Lyre

Lyre

Overview
The lyre is a stringed musical instrument
String instrument
A string instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by means of vibrating strings. In the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification, used in organology, they are called chordophones...

 known for its use in Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 classical antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 and later. The word comes from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 "λύρα" (lyra) and the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists", written in Linear B
Linear B
Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, an early form of Greek. It pre-dated the Greek alphabet by several centuries and seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean civilization...

 syllabic script. The earliest picture of a lyre with seven strings appears in the famous sarcophagus
Hagia Triada sarcophagus
The Hagia Triada sarcophagus is a late Bronze Age 137 cm-long limestone sarcophagus. It was originally dated to 1400 BC and was rediscovered in Hagia Triada on Crete in 1903...

 of Hagia Triada
Hagia triada
Hagia Triada is the archaeological site of an ancient Minoan settlement. Hagia Triada is situated on a prominent coastal ridge, with the Mesara Plain below. Hagia triada sits at the western end of the ridge, while Phaistos is at the eastern end...

 (a Minoan
Minoan civilization
The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans...

 settlement in Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

). The sarcophagus was used during the Mycenaean
Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

 occupation of Crete (1400 BC).
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Encyclopedia
The lyre is a stringed musical instrument
String instrument
A string instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by means of vibrating strings. In the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification, used in organology, they are called chordophones...

 known for its use in Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 classical antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 and later. The word comes from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 "λύρα" (lyra) and the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists", written in Linear B
Linear B
Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, an early form of Greek. It pre-dated the Greek alphabet by several centuries and seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean civilization...

 syllabic script. The earliest picture of a lyre with seven strings appears in the famous sarcophagus
Hagia Triada sarcophagus
The Hagia Triada sarcophagus is a late Bronze Age 137 cm-long limestone sarcophagus. It was originally dated to 1400 BC and was rediscovered in Hagia Triada on Crete in 1903...

 of Hagia Triada
Hagia triada
Hagia Triada is the archaeological site of an ancient Minoan settlement. Hagia Triada is situated on a prominent coastal ridge, with the Mesara Plain below. Hagia triada sits at the western end of the ridge, while Phaistos is at the eastern end...

 (a Minoan
Minoan civilization
The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans...

 settlement in Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

). The sarcophagus was used during the Mycenaean
Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

 occupation of Crete (1400 BC). The recitations of the Ancient Greeks
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 were accompanied by lyre playing. The lyre of classical antiquity was ordinarily played by being strummed with a plectrum
Plectrum
A plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument. For hand-held instruments such as guitars and mandolins, the plectrum is often called a pick, and is a separate tool held in the player's hand...

, like a guitar
Guitar
The guitar is a plucked string instrument, usually played with fingers or a pick. The guitar consists of a body with a rigid neck to which the strings, generally six in number, are attached. Guitars are traditionally constructed of various woods and strung with animal gut or, more recently, with...

 or a zither
Zither
The zither is a musical string instrument, most commonly found in Slovenia, Austria, Hungary citera, northwestern Croatia, the southern regions of Germany, alpine Europe and East Asian cultures, including China...

, rather than being plucked, like a harp
Harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

. The fingers of the free hand silenced the unwanted strings in the chord. The lyre is similar in appearance to a small harp but with distinct differences.

The word lyre can either refer specifically to a common folk-instrument, which is a smaller version of the professional kithara
Kithara
The kithara or cithara was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre or lyra family. In modern Greek the word kithara has come to mean "guitar" ....

 and eastern-Aegean
Aegean Sea
The Aegean Sea[p] is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the southern Balkan and Anatolian peninsulas, i.e., between the mainlands of Greece and Turkey. In the north, it is connected to the Marmara Sea and Black Sea by the Dardanelles and Bosporus...

 barbiton
Barbiton
The barbiton, or barbitos , is an ancient stringed instrument known from Greek and Roman classics related to the lyre...

, or lyre can refer generally to all three instruments as a family.

The term is also used metaphor
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

ically to refer to the work or skill of a poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, as in Shelley's
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron...

