Cymbala (Lat., from Gk. kumbalon)
- James W. McKinnon
- and Hélène La Rue
(Lat., from Gk. kumbalon)
(1) A type of ancient cymbals (an Idiophone). Ancient cymbala were a pair of small, plate-shaped or more often cup-shaped bronze cymbals. (See Cymbals and Tympanum for illustrations.) They were associated in Greco-Roman culture with orgiastic religious rites, where they played ecstasy-inducing music together with the tympanum and the Aulos. They became particularly prominent in Rome after the introduction of the Magna Mater, Cybele, from Asia Minor in 204 bce. They appear on numerous vases and in murals and reliefs; a typical literary reference is that of Catullus who had a young votary of the goddess exclaim: ‘Come follow me to the Phrygian house of Cybele, to the Phrygian grove of the goddess, where the voice of the cymbalum sounds, where the tympanum echoes, where the Phrygian tibia player sings on his deep-toned curved reed, where they celebrate the sacred rites with shrill cries, where the milling crowd of her worshippers rushes to and fro’. Roman conquests in the East and increasing luxury among the ruling classes brought many foreign artists to the capital in the early days of the empire. Exotic dances in taverns and in the streets were performed to the accompaniment of crotala, cymbala, tympana and foreign wind instruments. The instrument was used in biblical times, and early Christian writers when they mention cymbals clearly mean cymbala, as, for example, St Augustine in his commentary on the psalms – the sound as they touch ‘can be compared to our lips’....