Another conception of them is that of singers of the lament for the dead, for which reason they are often used in the adornment of tombs, and represented beating their breasts and tearing their hair or playing the flute or lyre.
For the great festival of Tezcatlipoca, the handsomest and noblest of the captives of the year had been chosen as the incarnate representative of the god, and paraded the streets for public adoration dressed in an embroidered mantle with feathers and garlands on his head and a retinue like a king; for the last month they married him to four girls representing four goddesses; on the last day wives and pages escorted him to the little temple of Tlacochcalco, where he mounted the stairs, breaking an earthenware flute against each step; this was a symbolic farewell to the joys of the world, for as he reached the top he was seized by the priests, his heart torn out and held up to the sun, his head spitted on the tzompantli, and his body eaten as sacred food, the people drawing from his fate the moral lesson that riches and pleasure may turn into poverty and sorrow.
He plays the lyre at the banquets of the gods, and causes Marsyas to be flayed alive because he had boasted of his superior skill in playing the flute, and the ears of Midas to grow long because he had declared in favour of Pan, who contended that the flute was a better instrument than Apollo's favourite, the lyre.
Thus there was quite as much important solo music for the flute as for the violin; and almost more music for the viola da gamba than for the violoncello.
The legend that Athena, observing in the water the distortion of her features caused by playing that instrument, flung it away, probably indicates that the Boeotians whom the Athenians regarded with contempt, used the flute in their worship of the Boeotian Athena.
He represents the art of playing the flute as opposed to the lyre - the one the accompaniment of the worship of Cybele, the other that of the worship of Apollo.
And now to-night my flute has waked the echoes over that very water.
While doing this he was slain by Hermes, who stoned him to death, or put him to sleep by playing on the flute and then cut off his head.
Less frequently we hear of the flute (pipe) and later also of the fiddle (ficYele).
According to Pindar, she imitated on the flute the dismal wail of the two surviving Gorgons after the death of Medusa.