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Team Recreates Ancient Greek Kithara

Will demonstrate musical instrument, tell story of its building at Friday event

kithara
Kithara images like this one informed a UVM professor and student's modern recreation of an ancient instrument.

How do you create a three-dimensional design for an ancient Greek musical instrument when all you have to go on are flat two-dimensional images on vases and coins and a few timeworn statues?

That’s the assignment Classics professor John Franklin and student Tanner Lake gave themselves in 2009 when they decided to recreate an ancient Greek instrument called a kithara, a seven-stringed version of the lyre used by professional musicians in public concerts, choral performances and competitions beginning in the seventh century B.C.

“We looked at any medium we could find to get the measurements and all the angles," Franklin said. Franklin and Lake also consulted ancient texts that described some elements of kithara construction.

Lake, a classics major who graduated in 2010, designed the instrument under Franklin's supervision. 

The task of building the kithara fell to luthier John Butterfield of Butterfield Lutes in Seattle, who introduced his own design ideas when technical challenges presented themselves.

All three will be on hand on Friday, Feb. 15 at 4 p.m. in John Dewey Lounge to talk about the project and show off the product of their collaboration. 

Franklin will demonstrate the kithara and will use it to accompany several ancient Greek songs performed by the Halcyonids, the Classics Department singing group.

Lyres as an instrument family gradually morphed into lutes of various types. The word "guitar" is descended directly from "kithára," even though the shape and stringing changed radically.