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The Horizontal Forearm Harp: Assyria's National Instrument1

  • Jack Cheng (a1)
Abstract

A horizontal harp, strung with seven to nine strings and usually decorated with a finial in the shape of a human forearm, is likely to have been a symbol of the Neo-Assyrian state. Various features distinguish this musical instrument from contemporary Elamite harps, and from other harps in Mesopotamian history. The horizontal forearm harp was the most frequently depicted musical instrument on Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs and bronze doors; pairs of male Assyrians play the harp for the king in official duties of state or cult. The decorative forearm sometimes wears the rosette bracelet associated with royalty. Consideration of the iconographic significance of the forearm suggests possible Neo-Assyrian attitudes toward music.

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Copyright
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This article is adapted from my dissertation, “Assyrian Music as Represented and Representations of Assyrian Music” (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 2001), which concentrates on the period from 883–627 B.C. The material presented has benefited greatly from the advice of Jülide Aker, Andrew C. Cohen, Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, David Roxburgh, John M. Russell and Irene J. Winter. Professor Kilmer was extremely helpful at the earliest stages of my research and I am grateful to her for suggesting the name of the instrument. Dominique Collon read an earlier draft of this article and suggested many helpful amendments. I am indebted to Julie M. Crosson for support of every conceivable kind.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

M.-A. Ataç 2006. Visual Formula and Meaning in Neo-Assyrian Relief Sculpture. The Art Bulletin 88(1: 69101.

R. D. Barnett 1969. New Facts About Musical Instruments from Ur. Iraq 31(2: 96103.

J. Cheng 2001. Assyrian Music as Represented and Representations of Assyrian Music. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University.

J. Cheng 2009. A Review of Early Dynastic III Music: Man's Animal Call. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 68: 163–78.

E. de Waele 1989. Musicians and Musical Instruments on the Rock Reliefs in the Elamite Sanctuary of Kul-e Farah (Izeh). Iran 27: 2938.

A. Kilmer 1984. A Music Tablet from Sippar (?): BM ANE 65217+66616. Iraq 46: 6980.

B. Lawergren and O. R. Gurney . 1987. Sound Holes and Geometrical Figures: Clues to the Terminology of Ancient Mesopotamian Harps. Iraq 49: 3752.

J. M. Russell 1998. The Program of the Palace of Assurnasirpal II at Nimrud: issues in the research and presentation of Assyrian art. American Journal of Archaeology 102: 655715.

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IRAQ
  • ISSN: 0021-0889
  • EISSN: 2053-4744
  • URL: /core/journals/iraq
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