Lyre (Gr. ), one of the most ancient and famous of the family of stringed instruments, the origin of which is lost in antiquity. It was familiar to the Egyptians, and to the nations of western Asia, by whom it was introduced among the Greeks. The latter, however, had a special tradition which attributed its invention to Mercury, who is described in the Homeric " Hvmn to Mercury " as forming a lyre out of the shell of a tortoise which he caught at the entrance of the cavern within which his mother Maia had a few hours previous given birth to him. The instrument as there described seems to have been identical with that to which the name ci-thara was subsequently given, and resembled the modern guitar in having the strings drawn across the sounding bottom. In the lyre of later times they were free on both sides. Concerning the original number of strings there are many opinions; but from the fact that, in the earlier part of the 7th century B. C, Ter-pander of Antissa added to the instrument three new strings, thus constituting it a heptachord, there is reason to believe that the lyre of Mercury could not have had more than four, and lyres with three strings were undoubtedly used in some parts of Greece. This heptachord, embracing a compass of an octave, was that most commonly used among the Greeks, and subsequently among the Ro-mans, for many ages; although gradually new strings were added and various modifications effected in the shape of the instrument. In Pindar's time lyres were made with eight strings; Timotheus of Miletus increased the number to eleven; and as early as the age of Sappho and Anacreon, a variety of instruments of the lyre species, introduced from Asia Minor, such as the magadis, barbiton, and others, were in use in Greece, some of which had a compass of two octaves and more than 20 strings.
About the time of Pindar the lyre seems to have first become distinct from the cithara, and on account of its fuller and deeper tone was employed in recitations of epic poetry and other compositions of an elevated character. It consisted of a tortoise-shell sounding bottom, from which rose two horns the one shaped like the letter S, and the other like the same letter reversed, connected near the top by a transverse piece of wood, to which were fastened the upper ends of the strings, stretched perpendicularly from the bottom. When played, it was placed in an upright position between the knees, while the cithara rested upon the knees, and the sounds were produced by the plectrum, or lyre stick of ivory or polished wood, in the hands of the performer, and sometimes by the fingers alone. The Egyptian lyres, constructed on a similar principle, though less elegant in form, were of considerable power, having 5, 7, 10, and 18 strings, and were played in a similar manner. In the Berlin museum is a well preserved one pierced for 13 strings. The lyre, though invented by Mercury, became the peculiar instrument of Apollo, the tutelary god of music and poetry, and was employed to perform the prelude to recitations of epic poetry, and to fill up pauses between the parts.
It also gave its name to that species of poetry called lyric, to which it originally furnished an accompaniment.
. Egyptian Lyre in the Berlin Museum.