 "Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is" or Byron's "I wish to tune my quivering lyre,/To deeds of fame, and notes of fire"

Classification


Lyre from various times and places are regarded by some organologists (specialists in the history of musical instruments) as a branch of the zither
Zither
The zither is a musical string instrument, most commonly found in Slovenia, Austria, Hungary citera, northwestern Croatia, the southern regions of Germany, alpine Europe and East Asian cultures, including China...

 family, a general category which includes many different stringed instruments, such as lute
Lute
Lute can refer generally to any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back, or more specifically to an instrument from the family of European lutes....

s, guitar
Guitar
The guitar is a plucked string instrument, usually played with fingers or a pick. The guitar consists of a body with a rigid neck to which the strings, generally six in number, are attached. Guitars are traditionally constructed of various woods and strung with animal gut or, more recently, with...

s, kantele
Kantele
A kantele or kannel is a traditional plucked string instrument of the zither family native to Finland, Estonia, and Karelia. It is related to the Russian gusli, the Latvian kokle and the Lithuanian kanklės. Together these instruments make up the family known as Baltic psalteries...

, and psalteries
Psaltery
A psaltery is a stringed musical instrument of the harp or the zither family. The psaltery of Ancient Greece dates from at least 2800 BC, when it was a harp-like instrument...

, not only zither
Zither
The zither is a musical string instrument, most commonly found in Slovenia, Austria, Hungary citera, northwestern Croatia, the southern regions of Germany, alpine Europe and East Asian cultures, including China...

s.

Others view the lyre and zither
Zither
The zither is a musical string instrument, most commonly found in Slovenia, Austria, Hungary citera, northwestern Croatia, the southern regions of Germany, alpine Europe and East Asian cultures, including China...

 as being two separate classes. Those specialists maintain that the zither is distinguished by strings spread across all or most of its soundboard, or the top surface of its sound chest, also called soundbox or resonator, as opposed to the lyre, whose strings emanate from a more or less common point off the soundboard, such as a tailpiece. Examples of that difference include a piano (a keyed zither) and a violin
Violin
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

 (referred to by some as a species of fingerboard
Fingerboard
The fingerboard is a part of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument and above which the strings run...

 lyre). Some specialists even argue that instruments such as the violin and guitar belong to a class apart from the lyre because they have no yokes or uprights surmounting their resonators as "true" lyres have. This group they usually refer to as the lute
Lute
Lute can refer generally to any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back, or more specifically to an instrument from the family of European lutes....

 class, after the instrument of that name, and include within it the guitar, the violin, the banjo
Banjo
In the 1830s Sweeney became the first white man to play the banjo on stage. His version of the instrument replaced the gourd with a drum-like sound box and included four full-length strings alongside a short fifth-string. There is no proof, however, that Sweeney invented either innovation. This new...

, and similar stringed instruments with fingerboards. Those who differ with that opinion counter by calling the lute, violin, guitar, banjo, and other such instruments "independent fingerboard lyres," as opposed to simply "fingerboard lyres" such as the Welsh
Music of Wales
Wales has a strong and distinctive link with music. The country is traditionally referred to as "the land of song". This is a modern stereotype based on 19th century conceptions of Nonconformist choral music and 20th century male voice choirs, Eisteddfodau and arena singing, such as sporting...

 crwth
Crwth
The crwth is an archaic stringed musical instrument, associated particularly with Welsh music, once widely-played in Europe.-Origin of the name:...

, which have both fingerboards and frameworks above their resonators.

One point on which organologists universally agree is that lyres are closely related to harp
Harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

s (and, in some views, lutes). The other point of agreement is that harp
Harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

s are different from lyres in having strings emanating directly up from the soundboard and residing in a plane that is near perpendicular to the soundboard, as opposed to lyres, lutes, zithers and similar instruments, whose strings are attached to one or more points somewhere off the soundboard (e.g.., wrest pins on a zither, tailpiece on a lyre or lute) and lie in a plane essentially parallel to it. They also agree that neither the overall size of the instrument nor the particular number of strings on it are essential to the classification of these instruments. For example, small Scottish
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 and Irish
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 harps can be held on the lap, while some ancient Sumer
Sumer
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

ian lyres appear to have been as tall as a seated man (see Kinsky; also Sachs, History ..., under "References"). Regarding the number of strings, the standard 88-key piano
Piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

 has many more strings than even the largest harp
Harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

, and harp
Harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

s have many more strings than lyres.

