Definitions

kithara

kithara

[kith-er-uh]
kithara or cithara, musical instrument of the ancient Greeks. It was a plucked instrument, a larger and stronger form of the lyre, used by professional musicians both for solo playing and for the accompaniment of poetry and song. It consisted of a relatively square wooden box that extended at one end into heavy arms. Originally it had 5 strings, but later there were 7 and finally 11 strings. These were stretched from the sound box across a bridge and up to a crossbar fastened to the arms. Since the strings were of equal length, tuning was determined only by the thickness and tension of each string. Because of its size and weight, it rested against the body of the player and was held in position by a band. The player usually stood when performing.

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 an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre family. In Latin it is spelled cithara, and in modern Greek the word kithara has come to mean guitar.

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.)

Construction

The kithara had a deep, wooden sounding box composed of two resonating tables, either flat or slightly arched, connected by ribs or sides of equal width. At the top, its strings were knotted around the transverse tuning bar (zugon) or to rings threaded over the bar, or wound around pegs. The other end of the strings was secured to a tail-piece after passing over a flat bridge, or the tail-piece and bridge were combined. Most vase paintings show kitharas with seven strings, in agreement with ancient authors, but these also mention that occasionally a skillful kitharode would use more than the conventional seven strings.

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.

Uses

The kithara was played primarily to accompany dances and epic recitations, rhapsodies, odes, and lyric songs. It was also played solo at the receptions, banquets, national games, and trials of skill. The music from this instrument was said to be the lyre for drinking parties and is considered an invention of Terpander. Aristotle said that these string instruments were not for educational purposes but for pleasure only.

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.

Giovanni Boccaccio compiled images of women notable and famous throughout history. One of his images was Sappho playing a kithara.

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