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Back Views of the Ancient Greek Kithara

  • Martha Maas (a1)

In an appendix to their article ‘Lute-Players in Greek Art’ (JHS lxxxv [1965], 62–71) R. A. Higgins and R. P. Winnington-Ingram included useful material on the shape of the kithara, with a list of representations that attempt to show the depth and shape of the back of the kithara sound-box. The list includes a mid-sixth-century metope from Delphi, back views from late fifth-century to late fourth-century coins, Hellenistic terra-cottas, and a back view on a late second- or early first-century relief, Athens National Museum 1966. These more-or-less three-dimensional objects show us a characteristic of the kithara that may affect the possibilities of playing technique, one that cannot be guessed by looking at the many front-view paintings: the back of the kithara soundbox bulges out at the top, tapering toward the base; and in examples from the fifth century and later, it rises to a vertical ridge running down the centre of the back.

To this group of objects should be added one more important item from the fifth century: the back view of a kithara which is part of the Parthenon frieze of the Panathenaic procession (447–432 B.C.).

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1 Side views of the lyre and kithara, also mentioned by Higgins and Winnington-Ingram in connexion with the Mantinea reliefs, are treated in more detail by the present author in The Galpin Society Journal xxvii (1974).

2 The shape of the instruments is unfortunately not at all correctly represented in the Carrey drawing of this section of the frieze. The drawing does, however, provide information about the original number of players, the directions in which they faced, and so on. See Bowie, Theodore and Thimme, Diether, Carrey Drawings of the Parthenon Sculptures (Bloomington, Ind. and London, 1971), pl. 32.

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The Journal of Hellenic Studies
  • ISSN: 0075-4269
  • EISSN: 2041-4099
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-hellenic-studies
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