Kinyras: The Divine Lyre

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By: John C. Franklin, University of Vermont, AIAR Annual Professor

Kinyras is the legendary king of Cyprus, generally known only for his incestuous seduction by his daughter Myrrha (Ov. Met. 10.298–502). Yet a large body of scattered references—never completely assembled—ranges from Homer to Byzantine poets and scholars, and even the sixteenth-century Franco-Cypriot historian Étienne de Lusignan. Homer knew Kinyras as a Great King who treated with Agamemnon (Il. 11.19–23). The lost epic Cypria dealt with Kinyras’ faithless promise to join against Troy. Alcman’s ‘moist charm of Kinyras’ (3.71 PMGF) connects him with a Cypriot perfumed-oil industry going back to the Late Bronze Age. Pindar, invoking Kinyras as an exemplum for Hieron, has ‘Cypriot voices much resound around Kinyras’, makes him ‘cherished priest of Aphrodite’, and ‘golden-haired Apollo’s gladly-loved’ (Pyth. 2.15–17), and recalls an ancient Cypriot thalassocracy when he refers to the ‘blessed fortune . . . which once upon a time freighted Kinyras with riches in Cyprus on the sea’ (Nem. 8.17–18). All of these sources accord with Kinyras’ great proverbial wealth (Tyrtaeus 12.6 etc.).

So, from very early on, Kinyras was the culture hero of pre-Greek Cyprus. Yet, while his Cypriot associations dominate, in some traditions this was not his original home, which is variously placed in Cilicia, Phoenicia, or (As)syria.

Kinyras increased considerably in depth and complexity with the discovery of Kinnāru, the Divinized Lyre, in the pantheon of Ugarit. Divinized musical instruments are well documented in Mesopotamian god-lists, while literary and ritual texts make their nature and function quite clear. They were ‘real’ gods, receiving the same offerings and even appearing in mythological narratives (especially the Gudea Cylinders, c.2100). This evidence indicates that Kinnāru was not limited to Ugarit, but more widely current in the Levant and North Syria during the Late Bronze Age.

That Kinnāru prefigures Kinyras is generally accepted. It remains to harmonize the Greco-Roman mythological sources with the Near Eastern/Cypriot cultural context. My project at the Albright, a forthcoming book called Kinyras: The Divine Lyre (Oxford University Press) was a detailed consideration of:

(1) The musical Kinyras, basic to proving his origin as a divinized instrument;

(2) How and why the Divine Lyre, of all creatures, could become the Cypriot culture-hero and national figurehead; and

(3) When, whence, and why ‘Kinyras’ is most likely to have entered the Cypriot cultural sphere.

I examined Kinyras’ mythological portfolio against what is known of divinized lyres and their intersection with royal ritual and liturgical music in the Near East. The two bodies of evidence, mutually illuminating, permit new deductions about royal ideology and cultic practice in the Bronze Age.

I argue that the Alashiyan (Cypriot) monarchs, in their priestly execution, literal or notional, of state rituals involving cultic music—hierogamy, royal lamentation, and mortuary cult—performed in some sense as the Lyre God. The kinnōr-playing David is a crucial comparandum. Hence, Kinyras, in mythological memory of pre-Greek Cyprus, readily assumed the mantle of kingship and became a national symbol of the Alashiyan golden age. As a shared and contested icon between Eteocypriots and Aegean immigrants (with further Phoenician wrinkles from the ninth century), the sources are divided between Kinyras as an Optimus Augustus and benevolent culture-hero, and the quasi-Phoenician king who breaks faith with Agamemnon. A middle ground is represented by the historical dynasties of Paphos and Salamis, who claimed maternal descent from Kinyras. At Paphos this allegation was at least bolstered by real continuity in the cult of ‘Aphrodite.’

The book addresses issues of ethnicity and identity; migration and colonization; epic memory and mythmaking; performance traditions and music archaeology; royal ideology and the ritual poetics; and a host of specific linguistic and philological issues arising from an analysis of the sources.


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