08 November 2011

On the playing of the flute (please read because it took forevs to type out)

“When [Alcibiades] came to study, he was fairly obedient to most of his teachers, but refused to learn the flute, which he regarded as an ignoble accomplishment and quite unsuitable for a free citizen. He argued that to use a plectrum and play the lyre does not disfigure a gentleman’s bearing or appearance, but once a man starts blowing into a flute, his own friends can scarcely recognize his features. Besides, the lyre accompanies and creates a harmony for the words or the song of its performer, but the flute seals and barricades his mouth and deprives him both of voice and of speech. ‘Leave the flute to the sons of Thebes,’ he concluded, ‘for they have no idea of conversation. We Athenians, as our fathers say, have Athena for our foundress and Apollo for our patron, one of whom threw away the flute in disgust, while the other stripped the skin off the man who played it!’ In this way, half in jest and half in earnest, he not only avoided learning the instrument himself, but induced the other boys to do the same. The word soon went round that Alcibiades detested flute-playing and made fun of everybody who learned it, and with good reason, too. In consequence the flute disappeared from the number of so-called liberal accomplishments and came to be utterly despised.”

—Plutarch—The Rise and Fall of Athens


  1. A parable for hipsterdom?

  2. Yes. Alcibiades was the first hipster.