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p370 Crotalum

Article by Benjamin Jowett, M.A., Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford
on p370 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.


[image ALT: An engraving depicting a woman dancing with her arms outstretched, and in each hand a pair of more or less flat paddles that appear to be hinged together. It is a dancer accompanying herself on the crotalum, a Graeco-Roman musical instrument similar to the modern castanets.]

CRO′TALUM (κρόταλον), a kind of cymbal, erroneously supposed by some writers to be the same with the sistrum. [Sistrum.] The mistakes of learned men on this point are refuted at length by Lampe (De Cymb. Vet. I.4, 5, 6). From Suidas and the Scholiast on Aristophanes (Nubes, 260), it appears to have been a split reed or cane, which clattered when shaken with the hand. According to Eustathius (Il. XI.160), it was made of shell and brass, as well as wood. Clemens Alexandrinus further says that it was an invention of the Sicilians.

Women who played on the crotalum were termed crotalistriae. Such was Virgil's Copa (2),

"Crispum sub crotalo docta movere latus."

The line alludes to the dance with crotala (similar to castanets), for which we have the additional testimony of Macrobius (Sat. III.14.4‑8).º The annexed woodcut, taken from the drawing of an ancient marble in Spon's Miscellanea (sec. I art. VI fig. 43), represents one of these crotalistriae performing.

The word κρόταλον is often applied, by an easy metaphor, to a noisy talkative person (Aristoph. Nub. 448; Eurip. Cycl. 104).


See also Smith's article Cymbalum.


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Page updated: 20 Nov 04