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The long necked lute’s eternal return: Mythology, morphology, iconography of the Tanbūr Lute family from Ancient Mesopotamia to Ottoman Albania

Charest, Jeffrey Paul 2019. The long necked lute’s eternal return: Mythology, morphology, iconography of the Tanbūr Lute family from Ancient Mesopotamia to Ottoman Albania. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Musical instruments exist as both material and imaginal cultural objects. This Thesis explores the intersection of these modes of being as pertaining to long necked lutes of the tanbūr type and asks, what effect do cultural intangibles like mythology and cosmology have on the physical design of these lutes? I have incorporated the biological theory of phylogenetics, to define the material aspects of the tanbūr family and its genera, and the philosophical theory of the rhizome, to conceptualize cultural intangibles. I first examine the earliest known lutes from ancient Mesopotamia and follow their morphological development to the 1st millennium CE tanbūr to the Ottoman-era Albanian çifteli. I find them enmeshed in mytho-cosmological complex centered on the semidivine Dumuzi, the shepherd king, and his wife the goddess Inanna. On the ‘paternal’, Dumuzi-d side, these ancient long necked lutes belong to the courtly instrumentarium, performed in royal banquets to accompany narrative songs that reinforce and illustrate Mesopotamian kingship ideology. On the ‘maternal’ side, Inanna’s domain, the lutes are played by either a shepherd king figure, a marginalized man who Inanna elevates through her intercession, or by masculine warriors and common soldiers who Inanna leads to victory in battle. These three characters—shepherd king, woman of authority, and long necked lute—and the dynamics between them form a rhizomatic complex that is the basis of a key theme in Return songs like Odyssey, ‘Bamsi Beyrek’, and the Albanian Aga Imer. The Return songs’ ‘shouting’ theme replicates in miniature all the essential elements of the original Mesopotamian complex, demonstrating that this complex defines these long necked lute genera as much as their morphology. Textual and iconographic evidence suggests that socially these lute genera of the tanbūr family become popular in the Balkans through Anatolia in the course of the late Byzantine (after 12th century) and the Ottoman Empires,1 apparently transmitted via a Frontier Warrior Culture who used them to accompany Return songs, that were in turn built around common experiences of these irregular border forces. The shouting theme of Aga Imer incorporates the çifteli in a manner that rhizomatically links it to the Turkmën epic of Crazy Harman and the ‘black two stringed (dutār), and through the latter’s Sufic and shamanic exegesis I explore the cosmological ideas implicit in Aga Imer as a manifestation of the generic Return song and the çifteli as a representative of the tanbūr family. I then interpret the çifteli’s morphology as an expression of this mythocosmological rhizome, and demonstrate the integrity of both morphology and cosmology in their long sojourn from ancient Mesopotamia to modern day Albania.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Music
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
M Music and Books on Music > MT Musical instruction and study
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 25 October 2019
Last Modified: 28 Jul 2020 01:29

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