Construction


A classical lyre has a hollow body or sound-chest (also known as soundbox or resonator), which, in ancient Greek tradition, was made out of turtle shell. Extending from this sound-chest are two raised arms, which are sometimes hollow, and are curved both outward and forward. They are connected near the top by a crossbar or yoke. An additional crossbar, fixed to the sound-chest, makes the bridge which transmits the vibrations of the strings. The deepest note was that farthest from the player's body; as the strings did not differ much in length, more weight may have been gained for the deeper notes by thicker strings, as in the violin
Violin
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

 and similar modern instruments, or they were tuned by having a slacker tension. The strings were of gut
Catgut
Catgut is a type of cord that is prepared from the natural fibre found in the walls of animal intestines. Usually sheep or goat intestines are used, but it is occasionally made from the intestines of cattle, hogs, horses, mules, or donkeys.-Etymology:...

. They were stretched between the yoke and bridge, or to a tailpiece below the bridge. There were two ways of tuning: one was to fasten the strings to pegs which might be turned; the other was to change the place of the string upon the crossbar; probably both expedients were used simultaneously.

According to ancient Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, the young god Hermes
Hermes
Hermes is the great messenger of the gods in Greek mythology and a guide to the Underworld. Hermes was born on Mount Kyllini in Arcadia. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and cowherds, of the cunning of thieves, of orators and...

 created the lyre from a slaughtered cow from Apollo's sacred herd, using the intestines for the strings - eventually Apollo discovered who had stolen his herd, but Hermes was forgiven after he gave Apollo the instrument. Lyres were associated with Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

nian virtues of moderation and equilibrium, contrasting with the Dionysian
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

 pipes and aulos
Aulos
An aulos or tibia was an ancient Greek wind instrument, depicted often in art and also attested by archaeology.An aulete was the musician who performed on an aulos...

, both of which represented ecstasy and celebration.

Locales in southern Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, western Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, or north Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 have been proposed as the historic birthplace of the genus. The instrument is still played in north-eastern parts of Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

.

Some of the cultures using and developing the lyre were the Aeolia
Aeolia
Aeolia may refer to:*Aeolia, another name for Aeolis in Anatolia*Aeolia, an older name for Thessaly before the Greek Dark Ages*The home of Æolus, son of Hippotes, a character in the Odyssey*Aeolia , a character found in Mother 3...

n and Ionia
Ionia
Ionia is an ancient region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey, the region nearest İzmir, which was historically Smyrna. It consisted of the northernmost territories of the Ionian League of Greek settlements...

n Greek colonies on the coasts of Asia (ancient Asia Minor, modern day Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

) bordering the Lydian empire. Some mythic masters like Musaeus
Musaeus
Musaeus or Musaios was the name of three Greek poets.-Musaeus of Athens:Musaeus was a legendary polymath, philosopher, historian, prophet, seer, priest, poet, and musician, said to have been the founder of priestly poetry in Attica...

, and Thamyris
Thamyris
In Greek mythology, Thamyris , son of Philammon and the nymph Argiope, was a Thracian singer who was so proud of his skill that he boasted he could outsing the Muses. He competed against them and lost. As punishment for his presumption they blinded him, and took away his ability to make poetry and...

 were believed to have been born in Thrace
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

, another place of extensive Greek colonization.
The name kissar (kithara) given by the ancient Greeks to Egyptian box instruments reveals the apparent similarities recognized by Greeks themselves. The cultural peak of ancient Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, and thus the possible age of the earliest instruments of this type, predates the 5th century classic Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

.
This indicates the possibility that the lyre might have existed in one of Greece's neighboring countries, either Thrace
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

, Lydia
Lydia
Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian....

