Large lyre of Classical antiquity, the principal stringed instrument of the Greeks and later of the Romans. It had a box-shaped resonating body from which extended two parallel arms connected by a crossbar to which 3–12 strings were attached. It was held vertically and plucked with a plectrum; the left hand was used to stop and damp the strings. It was played by singers of the Greek epics, as well as by later professional accompanists and soloists.
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The kithara was a professional version of the seven-stringed lyra (lyre). As opposed to the simpler lyra, which was a folk-instrument, the kithara was primarily used by professional musicians (see kitharode, citharoedus). (The barbitos was a bass version of the kithara popular in the eastern Aegean and ancient Asia Minor.)
It was played with a rigid plectrum held in the right hand, with elbow outstretched and palm bent inwards, while the strings with undesired notes were damped with the straightened fingers of the left hand.
Sappho is closely associated with music, especially string instruments like the kithara and the barbitos. She was a woman of high social standing and composed songs that focused on the emotions. A Greek mythology story goes that she ascended the steep slopes of Mount Parnassus where she was welcomed by the Muses. She wondered through the laurel grove and came upon the cave of Apollo, where she bathed in the Castalian Spring and took Phoebus' plectrum to play skillful music. The sacred nymphs danced while she stroked the strings with much talent to bring forth sweet musical melodies from the resonant kithara.