SOUTH KINGSTOWNâ€”The Roman Emperor Nero was rumored to have played the cithara, singing as the city burned in A.D. 64. Almost 2,000 years later, University of Rhode Island student Stephen Craveiro has replicated the stringed instrument, building it through copious research and hard, hands-on work.
Craveiro aimed to combine his passion for playing guitar, which he began at 12 years old, and history as an undergraduate. After reading about the 11-string instrument, similar to the ancient lyre, Craveiro was encouraged by his history advisor, Dr. Bridget Buxton, to go a bit further.
â€śFor my independent study, [Buxton] had suggested that I try researching an instrument from the imperial Roman era,â€ť said Craveiro. â€śPersonally being a guitarist, I was drawn to the multi-stringed configuration of the cithara as well as its cultural prevalence and reputation for being an instrument of virtuosos.â€ť
â€ś[The cithara] was looked down upon by the elders and the elites as a perversion of an ancient art, sort of like rock music was not too long ago,â€ť he added. â€śBut it appealed to the masses.â€ť
Thus Craveiro ventured to build his own cithara, reading through multiple ancient texts about its structure and uses during the Roman period. He also made visits to museums such as the Metropolitan in New York City to observe and catalogue iconographical references to the instrument on pieces of art.
â€śMy research allowed me to generate my own interpretation of what the cithara would have looked like, sounded like, and played like in imperial Rome,â€ť said Craveiro. â€śLearning about the ancient world is something that is often interpretive, and requires critical and creative thinking in addition to substantial research, which is one of the things I enjoy the most about it.â€ť
Craveiro then set out to build his cithara, setting up in his fatherâ€™s auto body shop and constructing the frame of the instrument from an antique hickory chair has father had brought home. The sound box was built from a mahogany cigar box, and Craveiro completed his work by adding tuning pegs and nylon strings taken from old guitars.
When Craveiro presented the finished product to his history class, Buxton was impressed, and invited him to play in front of his fellow students.
â€śSteve is a talented musician, and he produced an excellent paper about the cithara,â€ť said Buxton. â€śHe has even tuned it to the same chord structure that the ancients used. The instrument is a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship and the result of some very sophisticated research.â€ť
Although Craveiro does not yet know whether he will pursue graduate school or enter the workplace after he leaves URI, he has taken the time to soak in his experience of constructing an ancient instrument from scratch, just as Roman bards did thousands of years ago.
â€śIâ€™m still absorbing the fact that I made it,â€ť said Craveiro. â€śI didnâ€™t know if I was cut out for this kind of directed study and had a lot of anxiety about it, but I feel good about it now and want to learn more.â€ť
â€śThis thing started out as an academic exercise, but when it started coming to fruition, it became much more than that,â€ť he added. â€śIt really showed me what Iâ€™m capable of.â€ť