, or Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, and was introduced into Greece at pre-classic times.

Number of strings on the classical lyre


The number of strings on the classical lyre varied at different epochs, and possibly in different localities – four, seven and ten having been favorite numbers. They were used without a fingerboard
Fingerboard
The fingerboard is a part of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument and above which the strings run...

, no Greek description or representation having ever been met with that can be construed as referring to one. Nor was a bow
Bow (music)
In music, a bow is moved across some part of a musical instrument, causing vibration which the instrument emits as sound. The vast majority of bows are used with string instruments, although some bows are used with musical saws and other bowed idiophones....

 possible, the flat sound-board being an insuperable impediment. The pick
Plectrum
A plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument. For hand-held instruments such as guitars and mandolins, the plectrum is often called a pick, and is a separate tool held in the player's hand...

, or plectrum, however, was in constant use. It was held in the right hand to set the upper strings in vibration; when not in use, it hung from the instrument by a ribbon. The fingers of the left hand touched the lower strings (presumably to silence those whose notes were not wanted).

There is no evidence as to the stringing of the Greek lyre in the heroic age
Heroic Age
The Greek Heroic Age is defined as the period between the coming of the Greeks to Thessaly and the Greek return from Troy. It was demarcated as one of the five Ages of Man by Hesiod...

. Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 says that Olympus
Olympus (musician)
Olympus is the name of to two ancient Greek musicians, one mythical who lived before the Trojan war, and one apparently real, who lived in the 7th century BC. Both musicians were connected with the auletic music, which had its origin in Phrygia...

 and Terpander
Terpander
Terpander , of Antissa in Lesbos, was a Greek poet and citharede who lived about the first half of the 7th century BC.About the time of the Second Messenian War, he settled in Sparta, whither, according to some accounts, he had been summoned by command of the Delphic Oracle, to compose the...

 used but three strings to accompany their recitation. As the four strings led to seven and eight by doubling the tetrachord, or series of four tones filling in the interval of a perfect fourth, so the trichord is connected with the hexachord or six-stringed lyre depicted on many archaic Greek vases. The accuracy of this representation cannot be insisted upon, the vase painters being little mindful of the complete expression of details; yet one may suppose their tendency would be rather to imitate than to invent a number. It was their constant practice to represent the strings as being damped by the fingers of the left hand of the player, after having been struck by the plectrum which he held in the right hand. Before Greek civilization had assumed its historic form, there was likely to have been great freedom and independence of different localities in the matter of lyre stringing, which is corroborated by the antique use of the chromatic (half-tone) and enharmonic (quarter-tone) tunings pointing to an early exuberance, and perhaps also to an Asiatic bias towards refinements of intonation.

The Bowed Byzantine Lyre




In the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 the term lyra or lyre (Greek: λύρα) was used to describe the bowed Byzantine lyra
Byzantine lyra
The Byzantine lyra or lira , was a medieval bowed string musical instrument in the Byzantine Empire and is an ancestor of most European bowed instruments, including the violin. In its popular form the lyra was a pear-shaped instrument with three to five strings, held upright and played by stopping...

 (Greek: λύρα - lūrā ), a pear-shaped bowl lyre with 3 strings, sounded by a horse tail hair bow. The Persian
Persian people
The Persian people are part of the Iranian peoples who speak the modern Persian language and closely akin Iranian dialects and languages. The origin of the ethnic Iranian/Persian peoples are traced to the Ancient Iranian peoples, who were part of the ancient Indo-Iranians and themselves part of...

 geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih
Ibn Khordadbeh
Abu'l Qasim Ubaid'Allah ibn Khordadbeh , author of the earliest surviving Arabic book of administrative geography, was a Persian geographer and bureaucrat of the 9th century...

