Tympanon

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Definition

The tympanon (tympanum in Latin) was the most popular frame-drum in ancient Greek music, producing a loud rumbling sound not far from the sound of the orchestral timpani drums today. This percussion instrument was played mainly by women on various spiritual and festive occasions and often accompanied Greek dance in public processions. The Greek comedy playwright Aristophanes (c. 460 - c. 380 BCE) opens his Lysistrata with the heroine’s quibble about women’s overt enthusiasm for festive gatherings when the torrent of their tympana would block the roads. Women across the Greek world used to play the tympanon to worship various deities of Greek mythology, particularly the major goddesses like Rhea, Demeter, Artemis, or Cybele who presided over fertility, marriage, and motherhood. From around the 7th century BCE onwards, the Great Mother’s rituals and mysteries were interlaced with the rites of Dionysos, the god of wine and the source of its reviving powers, and the tympanon began to represent both divinities in Greek art and culture.

More about: Tympanon

Timeline

  • c. 1700 BCE
    The earliest written hint to a hand-drum: the Jewish tof played by Moses’s sister, Miriam, in Exodus.
  • c. 750 BCE
    The earliest depiction of the tympanon on a bronze disc found in the Idaean Cave in Crete.
  • c. 575 BCE
    Scythian Philosopher Anacharsis plays the tympanon in his celebration of the Eleusinian Mysteries, as accounted by Herodotus.
  • c. 525 BCE
    The tympanon first appears on Greek pottery.
  • c. 499 BCE - c. 456 BCE
    Aeschylus in The Edonians tells of the bull-roaring sound of the tympanon in the rites of the moon goddess, Kotys.
  • c. 405 BCE
    Euripides in The Bacchai has Dionysos tell us how the tympanon was invented by him and his Mother Goddess, Rhea.
  • c. 205 BCE
    The tympanon is adopted by the Romans together with the cult of Magna Mater.
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