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-,
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
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
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
) will be found treated under
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
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
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.
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
Cymbala. (From a Bas-relief in the Vatican.)