 (d. 911) of the 9th century, in his lexicographical discussion of instruments, cited the Byzantine lyra
Byzantine lyra
The Byzantine lyra or lira , was a medieval bowed string musical instrument in the Byzantine Empire and is an ancestor of most European bowed instruments, including the violin. In its popular form the lyra was a pear-shaped instrument with three to five strings, held upright and played by stopping...

 as the Byzantine instrument equivalent to the bowed rebab
Rebab
The rebab , also rebap, rabab, rebeb, rababah, or al-rababa) is a type of string instrument so named no later than the 8th century and spread via Islamic trading routes over much of North Africa, the Middle East, parts of Europe, and the Far East...

 of the Islamic empires of that time. The Byzantine lyra spread westward through Europe influencing, for one notable example, the design of the Italian lira da braccio
Lira da braccio
The lira da braccio was a European bowed string instrument of the Renaissance. It was used by Italian poet-musicians in court in the 15th and 16th centuries to accompany their improvised recitations of lyric and narrative poetry. It is most closely related to the medieval fiddle, or vielle, and...

, a 15th-century fiddle
Fiddle
The term fiddle may refer to any bowed string musical instrument, most often the violin. It is also a colloquial term for the instrument used by players in all genres, including classical music...

 and predecessor of the modern violin
Violin
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

. The instrument is not entirely dead, even today; variations of the lyra are still played in Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

, Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

; a notable example is Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

, where the Cretan lyra is central to the traditional music of the island
Music of Crete
The music of Crete is a traditional form of Greek folk music called κρητικά . The lyra is the dominant folk instrument on the island; there are three-stringed and four-stringed versions of this bowed string instrument, closely related to the medieval Byzantine lyra. It is often accompanied by the...

.

Modern Greece


While the classical lyre is no longer played in modern Greece, the term lyre (Greek: λύρα - lyra) is used in Greece to describe various regional types of bowed instruments in modern Greece related either to the Byzantine bowed lyra
Byzantine lyra
The Byzantine lyra or lira , was a medieval bowed string musical instrument in the Byzantine Empire and is an ancestor of most European bowed instruments, including the violin. In its popular form the lyra was a pear-shaped instrument with three to five strings, held upright and played by stopping...

 (see above) or the Persian Kemanche. There are two basic styles of bowed lyres:
  1. a pear-shaped instrument descendant of the Byzantine lyra
    Byzantine lyra
    The Byzantine lyra or lira , was a medieval bowed string musical instrument in the Byzantine Empire and is an ancestor of most European bowed instruments, including the violin. In its popular form the lyra was a pear-shaped instrument with three to five strings, held upright and played by stopping...

     with a vaulted back which is found in various regions in Greece – in particular, the Dodecanese
    Dodecanese
    The Dodecanese are a group of 12 larger plus 150 smaller Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, of which 26 are inhabited. Τhis island group generally defines the eastern limit of the Sea of Crete. They belong to the Southern Sporades island group...

     and Crete
    Crete
    Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

     (e.g. Cretan lyra) – and the northern mainland regions of Macedonia and Thrace
    Thrace
    Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

  2. a bottle-shaped instrument closely related to the Cappadocian kemane (Greek: κεμανές) with a narrow rectangular cylinder body of the Pontians, Greeks who trace their roots to Pontos (Pontus
    Pontus
    Pontus or Pontos is a historical Greek designation for a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, located in modern-day northeastern Turkey. The name was applied to the coastal region in antiquity by the Greeks who colonized the area, and derived from the Greek name of the Black Sea: Πόντος...

    ), the Black Sea region of northern Turkey. Due to its origin, the Pontic Greek lyra was traditionally known as kemenche..

Both types typically have three strings and are held upright and bowed horizontally: if the player is seated, the instrument's base rests on the player's upper left thigh. The Cretan lyra is the dominant instrument of the traditional music of Crete
Music of Crete
The music of Crete is a traditional form of Greek folk music called κρητικά . The lyra is the dominant folk instrument on the island; there are three-stringed and four-stringed versions of this bowed string instrument, closely related to the medieval Byzantine lyra. It is often accompanied by the...

 and is traditionally played in a duo with the laouto, a long-neck fretted lute that is strummed like a guitar.

