The Ancient Lyre and Kithara with Michael Levy

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Kelly Macquire
published on 14 December 2021

Join World History Encyclopedia as they talk to Michael Levy, a prolific composer of the ancient lyre and kithara all about his inspiration and knowledge of the instrument.

There are a few tortoiseshell lyres that survived, like the Elgin Lyre in the British Museum. Also, there are ancient Egyptian lyres that have survived. Michael got from Luthieros, a replica of the Leiden Lyre, which is preserved in Leiden and that dates to about 1500 BCE. It is an amazing thing. As far as ancient Greek lyres go, only the tortoiseshell lyres seem to have survived, the chelys lyres, as they called them. There are sadly, no surviving examples of the kithara, because it must have been very lightly constructed out of wood. Wood is more perishable than tortoiseshell.

The playing techniques are a mixture of what I can infer from ancient pictures of lyre players. When you see a lyre player in ancient Greek pottery and paintings, you have always got the left hand blocking specific strings, and one of these nice little chunky plectrums doing things. It is not like a harp, where you block strings to stop unwanted sustain. You are blocking strings that you do not need to play, and you are keeping open the strings you do want to play so you can create chords.

The kithara though has got a deeper tone to it. In ancient Greek music, only the professionals played the kithara, whereas the chelys (Greek for the tortoiseshell lyre), was for domestic use, for example at a symposium, an ancient Greek drinking party. Plato, in the Republic, advocates teaching young boys musical theories on the lyre because its notes are clear and pure.

Michael Website
Find Michael on Spotify!
Find Michael on Youtube!

Luthieros, whose wonderfully recreated ancient Greek lyres & kithara has made Michael's ongoing musical mission possible for so long. They are reintroducing the recreated ancient Greek lyres & kithara back into the hands of modern musicians to 'continue where the ancients left off.

The specialist musician who performs the replica of the aulos Barnaby Brown



0:00​ Introduction
0:45 Why the lyre? Why did you start playing the lyre?
5:55 Do the different lyres and kitharas need different playing techniques?
10:20 Everything that you know about the lyre, is that all from surviving images?
12:17 How do you go about learning the lyre?
13:43 Performance of The Cave of Hermes
16:19 Ancient Tuning Methods
31:57 Is it meant to be played alone or with other instruments?
34:06 Performance of Hymn to the Stars
37:35 Tell us about the track, Hymn to the Stars!
41:43 Do you have a favourite song that you have composed?
43:47 Outro

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The music used in this recording is the intellectual copyright of Michael Levy, a prolific composer for the recreated lyres of antiquity, and used with the creator's permission. Michael Levy's music is available to stream at all the major digital music platforms. Find out more on:

Michael Levy

Greece-0895 - Wide-bowled Drinking Cup
Dennis Jarvis
CC BY SA 2.0 -

World History Encyclopedia

#ancientlyre #michaellevy #kithara

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About the Author

Kelly Macquire
Kelly is a graduate from Monash University who has completed her BA (Honours) in Ancient History and Archaeology, focussing on iconography and status in Pylos burials. She has a passion for mythology and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Macquire, K. (2021, December 14). The Ancient Lyre and Kithara with Michael Levy. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Macquire, Kelly. "The Ancient Lyre and Kithara with Michael Levy." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified December 14, 2021.

MLA Style

Macquire, Kelly. "The Ancient Lyre and Kithara with Michael Levy." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 14 Dec 2021. Web. 17 Jul 2024.