The "citole" is a mysterious medieval musical instrument, said to be similar to another medieval musical instrument known as a psaltery, and somewhat akin to the modern dulcimer or zither.

The instrument was depicted in tapestries as having a sound box and four strings which were apparently plucked by hand rather than with a pick or plectrum, and the body of the instrument is described as having had a "holly leaf" shape.

The citole is mentioned with great frequency in poetry from the 13th to the 15th centuries, including Chaucer ("The Knight's Tale," 1101) and the Wyclif Bible of 1360, in 2 Samuel 5, which describes "Harpis and sitols and tympane," translating the Hebrew keliy; other versions of the Bible say "psalteries" (King James) or "lyres" (Vulgate).

What makes the citole so mysterious to modern musicologists is that for whatever reason, no citole has survived intact from the Middle Ages. There is a single instrument believed to have been a citole preserved in the British Museum, but in later years it was converted into a violin, so it is impossible to get a good sense of what it originally looked like.

The word citole is a French diminutive of the Latin cithera, a triangular stringed instrument used by the Greeks and Romans, and is thus cognate with the words zither, guitar, and sitar.

Cit"ole (?), n. [OF. citole, fr. L. cithara. See Cittern.] Mus.

A musical instrument; a kind of dulcimer.

[Obs.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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