This lyre, specifically a small U-shaped harp, is fabricated from a tortoise shell, a material frequently utilized in antiquity for its robustness and resonant qualities. Artisans hollowed the shell to construct the instrument's resonator, with the arms and crossbar made from reinforced bone. The original metal strings, no longer present, would have been stretched between these parts.

The piece is a notable example of Ancient Greek craftsmanship, identifiable by its dominant ornamental components. Featuring finely carved depictions of Greek divinities and mythical entities, the exterior offers a sequenced narrative rendered with precision, suggestive of Athenian artisanal expertise.

The ends of the instrument's arms are embellished with figures of a satyr and a maenad, followers of Dionysus, the god of wine, suggesting its potential ceremonial use. The figures appear to be in mid-motion, lending the artifact dynamic visual interest.

The lyre is historically significant within ancient Greek culture. Associated with Apollo, god of music, lyres were key instruments in both music education and performances, and they were integral to ceremonial or celebratory occasions including symposia, weddings, and religious events. This establishes lyres as instrumental artifacts that also reflected Greek social and religious customs, referenced frequently in ancient literature and lore.

The recurring presence of lyre motifs in ancient artwork across various mediums such as pottery and sculpture, suggests symbolic importance. Symbols often conveyed notions of celebration, harmony, and the sacred link between music and the gods.

British Museum