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CY´MBALUM (κύμβαλον), a musical instrument consisting of two half globes, which were held one in each hand by the performer and played by being struck against each other. Like κύμβη, κυμβίον, κύμβος, the word is derived from the root κυ-, expressive of anything [p. 1.591]hollow. Several kinds of cymbals are found on ancient monuments, and not a few are preserved in museums, as at Naples, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Athens, and several places in France. They closely resemble those now used in military bands (Guhl and Koner, ed. 5, p. 274). There are, however, different degrees of convexity, varying between a hemisphere and a nearly flat disc. Some are altogether without

Cymbalum. (Rich.)

handles, and were grasped by the fingers on the outside; others have a hole through which a cord or strap was passed, convenient for slinging them when not in use as well as for holding them when played; others, again, have a ring (see the cut opposite), or a solid knob by way of handle; for a pair furnished with regular handles, see the illustration at the end.

Many names for different kinds of cymbals are recorded by the grammarians and lexicographers, but their descriptions are so vague that little can be done in the way of identification; and the important distinction between cymbals and castanets is often obscured. Thus κρέμβαλα and κρούματα (or κρούσματα) will be found treated under CROTALUM The κρούπεζαι or κρουπέζια, Lat. scabella or scabilla, can hardly be called cymbals: they were wooden shoes, used to beat time with the foot while other instruments were being played, and perhaps had rattles or bells attached to them to make a jingling, like the TYMPANUM or tambourine (Cic. pro Cael. 27, § 65, with Long's note; cf. Liddell and Scott, s. v.). The πλαταγὴ was simply a child's rattle, as is clearly shown by a passage of Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 8.6.2); its diminutive is πλαταγώνιον (Pollux, Hesych., Suid.). There remain ὀξύβαφα and κοτύλαι, both probably small cup-shaped cymbals. The ὀξύβαφα were so named from their resemblance to the small cups used as vinegar cruets (see the second cut under ACETABULUM); and Suidas tells us (s. v.) that the two halves were made of different materials for the sake of variety of sound. The epithet χαλκόδετοι, applied to the κοτύλαι, seems to indicate that the latter also were not wholly of bronze (Aesch. fragm. 55).

The cymbal was a very ancient instrument, and unquestionably came from the East, where among other nations it was familiar to the Jews (see Dict. of Bible, s. v.). It is represented in a Phoenician bronze from Cyprus, now in the Cesnola collection at New York (D. and S. 1.1697 a). We find sacred trees depicted with cymbals hung on them as votive offerings, so as to be blown about by the wind (Guhl and Koner, p. 5, fig. 1). Among the Greeks and Romans they were especially used in orgiastic rites of Eastern origin, like those of Cybele (Pind. fragm. 48 = 79 Bergk4; Lucret. 2.618; Catull. 63.29; Verg. G. 4.64; Propert. 4.7, 61; Ov. Fast. 4.213) and Dionysus (Aesch. fragm. cit.; Liv. xxxix 8 fin., 10), as well as in the Eleusinian mysteries of Demeter and Cora (Pind. Isthm. 6.3; Clem. Alex. Protrept. 2.15, p. 14; Schol. Aristoph. Ach. 708). It will be noticed how constantly, in these passages, the cymbal and the tympanum are coupled together. Art monuments tell the same tale as literature, both as to the joint use of the two instruments and the deities in whose worship they occur. A cymbal figured in Daremberg and Saglio (1.1697 b) is a votive offering to Cora.

As with the crotalum, the performers represented on works of art are mostly females. The following figure of a cymbalistria is taken from a bas-relief in the Vatican. [B.J] [W.W]

Cymbala. (From a Bas-relief in the Vatican.)

hide References (5 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (5):
    • Aristotle, Politics, 8.1340b
    • Aristophanes, Acharnians, 708
    • Cicero, For Marcus Caelius, 27
    • Vergil, Georgics, 4.64
    • Ovid, Fasti, 4
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