Apollo's ''kithara'' (guitar)

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Apollo's ''kithara'' (guitar)


It was a majestic stringed instrument with a powerful and deep sound which required particular virtuo-sity and accompanied the song ("kitharodeia") in music competitions and other important public events.

It consisted of a large trapezoid wooden soundbox with two incorporated symmetrical solid curved arms that were connected to two upper arms. The connecting flexible curlicues (a compli-cated adjusting mechanism of curved metal strips, horns, etc). The elasticity of the arms allowed them imperceptible vertical motion thus creating a distinct wave-like resonance. Τhe two (possibly cam rotating) prominent spirals on the upper arms, which supported the crossbar, helped in releasing and adjustment of tension of the crossbar (and the strings) so that the organ is at rest or playing position. Also the sliding balance bronze weights of the crossbar helped in its tuning. The bridge ("magadion") which was sometimes also complicated with a series of incorporated tension levers gave the possibility of alternative, equal in number, note production.

The player held the kithara almost upright against the left side of his body (bent slightly inward, often with the help of a sling) and the left-hand fingers pressed or plucked its strings (usually 7) while the right hand struck them with the "plectrum".

Terpander (who established the 7th string), Stesichorus, Amiveas of Athens, Aristonicus of Argos (who introduced solo playing -unaccompanied by song), Agelaus of Tegea and Lysander of Sicyon are only some of the numerous famous charismatic kitharodes.

SOURCES: "M.L. West, Ancient Greek Music", "Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments", "Plutarch, On Music", "Athenaeus of Naucratis, Deipnosophistai" "Julius Pollux, Onomasticon", "Nicomachus, Manual of Harmonics".