The ''lyra'' (lyre)

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The ''lyra'' (lyre)

It was an ancient stringed instrument (invented by Hermes) which was already popular and widespread in Mycenaean times.Closely associated with the worship of Apollo and a means of education for young persons, it constituted, along with the "aulos" (clarinet), the national (and often "competitive") musical instrument of the Greeks.

In its earliest form ("chelys"), it consisted of the soundbox (with a palpitating membrane from the skin of an ox or kid stretched over the open side of a concave tortoise shell), the two arms (made of goat horns or two similar curved wooden rods) and the crossbar (a cylindrical piece of wood connected across to the arms). The, equal in length, strings (from 3 to 12) were primarily made of hemp or flax and later of twisted animal (e.g. sheep) gut or sinew. The strings were secured to a brace (tailpiece), passed over the bridge ("magadion") and tightened on the crossbar. The adjustment of tension (tuning) was initially achieved with the help of a thong, later with a free or fixed slip of wood, but also wooden tuning pegs ("kollavoi").

The player held the instrument against the left side of his body (often with the help of a sling). The left-hand fingers pressed or plucked the strings while the right hand struck the strings with a "plectrum". The "plectrum", which was attached by a cord, consisted of a curved handle and a pointed blade of ivory, horn or bone.

SOURCES: "Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments", "Plutarch, On Music", "Athenaeus of Naucratis, Deipnosophistai", "Julius Pollux, Onomasticon", "Nicomachus, "Manual of Harmonics", "Loukianus, Dialogues of the Gods"