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date: 23 October 2019

Crotala [crotales] (Lat.; Gr. krotala)locked

  • James W. McKinnon
  •  and Robert Anderson


[crotales] (Lat.; Gr. krotala)

A term for an instrument resembling slapsticks, although sometimes described by scholars as castanets (it is classified as an Idiophone). Crotala were probably the most common percussion instrument of classical antiquity and can be traced back at least as far as the Mesilim or Early Dynastic I period in Mesopotamia. Consisting of two pieces of wood, bone or bronze hinged with leather, they were held in one hand and struck together by the action of fingers and thumb. Normally a pair was held in each hand.

As with other ancient percussion instruments such as the tympanum and cymbala, the most prominent iconographic representation of the crotala was in the orgiastic rites of Dionysus and Cybele, where they were depicted in the hands of dancing women and satyrs. However, their use seems to have extended to every occasion with dancing, whether cult, theatrical or domestic, with the possible exception of highly formalized choral dancing as in the Greek tragedy of the classical period. Etruscan dancers used them; there were female crotala players throughout the Hellenistic world; and stage directions on a 2nd-century Oxyrhynchus papyrus prescribe crotala and tympana as accompaniment to the interlude in a mime performance. (...

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