Saturday, September 12, 2020

Tympanum: Instrument of Ecstasy

 The origin of the tympanum (tambourine) is unknown, but it appears in historical writings as early as 1700 BCE and was used by ancient musicians in West Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, Greece and India. The tambourine passed to Europe by way of merchants or musicians. Tambourines were used in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome where they were known as a tympanum. Worshipers used the instrument during the rites of Dionysus, Cybele, and Sabazius. The instrument came to Rome from Greece and the Near East, probably in association with the cult of Cybele. The first depiction in Greek art appears in the 8th century BCE, on a bronze votive disc found in a cave on Crete that was a cult site for Zeus.

The tympanum is one of the objects often carried in the thiasos, the retinue of Dionysus. The instrument is typically played by a maenad, while wind instruments such as pipes or the aulos are played by satyrs to produce frenzied music to induce an ecstatic state.

The tympanum was the most common of the musical instruments associated with the rites of Cybele in the art and literature of Greece and Rome, but does not appear in representations from Anatolia, where the goddess originated. From the 6th century BCE, the iconography of Cybele as Magna Mater, "Great Mother", may show her with the tympanum balanced on her left arm, usually seated and with a lion on her lap or in attendance. The Homeric Hymn to the Great Mother says that the goddess loves the sound of the tympanum. The drum continued to feature as an attribute of Cybele into the Roman Imperial era.

 Figurine of a woman with a tympanum (tambourine), Roman, 2nd century CE at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada courtesy of the museum.

Bronze statuette of Cybele with tympanum on a cart drawn by lions courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Peterjr1961

 Mosaic of a street musician with tympanum from the Villa of Cicero in Pompeii courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Wolfgang Rieger.

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