Ancient Greece, Inspiration

A Look at the Ancient Lyre

Golden lyre, rightful joint possession of Apollo and the violet-haired Muses, to which the dance-step listens, the beginning of splendid festivity; and singers obey your notes, whenever, with your quivering strings, you prepare to strike up chorus-leading preludes. You quench even the warlike thunderbolt of everlasting fire. (Pindar, Pythian, Poem 1)

 

Sappho and Alcaeus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, R.A., O.M. (1836 – 1912)

The lyre is an instrument from Ancient Greece that comes to use from the word λύρα (lura) and means a stringed instrument with a sounding-board formed of the shell of a tortoise”. The lyre is most often associated with Apollo or the Muses as deities of music but according to Greek mythology, it was created by Hermes when he was a child.

“…he found a tortoise there and gained endless delight. For it was Hermes who first made the tortoise a singer. The creature fell in his way at the courtyard gate, where it was feeding on the rich grass before the dwelling, waddling along. When be saw it, the luck-bringing son of Zeus laughed and said:

“An omen of great luck for me so soon! I do not slight it. Hail, comrade of the feast, lovely in shape, sounding at the dance! With joy I meet you! Where got you that rich gaud for covering, that spangled shell–a tortoise living in the mountains? But I will take and carry you within: you shall help me and I will do you no disgrace, though first of all you must profit me. It is better to be at home: harm may come out of doors. Living, you shall be a spell against mischievous witchcraft; but if you die, then you shall make sweetest song.”

Thus speaking, he took up the tortoise in both hands and went back into the house carrying his charming toy. Then he cut off its limbs and scooped out the marrow of the mountain-tortoise with a scoop of grey iron. As a swift thought darts through the heart of a man when thronging cares haunt him, or as bright glances flash from the eye, so glorious Hermes planned both thought and deed at once.

He cut stalks of reed to measure and fixed them, fastening their ends across the back and through the shell of the tortoise, and then stretched ox hide all over it by his skill. Also he put in the horns and fitted a cross-piece upon the two of them, and stretched seven strings of sheep-gut. But when he had made it he proved each string in turn with the key, as he held the lovely thing. At the touch of his hand it sounded marvellously; and, as he tried it, the god sang sweet random snatches, even as youths bandy taunts at festivals.” (Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes (trans. Evelyn-White) 

If you would like to see a modern reconstruction of an ancient lyre, you can have a look at Luthieros. This is a wonderful website all about the research and construction of these instruments.

And just for fun…

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