern pipe organ. It is to be distinguished from the hydraulic or Water organ. In the latter the wind supply comes from air compressed by continuously flowing water. The hydraulis is bellows blown (by hand or by windmill), but water is used to stabilize the wind pressure.

Ancient Greek writers on music, for example, Athenaeus, Pseudo-Plutarch and Pseudo-Aristotle, very often named the inventors of musical instruments; these inventors, however, are generally mythical figures or men who long postdate the instrument’s first appearance. The inventor of the hydraulis is a significant exception, for all the evidence suggests that it was an Alexandrian engineer named Ctesibius, who lived in the 3rd century bce and was less remarkable for his theoretical ability than for his highly ingenious solutions to practical problems. He was the first to use air pressure to operate mechanical devices, in particular the pump with plunger and valve, the water clock, the pneumatic catapult and the hydraulis. He described his work in the ...

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