Apollo Citharoedus with kithara

The kithara or cithara (Greek: κιθάρα, kithāra, Latin: cithara) was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre or lyra family. In modern Greek the word kithara has come to mean "guitar" (a word whose origins are found in kithara).

The kithara was a professional version of the two-stringed lyre. As opposed to the simpler lyre, which was a folk-instrument, the cithara was primarily used by professional musicians, called citharedes. The barbiton was a bass version of the kithara popular in the eastern Aegean and ancient Asia Minor.



Jewish vase drawing depicting a man playing a cithara with eight strings.

The kithara had a deep, wooden sounding box composed of two resonating tables, either flat or slightly arched, connected by ribs or sides of equal width. At the top, its strings were knotted around the crossbar or yoke (zugon) or to rings threaded over the bar, or wound around pegs. The other end of the strings was secured to a tail-piece after passing over a flat bridge, or the tail-piece and bridge were combined. Most vase paintings show kitharas with seven strings, in agreement with ancient authors, but these also mention that occasionally a skillful citharede would use more than the conventional seven strings.

It was played with a rigid plectrum (or more modernly called pick) held in the right hand, with elbow outstretched and palm bent inwards, while the strings with undesired notes were damped with the straightened fingers of the left hand.


The kithara was played primarily to accompany dances and epic recitations, rhapsodies, odes, and lyric songs. It was also played solo at the receptions, banquets, national games, and trials of skill. The music from this instrument was said to be the lyre for drinking parties and is considered an invention of Terpander. Aristotle said that these string instruments were not for educational purposes but for pleasure only.

Alcaeus of Mytilene playing a kithara while Sappho listens
by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1881)

Sappho is closely associated with music, especially string instruments like the kithara and the barbitos. She was a woman of high social standing and composed songs that focused on the emotions. A Greek mythology story goes that she ascended the steep slopes of Mount Parnassus where she was welcomed by the Muses. She wandered through the laurel grove and came upon the cave of Apollo, where she bathed in the Castalian Spring and took Phoebus' plectrum to play skillful music. The sacred nymphs danced while she stroked the strings with much talent to bring forth sweet musical melodies from the resonant kithara.

See also


  • Kithara in Ancient Greece, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Bundrick, Sheramy D. Music and Image in Classical Athens. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Maas, Martha, and Jane McIntosh Snyder. Stringed Instruments of Ancient Greece. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Cithara". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • kithara — kithára s. f. Trimis de siveco, 10.08.2004. Sursa: Dicţionar ortografic  KITHÁRA s.f. Instrument muzical cu coarde în Grecia antică, asemănător cu lira. [< germ. Kithara, gr. kithara]. Trimis de LauraGellner, 13.05.2005. Sursa: DN …   Dicționar Român

  • Kithara — Kith a*ra (k[i^]th [.a]*r[.a]), n. See {Cithara}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Kithăra — (Kathăris, gr.), Zither. Kitharistes, Zitherspieler. Kitharödos, der zur Zither singt …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Kithăra — Kithăra, das als Kunstinstrument den höchsten Rang einnehmende Saiteninstrument der alten Griechen, das sich von der Lyra (s. d.) durch größere Saitenzahl und resonanzkräftigere Bauart unterschied; der Schallkörper der Lyra war gewölbt, der der K …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Kithara — Kithăra (grch.; lat. cithăra), Saiteninstrument, die neuere Gitarre oder Zither; Kitharíst, Zither oder Gitarrenspieler; Kitharöd, Sänger zur K …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Kithara — Die Kithara (griechisch κιθάρα – heute im Griechischen auch Bezeichnung für die klassische Gitarre) ist ein Saiteninstrument aus der griechischen Antike. Sie war eines der vornehmsten Instrumente, das vorzugsweise zu feierlichen Anlässen gespielt …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Kithara — Ki|tha|ra 〈f.; , s od. tha|ren; Mus.〉 7 bis 18 saitiges altgriechisches Zupfinstrument [<grch. kithara; dasselbe: Zither, Gitarre] * * * Ki|tha|ra, die; , s u. …tharen [lat. cithara < griech. kithára, H. u.] (Musik): altgriechisches… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • kithara — /kith euhr euh/, n. a musical instrument of ancient Greece consisting of an elaborate wooden soundbox having two arms connected by a yoke to which the upper ends of the strings are attached. Also, cithara. [1350 1400; ME < Gk kithára lyre; cf.… …   Universalium

  • kithara — Cithara Cith a*ra, n. [L. Cf. {Cittern}, {Guitar}.] (Mus.) An ancient stringed musical instrument resembling the harp. [Also spelled {kithara}.] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • kithara — or cithara noun Etymology: Middle English cithara, from Latin, from Greek kithara Date: 14th century an ancient Greek stringed instrument similar to but larger than the lyre and having a box shaped resonator …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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