Central and Northern Europe


Other instruments known as lyres have been fashioned and used in Europe outside the Greco-Roman world since at least the early Middle Ages, and one view holds that many modern stringed instruments are late-emerging examples of the lyre class. There is no clear evidence that non-Greco-Roman lyres were played exclusively with plectra, and numerous instruments regarded by some as modern lyres are played with bows
Bow (music)
In music, a bow is moved across some part of a musical instrument, causing vibration which the instrument emits as sound. The vast majority of bows are used with string instruments, although some bows are used with musical saws and other bowed idiophones....

.

Lyres appearing to have emerged independently of Greco-Roman prototypes were used by the Teutonic
Teutons
The Teutons or Teutones were mentioned as a Germanic tribe by Greek and Roman authors, notably Strabo and Marcus Velleius Paterculus and normally in close connection with the Cimbri, whose ethnicity is contested between Gauls and Germani...

, Gallic
Gauls
The Gauls were a Celtic people living in Gaul, the region roughly corresponding to what is now France, Belgium, Switzerland and Northern Italy, from the Iron Age through the Roman period. They mostly spoke the Continental Celtic language called Gaulish....

, Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

n, and Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

ic peoples over a thousand years ago. Dates of origin, which probably vary from region to region, cannot be determined, but the oldest known fragments of such instruments are thought to date from around the sixth century of the Common Era. After the bow made its way into Europe from the Middle-East, around two centuries later, it was applied to several species of those lyres that were small enough to make bowing practical. There came to be two broad classes of bowed European yoke lyres: those with fingerboards dividing the open space within the yoke longitudinally, and those without fingerboards. The last surviving examples of instruments within the latter class were the Scandinavian talharpa
Talharpa
The talharpa is a four-stringed bowed lyre from northern Europe. It was formerly widespread in Scandinavia, but is today played mainly in Estonia, particularly among that nation's Swedish community...

 and the Finnish jouhikko
Jouhikko
thumb|right| Replica of a 19th century Jouhikko made by Simon ChadwickThe jouhikko is a traditional, 2 or 3 stringed bowed lyre, from Finland and Karelia. Its strings are traditionally of horsehair. The playing of this instrument died out in the early 20th century but has been revived and there...

. Different tones could be obtained from a single bowed string by pressing the fingernails of the player's left hand against various points along the string to fret the string.

The last of the bowed yoke lyres with fingerboard was the "modern" (ca. 1485 - ca. 1800) Welsh
Music of Wales
Wales has a strong and distinctive link with music. The country is traditionally referred to as "the land of song". This is a modern stereotype based on 19th century conceptions of Nonconformist choral music and 20th century male voice choirs, Eisteddfodau and arena singing, such as sporting...

 crwth
Crwth
The crwth is an archaic stringed musical instrument, associated particularly with Welsh music, once widely-played in Europe.-Origin of the name:...

. It had several predecessors both in the British Isles and in Continental Europe. Pitch was changed on individual strings by pressing the string firmly against the fingerboard with the fingertips. Like a violin, this method shortened the vibrating length of the string to produce higher tones, while releasing the finger gave the string a greater vibrating length, thereby producing a tone lower in pitch. This is the principle on which the modern violin and guitar work.

While the dates of origin and other evolutionary details of the European bowed yoke lyres continue to be disputed among organologists, there is general agreement that none of them were the ancestors of modern orchestral bowed stringed instruments, as once was thought.

Lyres around the world


  • Arabian peninsula - tanbūra
    Tanbura
    For other uses, see Tanbur .The tanbūra is a bowl lyre of the Middle East and East Africa. It takes its name from the Persian Tanbur via the Arabic tunbur , though this term refers to long-necked lutes. The instrument plays an important role in Zār rituals...

  • Bangladesh - ektara
    Ektara
    Ektara is a one-string instrument used in Bangladesh, India, Egypt, and Pakistan.thumb||EktaraIn origin the ektara was a regular string instrument of wandering bards and minstrels from India and is plucked with one finger...

    , dotara
    Dotara
    The dotara is a two or four or some times five stringed musical instrument resembling more to mandolin than a guitar...

