A strange bird indeed
Odysseus aulêtês: A Ptolemaic phantom?
Needless to say, this episode in the Ithacan hero’s life is attested only here. Did Ptolemy simply make it up? Perhaps. Certainly, key details are so at odds with known traditions concerning Odysseus that it is difficult to imagine their having any source besides Ptolemy himself. Nowhere else do we hear of Odysseus making music, much less on the double reed pipes called auloi, which are markedly absent from the Odyssey and are mentioned only twice in the Iliad (X 13, XVIII 495). The epics focus rather on the phorminx, the lyre-like stringed instrument played by the bards Demodocus and Phemius as well as the heroes Achilles and Paris. The latter are the only two Homeric heroes to play music, and neither do so in an agonistic context, which in reality tended to be the province of virtuoso professional musicians. Indeed, the Iliad and Odyssey are altogether lacking in references to formalized musical contests (mousikoi agônes) such as the one that seems to be imagined in the New History.  So Ptolemy presents us with a radically, perhaps calculatedly un-Homeric Odysseus: a virtuoso aulete of all things, who for some reason—here Photius probably omitted a scene-setting explanation—competes in an Etruscan musical contest.