Analyzing the Use of the Trumpet as a Means of Communication Within the Army, In Terms of the Philosophical Thought of Thomas Aquinas

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Acknowledgements: This post is dedicated to my beloved trumpet teacher, Mr. Spyrogiannis Alexandratos, as well as to the Greek Armed Forces.


The trumpet as a musical instrument has been associated with military life since ancient times. In both peace and war periods, the trumpet calls sound in the ears of the soldiers, giving them various kinds of orders (such as the order to wake up, the order to go for sleep, the order to start hostilities, the order to cease fire, the order for the army’s retreat, etc.).

Furthermore, it is historically proved that the trumpet, especially during military hostilities, has saved several times several armies in the world from a disaster. A fascinating example of this importance of the use of the trumpet in military life can be found in a very interesting book written by my unmemorable aunt Mrs. Irene D. Davaris, about her father’s adventures as a soldier of the Greek army participating in the Balkan Wars (1912 – 1913) and in the last actions of the First World War as an ally of the Entente Powers: Ημερολόγιον του στρατιώτου Δημητρίου Νικ. Δάβαρη εκ Λιόπεσι (Παιανία) Αττικής. Εκστρατεία: α) 1912-1913, β) 1918-1919 (Diary of the Soldier Dimitrios Nik. Davaris. Expedition: a) 1912-1913, b) 1918-1919), Eptalophos Publications, Athens, Greece, 2003. More especially, on page 30 of this book, we read that while a Greek infantry section was marching, on October 26, 1912, towards the Kozani village located in today’s Greek Macedonia (then still belonging to the Ottoman Empire) to fight against the Turks, suddenly it had been continuously hit by a section of the Greek artillery located near that location, because the Greek artillery section thought, by mistake, the Greek infantry section as the enemy’s infantry! As a result, when the trumpeters of the two sections played the appropriate blares to communicate, the soldiers of the Greek artillery section recognized and interpreted the characteristic trumpet blares. As a result, they ceased hitting their compatriot infantry soldiers! So, in this case, it is self-evident that the intervention of the trumpet indeed prevented the disaster of the Greek infantry forces marching towards Kozani.

So, reading such cases, I thought that it would be exciting if I would try to describe, in some way, the communication process in military life through the use of the musical instrument of the trumpet.

Having attended, on February 26, 2015, a lecture given by the distinguished Italian professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Salento, Mr. Fernando Fiorentino (born in 1941 in Matino, Lecce, Italy), on the philosophical thought of the Italian priest at the Dominican order and great medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas (san Tommaso d’Aquino, 1225 – 1274), I realized, as a trumpet player, that the use of the trumpet in the army could be perfectly analyzed in terms of the philosophical thought of Thomas Aquinas.

According to philosopher Thomas Aquinas, our whole knowledge begins with the senses. To understand our feelings, desires, or decisions, we must translate them into conventional sounds and letters. Sight and hearing are mainly the senses that serve logic and realize sound and written signs.

Therefore, regarding especially the use of the musical instrument of the trumpet in the various aspects of military life, the leader of an army, to give his soldiers the understanding of his desired commands, has to translate them into characteristic conventional sounds that are into the appropriate “marks.” So, these “marks” are the various trumpet blares that ring in the soldiers’ ears. Each trumpet’s blare corresponds to a special command. In this way, every order given by a military leader is pre particular to the soldiers’ ears as “symbolized,” being in the form of a conventional sound.

Therefore, as soon as the soldiers hear a specific trumpet’s blare, they can interpret it and make the desired movement that their leader has commanded. The verb “interpret” (in its Greek version, “ερμηνεύω” — which is pronounced as “herminevo”), can be said to accurately describe the processing to which each trumpet blare is submitted by the soldiers who hear it. In ancient times, the one who conveyed the decisions of the gods to the humans was Hermes, hence the Greek term “ερμηνεύω” (pronounced as “herminevo,” i. e. “interpret”). Thus, respectively, the trumpeter is acting as Hermes within the army, as he is the carrier of the military leader’s decisions to the ordinary.

We can schematically represent the process of communication within the army through the trumpet, with the triangular shape presented in the image accompanying the present article. Using a similar triangular shape, Professor Fernando Fiorentino has managed to describe the philosophical thought of Thomas Aquinas on the subject of the communication between the author of a book and the reader of a book. In that case, Mr. Fiorentino has explained that the reader should first recognize and interpret the “marks” given in the content of a work to understand the final meaning of this work.

So, in the same way, as we can see schematically in the image accompanying the present article, the trumpet translates the leader’s commands into conventional sounds (“marks”), which are interpreted and recognized by the soldiers, who finally reach the final meaning and carry out the commands given to them.

Finally, we conclude that the trumpet is undoubtedly a handy tool in military life, both in peace periods and, even more so, in times of war. We also see that the use of the trumpet in the army is well suited for an exciting interpretation based on the terms of the philosophical thought of the great Italian priest and philosopher of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas, who had as his cornerstone the function of the “marks” as necessary elements in the communication process. Therefore, having these terms as a starting point, we can describe with absolute clarity the process of communication within the army through the musical instrument of the trumpet.

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