1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Syrinx

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SYRINX (σῦριγξ), the Greek name for the pan-pipes. The principle on which it works is that of the stopped pipe, but it is blown in the same manner as the ancient Egyptian nay or oblique flute. The pipes composing it were stopped at one end, so that the sound waves had to travel twice the length of the pipe, giving out a note nearly an octave lower than that produced by an open pipe of equal length. The breath directed horizontally across the open end, impinged against the sharp inner edge of the pipes, creating the regular series of pulses which generate the sound waves within the tubes. The syrinx consisted of a varying number of reeds, having their open ends or embouchures in a horizontal line and their stopped ends, formed by the knots in the reed, gradually decreasing in length from left to right. Each pipe gave out one note, but by overblowing, i.e. increased pressure of breath and tension of lips, harmonies could be obtained.

The syrinx or pan pipes owes its double name to ancient Greek tradition, ascribing its invention to Pan in connection with a well-known legend of the Arcadian water-nymph “Syrinx.”[1] The exact form of the instrument and the number of pipes (10) at the beginning of the third century B.C. is shown in one of the Idyllia figurata,[2] in which the legend is repeated. The pandean pipes continued in favour with the rustic populations of the West long after the organ evolved from it had eclipsed this humble prototype. The syrinx was in use during the middle ages, and was known in France as frestel or frêtiau, in medieval Latin as fistula panis, and in Germany as Pansflöte or Hirtenpfeife (now Papagenoflöte) . At the beginning of the 19th century a revival of the popularity of this instrument took place, and quartets were played on four sets of pipes of different sizes and pitch. The modern mouth-organ is the representative of the syrinx, although blown by means of a free reed.


  1. See Serv. ad Virgil, Ecloga, ii. 31 ; and Ovid, Metam. i. 691, &c.
  2. Theocritus, Brunck, Analecta veto. poet. graec. i. 304.