the invention of the seven-string rsion of lyris credited to TerpanderLesbos. Or myical figurest se wi a lyrncludeErosand

Thelyrewas a stringed musical instrument played by the ancient Greeks and was probably the most important and well-known instrument in theGreekworld. It was closely related to the other stringed instruments: thewhich was made from a tortoise shell, the four-stringed

InGreek mythology, all four instruments are often named interchangeably in various myths, andHermesis generally credited with their invention. The messenger god made the instrument from a tortoise shell, gut, and reeds, principally to help him steal 50 prize cattle fromApollos sacred herd. Apollo discovered the theft and was only placated by Hermes offer of the lyre. Apollo, from that point on, was considered the playerpar excellenceof the lyre. Apollo also taught that other great mythical musician,Orpheus, how to play the instrument which would become his emblem. Orpheus was believed to be Thracian, which helped reinforce the belief that the lyre had its origins there. However, the invention of the seven-string version of the lyre is credited to Terpander ofLesbos. Other mythical figures often seen with a lyre includeErosand theMuses.

The stringed instrument usually had two fixed upright arms (pecheis) or horns (kerata) and a crossbar (zygos) with tuning pegs (kollopes) ofbronze, wood, ivory, or bone. Seven strings (neuraiorchordai) of equal length but varying thickness (usually made from sheep gut) stretched between the crossbar and a fixed tailpiece (chordotonon) and were played by strumming or plucking by hand, usually using a plectrum made of wood, ivory, ormetal. Played sitting or standing, the instrument was held in the hand and sometimes supported with a carrying strap worn over the shoulder of the player. The majority of musicians who played the lyre were male, but some depictions in art, most notably the clay dancers fromMinoanPalaikastro (1420-1300 BCE), do show a female lyre player. Certainly, musicians enjoyed special status as their distinctive costume of a long gown in Greek art shows. In addition, Minoan hieroglyphs had a unique symbol for musicians, and aLinear Btablet fromThebes(1250-1200 BCE) mentions lyre players as members of thestaff.

The lyre was played either alone or as an accompaniment to singing or lyric poetry at all manner of occasions such as official banquets,symposia(private drinking parties), religious ceremonies, funerals, and in musical competitions such as those held at the great Panathanaia,Pythia, and Karneia festivals.

Greek lyres are frequently depicted in all forms of Greek art and the earliest examples date from the middleBronze Age(c. 2000 BCE) in the Cycladic and Minoan civilizations. AtAkrotirionThera, afrescoshows a small triangular lyre played by a blue monkey. AtKnossosonCretea small alabaster lyre is decorated with a swans head on each arm of the instrument. Slightly later, across theAegeanin the 14th century BCE, lyres develop S-shaped arms and are frequently decorated with water-birds. Lyres were also used as decorative motifs on lateMinoan pottery. A sarcophagus from Hagia Triada depicts a seven-string lyre, awall-painting from MycenaeanPyloshas a five-string lyre and akraterfromTirynsdepicts a three-string version. Decorated ivory fragments of lyres survive fromMycenae. Lyres frequently appear on laterGreek pottery- geometric, red- andblack-figure pottery- from the 8th century BCE. Interestingly, all lyre players depicted in Greek art are right-handed.

Calymna Silver StaterMark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

A tortoise sound-box from the 5th century BCE survives, as do tuning pegs from the 6th century BCE. Several carved figures from the arms of lyres have survived, notably an inlaid ivory youth fromSamos(c. 7th century BCE) and a woman withsphinxand swan from c. 600 BCE. Complete lyres survive from theHellenistic period, a notable example being the bronze lyre from the Antikythera shipwreck.

Sign up for our free weekly email newsletter!

Music, and specifically playing the lyre, was an integral part of Greek education. Even mythical figures enjoyed the benefits of a musical education; for example,Achilleswas taught to play the lyre by the wisecentaurCheiron.Platoconsidered only the lyre orkitharaas suitable instruments for musical education.

Several Greekcity-states (poleis) also used a representation of the lyre on their coins. For example, thesilverstater of Calymna in Caria (600-550 BCE) had a tortoise shell lyre on its reverse side. Unsurprisingly, considering its association with Apollo, the silver drachma ofDeloshad a lyre on its reverse in the 6th century BCE. Coins ofKosfrom the 2nd to 1st century BCE carried the head of Apollo on the obverse and a five-stringed lyre on the reverse. In the same period, coins of Thespiai – where there was atemplededicated to Apollo and another to the Muses – carried a three-stringed lyre on their reverse sides.

This article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Athens, 2004

The Musical Instruments of the Ancient Greeks.

We want people all over the world to learn about history. Help us andtranslate this definitioninto another language!

Mark is a history writer based in Italy. His special interests include pottery, architecture, world mythology and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share in common. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the Publishing Director at WHE.

World History Encyclopedia is a non-profit organization. For only$5per month you can become a member and support our mission to engage people with cultural heritage and to improve history education worldwide.

The Lyre Handbook: Playing Methods of the Anglo-Saxon Lyre with Directions…

, published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2011)

The Celtic Lyre: A Collection of Gaelic Songs, with English Translations…

, published by Leopold Classic Library (2017)

Apollos Lyre: Greek Music and Music Theory in Antiquity and the Middle…

, published by ACLS Humanities E-Book (2010)

Making, Playing and Composing on the 10 Stringed Lyre Harp: Ancient…

, published by Glentivar Village Press (2014)

I Just Want To Play The Lyre Until I Drop Pocket Sized Music Composition…

, published by Independently published (2020)

Music and creativity in Ancient Greece – Tim Hansen

Cartwright, M. (2012, December 16).Lyre.World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Cartwright, Mark.Lyre.World History Encyclopedia. Last modified December 16, 2012.

Cartwright, Mark.Lyre.World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 16 Dec 2012. Web. 26 Sep 2021.

Written byMark Cartwright, published on 16 December 2012 under the following license:Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms.

The first examples of thelyrein theBronze Age Aegeanoccur in theCycladesand on.

Clay dancing figures including a rare femalelyreplayer are made inMinoanPalaikastro.

Lyres across theAegeanassume S-shaped arms and become more decoratively carved, most often with sculpted birds.

ALinear Btablet frommentionslyreplayers as members of the royalpalacestaff.

Thesilverstatercoinof Calymna in Caria depicts a tortoise shelllyreon its reverse side.

Thesilverdrachma ofDelosdepicts alyre- symbolic ofApollo- on its reverse side.

Coins ofKosand Thespiai depict alyreon their reverse side.

Our latest articles delivered to your inbox, once a week:

LibrarianPartner PromotionRemove AdsAdvertisementOur VideosYou can also follow us onYoutube!

Numerous educational institutions recommend us, includingOxford UniversityandUniversity of Missouri. Our publication has been reviewed for educational use byCommon Sense EducationInternet ScoutMerlot IIOER CommonsandSchool Library Journal. Please note that some of these recommendations are listed under our old name, Ancient History Encyclopedia.

World History Foundationis a non-profit organization registered in Canada.

Ancient History Encyclopedia Limitedis a non-profit company registered in the United Kingdom.

Some Rights Reserved (2009-2021) under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license unless otherwise noted.

the invention of the seven-string rsion of lyris credited to TerpanderLesbos. Or myical figurest se wi a lyrncludeErosand插图