  • Egypt - kissar
    Kissar
    The kissar , or Gytarah barbaryeh, the ancient Nubian lyre, still in use in Egypt and Abyssinia . It consists of a body having instead of the traditional tortoise-shell back, a shallow, round bowl of wood, covered with a soundboard of sheepskin, in which are three small round sound-holes...

    , tanbūra
    Tanbura
    For other uses, see Tanbur .The tanbūra is a bowl lyre of the Middle East and East Africa. It takes its name from the Persian Tanbur via the Arabic tunbur , though this term refers to long-necked lutes. The instrument plays an important role in Zār rituals...

    , simsimiyya
    Simsimiyya
    The simsimiyya is a traditional plucked lyre used in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen.It is mostly used by Bedouins as a social instrument. In Egypt it is traditionally used to accompany a dance called bambutiyya, as well as among the musicians called suhbagiyya, in the cities of Port Said and...

  • England - rote
    Crwth
    The crwth is an archaic stringed musical instrument, associated particularly with Welsh music, once widely-played in Europe.-Origin of the name:...

  • Estonia - talharpa
    Talharpa
    The talharpa is a four-stringed bowed lyre from northern Europe. It was formerly widespread in Scandinavia, but is today played mainly in Estonia, particularly among that nation's Swedish community...

  • Ethiopia - begena
    Begena
    The begena is an Ethiopian and Eritrean string instrument that resembles a large lyre. According to Ethiopian tradition, Menelik I brought the instrument to Ethiopia from Israel, where David had used the begena to soothe King Saul's nerves and heal him of insomnia...

    , dita
    DITA
    Dita may refer to:*Dita Field Hockey, a company which produces field hockey merchandise*Darwin Information Typing Architecture, abbreviated DITA; an XML-based architecture for authoring*Dita de Leon, an American actress...

    , krar
    Krar
    The krar or kraar is a five- or six-stringed bowl-shaped lyre from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The instrument is tuned to a pentatonic scale. A modern krar may be amplified, much in the same way as an electric guitar or violin....

  • Finland - Jouhikko
    Jouhikko
    thumb|right| Replica of a 19th century Jouhikko made by Simon ChadwickThe jouhikko is a traditional, 2 or 3 stringed bowed lyre, from Finland and Karelia. Its strings are traditionally of horsehair. The playing of this instrument died out in the early 20th century but has been revived and there...

  • Greece - barbiton
    Barbiton
    The barbiton, or barbitos , is an ancient stringed instrument known from Greek and Roman classics related to the lyre...

    , kithara
    Kithara
    The kithara or cithara was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre or lyra family. In modern Greek the word kithara has come to mean "guitar" ....

    , lyra
    Lyra
    Lyra is a small constellation. It is one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains one of the 88 modern constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union. Its principal star, Vega — a corner of the Summer Triangle — is one of the brightest...

    , Cretan lyra
  • India - ektara
    Ektara
    Ektara is a one-string instrument used in Bangladesh, India, Egypt, and Pakistan.thumb||EktaraIn origin the ektara was a regular string instrument of wandering bards and minstrels from India and is plucked with one finger...

  • Iraq - sammu, tanbūra
    Tanbura
    For other uses, see Tanbur .The tanbūra is a bowl lyre of the Middle East and East Africa. It takes its name from the Persian Tanbur via the Arabic tunbur , though this term refers to long-necked lutes. The instrument plays an important role in Zār rituals...

    , zami, zinar
  • Israel - kinnor
    Kinnor
    Kinnor is the Hebrew name for an ancient Israelite lyre mentioned in the Bible and commonly translated as harp.-History:The identification of the instrument is uncertain, but a few historians of musical instruments say it is similar to the Greek cithara, Though the Kinnura is a better...

  • Italy - Calabrian lira
    Calabrian lira
    The Calabrian Lira is a traditional musical instrument characteristic of some areas of Calabria, region in southern Italy.- Characteristics :The Lira of Calabria is a bowed string instrument with three strings...

    , Lira da braccio
    Lira da braccio
    The lira da braccio was a European bowed string instrument of the Renaissance. It was used by Italian poet-musicians in court in the 15th and 16th centuries to accompany their improvised recitations of lyric and narrative poetry. It is most closely related to the medieval fiddle, or vielle, and...

