digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:


Applied sciences






















For other uses, see Lyre (disambiguation).
Mousai Helikon Staatliche Antikensammlungen Schoen80 n1.jpg
Greek vase with muse playing the phorminx, a type of lyre
String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.2
(Composite chordophone sounded with a plectrum)
Developed Sumer, Iraq
Related instruments

The lyre (Greek: λύρα, lýra) is a string instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later periods. The lyre is similar in appearance to a small harp but with distinct differences. The word comes via Latin from the Greek;[1] the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists" and written in the Linear B script.[2] The lyres of Ur, excavated in ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), date to 2500 BC.[3] The earliest 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 (1400 BC).[4][5] The recitations of the Ancient Greeks were accompanied by lyre playing.

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. The fingers of the free hand silenced the unwanted strings in the chord. However, later lyres were played with a bow, including in Europe and parts of the Middle East.

"Lyre" can either refer specifically to an amateur instrument, which is a smaller version of the professional cithara and eastern-Aegean barbiton, or "lyre" can refer generally to all three instruments as a family.

In organology, lyres are defined as "yoke lutes", being lutes in which the strings are attached to a yoke which lies in the same plane as the sound-table and consists of two arms and a cross-bar.

The term is also used metaphorically to refer to the work or skill of a poet, as in Shelley's "Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is"[6] or Byron's "I wish to tune my quivering lyre,/To deeds of fame, and notes of fire"[7]


Lyre with tortoiseshell body (rhyton, 480–470 BC)

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.[8] 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 and similar modern instruments, or they were tuned by having a slacker tension. The strings were of gut. 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.

The Hagia Triada Mycenaean sarcophagus, 14th century BCE, depicting the earliest lyre with seven strings, held by a man with long robe, third from the left.

According to ancient Greek mythology, the young god Hermes stole a herd of sacred cows from Apollo. In order not to be followed, he made shoes for the cows which forced them to walk backwards. Apollo, following the trails, could not follow where the cows were going. Along the way, Hermes slaughtered one of the cows and offered all but the entrails to the gods. From the entrails and a tortoise/turtle shell, he created the Lyre. Apollo, figuring out it was Hermes who had his cows, confronted the young god. Apollo was furious, but after hearing the sound of the lyre, his anger faded. Apollo offered to trade the herd of cattle for the lyre. Hence, the creation of the lyre is attributed to Hermes. Other sources credit it to Apollo himself.[9]

Locales in southern Europe, western Asia, or north Africa have been proposed as the historic birthplace of the genus. The instrument is still played in north-eastern parts of Africa.

Some of the cultures using and developing the lyre were the Aeolian and Ionian Greek colonies on the coasts of Asia (ancient Asia Minor, modern day Turkey) bordering the Lydian empire. Some mythic masters like Musaeus, and Thamyris were believed to have been born in Thrace, another place of extensive Greek colonization. The name kissar (cithara) given by the ancient Greeks to Egyptian box instruments reveals the apparent similarities recognized by Greeks themselves. The cultural peak of ancient Egypt, and thus the possible age of the earliest instruments of this type, predates the 5th century classic Greece. This indicates the possibility that the lyre might have existed in one of Greece's neighboring countries, either Thrace, Lydia, or Egypt, and was introduced into Greece at pre-classic times.

Number of strings[edit]

Pothos (Desire), restored as Apollo Citharoedus during the Roman era (1st or 2nd century AD, based on a Greek work ca. 300 BC); the cithara strings are not extant

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, no Greek description or representation having ever been met with that can be construed as referring to one. Nor was a bow possible, the flat sound-board being an insuperable impediment. The pick, 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. Plutarch says that Olympus and Terpander 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 a bias towards refinements of intonation.

Central and Northern Europe[edit]

Pushkin lyre as a symbol of poetry

Other instruments known as lyres have been fashioned and used in Europe outside the Greco-Roman world since at least the Iron Age.[10] 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.[10][11] Material evidence suggests lyres became more widespread during 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.

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. 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 and the Finnish jouhikko. 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 crwth. 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.

Global variants[edit]

Reproduction of the lyre from the Sutton Hoo royal burial (England), late 6th/early 7th century AD





Dimensions of a lyre from Ancient Egypt, found in Thebes
A lyrist on the Standard of Ur, believed to date to between 2600–2400 BCE

Lyre from various times and places are regarded by some organologists as a branch of the zither family, a general category that includes not only zithers, but many different stringed instruments, such as lutes, guitars, kantele, and psalteries.

Others view the lyre and zither 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 (referred to by some as a species of fingerboard 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 class, after the instrument of that name, and include within it the guitar, the violin, the banjo, 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 crwth, which have both fingerboards and frameworks above their resonators.

One point on which organologists universally agree is that lyres are closely related to harps (and, in some views, lutes). The other point of agreement is that harps 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 and Irish harps can be held on the lap, while some ancient Sumerian 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 has many more strings than even the largest harp, and harps have many more strings than lyres.

Other instruments called lyres[edit]

Over time, the name in the wider Hellenic space came to be used to label mostly bowed lutes such as the Byzantine lyra, the Pontic lyra, the Constantinopolitan lyra, the Cretan lyra, the lira da braccio, the Calabrian lira, the lijerica, the lyra viol, the lirone.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ λύρα, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  2. ^ Palaeolexicon, Word study tool of ancient languages
  3. ^ Michael Chanan (1994). Musica Practica: The Social Practice of Western Music from Gregorian Chant to Postmodernism. Verso. p. 170. ISBN 978-1-85984-005-4. 
  4. ^ Image of Hagia Triada Sarcophagus, University of Arkansas
  5. ^ J.A. Sakellarakis. "Herakleion Museum. Illustrated Guide to the Museum." p.113,114. Ekdotike Athinon. Athens, 1987.
  6. ^ Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind, I, 57–61.
  7. ^ Lord Byron (1807), Hours of Idleness: To His Lyre.
  8. ^ Lyre | Define Lyre at Dictionary.com. Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved on 2012-09-17.
  9. ^ For example, the Annales Cambriae (B Text).
  10. ^ a b BBC News - Skye cave find western Europe's 'earliest string instrument'. Bbc.co.uk (2012-03-28). Retrieved on 2012-09-17.
  11. ^ 'Europe's oldest stringed instrument' discovered on Scots island | Highlands & Islands | News | STV. News (2012-03-28). Retrieved on 2012-09-17.


