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Thursday, 25 February 2016


The lyre is one of the earliest stringed instruments. The most ancient lyres known are from the Sumerian civilization. These instruments are considered large, standing approximately three and a half feet (one meter) tall. Their strings ran from a sound box over a bridge to a yoke, where they were tuned. Sound was produced by plucking the strings with the fingers. Over time the lyre became smaller and more portable.

The lyres of Ur, excavated in ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), date to 2500 BC.

The earlist picture of a lyre with seven strings appears in the famous sarcophagus of Hagia Triada (a Minoan settlement in Crete). The sarcophagus was used during the Mycenaean occupation of Crete (1400BC)

The Hagia Triada Mycenaean sarcophagus, 14th century BC, depicting the earliest lyre with seven strings, held by a man with long robe, third from the left. By J. OllĂ© - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia Commons

The lyre of classical antiquity was ordinarily played by being strummed with a plectrum (pick), like a guitar or a zither, rather than being plucked with the fingers as with a harp.

Words in songs are called lyrics because in ancient Greece poems used to be accompanied by a lyre.

Homer was a Greek blind minstrel who chanted the Iliad and the Odyssey to the music of the lyre.

The ancient Greeks knew two different types of lyre--the lyra and the cithara The lyra had a sound box of tortoiseshell, which was covered with a soundboard of wood. It was associated with amateurs and with drinking songs and love songs.

The cithara was a similar instrument with more strings. The cithara had a hollow sound box made of wood, to which were attached pieces of such other materials as metal or horn to increase the instrument's volume. The cithara was an instrument for professional musicians, and competitions for masters who accompanied their own songs in performance were a prominent feature of Greek life.

Music featured as an essential organizing factor in his Pythagoran society. The disciples used the lyre to cure illness of the soul or body.

During mealtimes ancient Greeks reclined on couches while eating with poetry, lyre playing and dancing in the background.

The Emperor Nero inserted a special event for himself at the Olympics - lyre playing, which he conveniently won.

In late classical times (around 400AD) the lyra fell out of use, and the cithara evolved into various new types of instruments, of which the most recognizable resembles the lute of the Renaissance.

Lyres appearing to have emerged independently of Greco-Roman prototypes were used by the Teutonic, Gallic, Scandinavian, and Celtic peoples over a thousand years ago.

Shakespeare wrote of the lyre, which is made from sheep's guts "Is it not strange that sheep's guts should hale souls out of mens bodies."

The remains of a 2300-year-old lyre was discovered on the Isle of Skye, Scotland in 2010 making it Europe’s oldest surviving stringed musical instrument.

source Comptons Encyclopedia

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