  • Kenya - kibugander, litungu
    Litungu
    The litungu is a traditional lyre played by the Luhya ethnic group of Kenya . It has seven strings. Other varieties of litungu are used by the Kuria and Kisii ethnic groups.-References:...

    , nyatiti
    Nyatiti
    The nyatiti is a five to eight-stringed plucked lyre from Kenya. It is a classical instrument played by the Luo people of Western Kenya, typically in Benga music. It is about two to three feet long. The player holds it to his chest while seated on a low stool. Usually it is played together with the...

    , obokano
    Obokano
    The obokano is a large bass bowl lyre from Kenya. It is used by the Gusii ethnic group.The instrument is made from a skin of a cow or goat a bowl like structure curved out of a wood stump. It consists of 8 strings that are adjusted/tightened differently to produce different...

  • Norway - Giga
    Giga (instrument)
    -Sources:*Otto Emanuel Andersson. The Shetland gue, the Welsh crwth, and the Northern bowed harp. s.n., 1956...

  • Pakistan - barbat
    Barbat
    Bărbat was the brother and successor of voivode Litovoi whose territory had comprised northern Oltenia .In 1277 , Litovoi renounced fealty to king Ladislaus IV of Hungary when the king claimed lands for the crown, but Litovoi refused to pay tribute for them...

    , ektara
    Ektara
    Ektara is a one-string instrument used in Bangladesh, India, Egypt, and Pakistan.thumb||EktaraIn origin the ektara was a regular string instrument of wandering bards and minstrels from India and is plucked with one finger...

    , tanbūra
    Tanbura
    For other uses, see Tanbur .The tanbūra is a bowl lyre of the Middle East and East Africa. It takes its name from the Persian Tanbur via the Arabic tunbur , though this term refers to long-necked lutes. The instrument plays an important role in Zār rituals...

  • Scotland - Gue
    Gue
    The gue is an extinct type of two-stringed bowed lyre or zither from the Shetland Isles. Now extinct, the instrument was alive as recently as 1809, and was described in the writings of Sir Arthur Edmondstone....

  • Sudan - kissar
    Kissar
    The kissar , or Gytarah barbaryeh, the ancient Nubian lyre, still in use in Egypt and Abyssinia . It consists of a body having instead of the traditional tortoise-shell back, a shallow, round bowl of wood, covered with a soundboard of sheepskin, in which are three small round sound-holes...

    , tanbūra
    Tanbura
    For other uses, see Tanbur .The tanbūra is a bowl lyre of the Middle East and East Africa. It takes its name from the Persian Tanbur via the Arabic tunbur , though this term refers to long-necked lutes. The instrument plays an important role in Zār rituals...

  • Tanzania - litungu
    Litungu
    The litungu is a traditional lyre played by the Luhya ethnic group of Kenya . It has seven strings. Other varieties of litungu are used by the Kuria and Kisii ethnic groups.-References:...

  • Uganda - endongo
    Endongo
    The endongo is a musical instrument, considered the national instrument of the Baganda people of Uganda. It is a bowl lyre with a face covered with the skin of a monitor lizard. Its strings are tied to a piece of wood inserted into two holes on two arms....

    , ntongoli
  • Wales - crwth
    Crwth
    The crwth is an archaic stringed musical instrument, associated particularly with Welsh music, once widely-played in Europe.-Origin of the name:...

  • Yemen - tanbūra
    Tanbura
    For other uses, see Tanbur .The tanbūra is a bowl lyre of the Middle East and East Africa. It takes its name from the Persian Tanbur via the Arabic tunbur , though this term refers to long-necked lutes. The instrument plays an important role in Zār rituals...

    , simsimiyya
    Simsimiyya
    The simsimiyya is a traditional plucked lyre used in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen.It is mostly used by Bedouins as a social instrument. In Egypt it is traditionally used to accompany a dance called bambutiyya, as well as among the musicians called suhbagiyya, in the cities of Port Said and...