  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lyre". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Andersson, Otto. The Bowed Harp, translated and edited by Kathleen Schlesinger (London: New Temple Press, 1930).
  • Bachmann, Werner. The Origins of Bowing, trans. Norma Deane (London: Oxford University Press, 1969).
  • Jenkins, J. "A Short Note on African Lyres in Use Today." Iraq 31 (1969), p. 103 (+ pl. XVIII).
  • Kinsky, George. A History of Music in Pictures (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1937).
  • Sachs, Curt. The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West (New York: W.W. Norton, 1943).
  • Sachs, Curt. The History of Musical Instruments (New York: W.W. Norton, 1940).

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyre — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
289990 videos foundNext > 

Flashlight: lyre chords

Hope You Enjoy it.

Trossingen Lyre (6th century Germanic Lyre)

This video shows Corwen Broch playing his reconstruction of the lyre found recently at Trossingen in Germany. The lyre in the video has six nylgut strings (gut ...


Drum and lyre competition at Lawa Elementary School CHAMPIONe....drum and lyre,,,......

Ancient Greek Music - The Lyre of Classical Antiquity...

This video features clips from 4 of my many albums of my of ancient lyre music, featuring both the actual surviving fragments of the music of Ancient Greece, ...

Let It Go - Frozen (Lyre Cover)

Please Like our Facebook page for more Lyre Notes: https://www.facebook.com/simplyvan07 Let It Go Lyre Chords: Intro: G G# C G G# G# G C G# G A# ...

Lyre - O Holy Night

Jun 19, 2011.

Ancient Roman Lyre Music

"Ode To Ancient Rome" - an album of original compositions for solo lyre in the just intonation of antiquity, by Michael Levy. Unlike ancient Greece, where at least ...

The Lyre Of Megiddo

The "lyre of Har Megiddo" is an instrument etched onto an ivory plaque that was discovered by archaeologist Gordon Loud in the excavations of a royal palace in ...

All of Me (Lyre Cover)

All of Me lyre chords: A B(7x)A G(2x) A B(6x)A G(2x) A-B-C-B-G G-C-B-G G-A B-A-E A B(6x) A G(2x) A B(3x) D-C-B-B-A-G(2x) A-B-C-BG G-C-B-G G-A B-A-C G ...

Magkabilang Mundo (lyre cover)

This video was uploaded from an Android phone.

289990 videos foundNext > 

11455 news items

The Guardian (blog)

The Guardian (blog)
Thu, 24 Sep 2015 07:42:28 -0700

Andy set up the Gold Lyre of Ur project in 2004, to build a playable replica of one of Iraq's national icons: the gold lyre discovered in the Royal Graves at Ur by Sir Leonard Woolley, in 1929. With contributions from an international community of ...
Salt Lake Tribune
Mon, 07 Sep 2015 13:37:30 -0700

Description: Utopia Early Music transports you to Baroque Italy for the blossoming of a musical revolution. Yearning for the expressive purity they imagined in antiquity, composers stretched as never before to create music that would stir the passions ...

Toon Zone

Toon Zone
Mon, 14 Sep 2015 23:33:45 -0700

In Radiant Dawn, we get to meet the sister of Lethe, who's name is Lyre. Her inclusion adds depth to both Lethe (who was already a deep character) and to the Laguz in general. Lyre is very much the opposite of Lethe in some ways. While Lethe is a ...

The Seattle Times

The Seattle Times
Thu, 08 Oct 2015 07:01:51 -0700

In Greek mythology, Orpheus is a musician who charms everyone and everything with his lyre. Eurydice is the love of his life. Their saga ends tragically but she has a better-than-OK cocktail named after her here, made with gin, lime juice and a hint of ...


Wed, 07 Oct 2015 20:11:15 -0700

The black mosquito with a 2.7 mm average wingspan has striking white spots on its abdomen, white bands on its legs and white lines on its thorax, or mid-section between its head and abdomen, that resemble a lyre. Dengue fever is endemic in northern ...

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tue, 06 Oct 2015 09:00:48 -0700

Keenan also said the sorority hosts two main philanthropy events to support domestic violence awareness every year: the Lyre Games, and Pizza Pie with Alpha Chi. She said they hold these events to raise money for donations to the local shelter, EMERGE!

La Jolla Light

La Jolla Light
Wed, 07 Oct 2015 11:00:00 -0700

25, 2015, attendees enjoyed the upbeat sounds of Third Coast Jazz Band and wandered through the galleries, happy to discover their own favorites, like the Dali “Romeo and Juliet,” an odd-looking African lyre, or the pair of early music videos by ...

Le Figaro

Le Figaro
Sun, 20 Sep 2015 07:51:42 -0700

Pour la première fois, les chansons écrites en cellule par le célèbre poète assassin prennent vie. Portrait d'un homme des bas-fonds qui fascina écrivains et cinéastes. Michel Foucault voit en lui le fondateur du crime bourgeois. Baudelaire le dépeint ...

Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!

Searchlight Group

Digplanet also receives support from Searchlight Group. Visit Searchlight