previous next



This stringed instrument belongs to the lyre family. It has a soundbox similar to the Chelys-Lyra, in which a hollow tortoise shell is covered with skin to form a soundbox. The strings are stretched across a bridge near the base of the soundbox up to the cross bar, which attaches the uppermost part of two curved arms made of horn. These slender arms are much longer than those of the Chelys-Lyra, and the cross bar to which the strings are attached is much further from the soundbox. This indicates that the barbitos had a lower pitch than the chelys-Lyra. The two instruments are played in much the same way: The player rests the instrument vertically in front of him, plucking the strings with a plectrum held in the right hand. The left hand dampens or stops the strings. The number of strings varies from four to eight, and they are tuned by means of pegs on the cross-bar.

The barbitos is first mentioned in archaic lyric poetry (Alceus, Bacchylides, Simonides, Sappho), and is especially associated on vase paintings and in literature with the Ionian poet Anakreon (Anacreontea 2,15,23,42,43,60). On an Attic red-figure kalthoid (Munich 2416), Alcaeus and Sappho are depicted holding the instrument, further evidence that it was a popular instrument as acccompaniment for singers. It was also popular as entertainment at drinking parties and during festivals such as the Dionysia and the Anthesteria. In vase paintings from the Classical Period the barbitos is played either in a seated or standing position, by both women and men. Unlike the chelys-Lyra, the barbitos was not used in music lessons because, according to Aristotle (Politics 1341a-b), it was designed purely for pleasure, not for education.

    Maas, Martha and Jane Snyder, Stringed Instruments of Ancient Greece, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1989 New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, 3 vols., ed. Stanley Sadic, London, 1984 "Music.9. Instruments," Oxford Classical Dictionary (second ed.), Oxford, 1978
Nancy Sultan
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: