Situating the citole, c.1200-1400

Margerum, Alice C. (2010) Situating the citole, c.1200-1400. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


The citole, one of the foremost plucked musical instruments of the High Middle Ages, has been largely overlooked by modern scholars. This is due, in part, to disagreement as to which instrument type should be identified by that term. This work verifies and refines the definition of citole by examining three texts which link the terms citole, sitola and citola to illustrations of necked chordophones with a holly-leaf shaped body outline. By consideration of similar depictions, I propose that this strict definition should be expanded to include related body shapes and that the defining characteristics of the citole are that it is a plectrum-plucked, distinct-necked chordophone with a body-outline that is not oval. Beyond offering a definition of the citole based on the correlation of name and image in medieval sources, this thesis provides an unprecedented body of evidence from c.l200-1400 relating to this instrument type and demonstrates what sorts of information about the citole can be gleaned from these sources. There has been no comprehensive study of the citole, its morphology, use and social position, despite the wealth and variety of period sources. Each of the classes of evidence, however, has limitations and must be examined not just for content but also context. Comparison of these diverse sources shows that the citole was not an obscure 'minority interest' instrument in Western Europe during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Documentary evidence, literary sources; and images suggest that players of the citole had a discernable social position and that the citole was considered to be an instrument which required skill, and which was usually played solo or in small consort. This is a study of whether, and in what ways, contemporaneous documentary, literary, iconographical, and material evidence are reliable and informative about instruments and what they demonstrate in the case of the citole.

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