7 Aug 2010
Let's talk some more about some wandering instrument terms in the Mediterranean. That of the kithara (ie. the classical lyre) is an interesting case.
In January, I explained my refined etymology for the mythic creature known to the Greeks as the Chimaira. I've been suggesting since then that it originally came from a Minoan compound *Ki-Amária meaning literally 'Three-Face' which subsequently, following the traditional etymology usually given, the name would have been corrupted by native Greek words χίμαρος 'he-goat' and χεῖμα 'winter' after being loaned from the Minoan language. The Chimaira afterall is a symbol of the seasons of the year, commonly three in number in Greek, Egyptian and (presumably) Minoan culture. This could confirm that *ki is the common Aegean word for 'three' since it's well attested in Etruscan as ci.
So am I pushing it too far to extend this further and suspect that the κιθάρα 'lyre' may likewise be a Minoan compound *ki-θiara meaning 'three-string'? This hypothesis has a clear precedent in the native name of the haunting Chinese lute, the san-xian (三弦), likewise meaning precisely 'three-string'. The classical Mediterranean lyre came in different shapes, with different numbers of strings, but indeed including the 3-stringed variety.
If we take my Minoan compound for granted for a second, it would also imply a word *θiara 'string', relating nicely to Egyptian *sīra 'hair, string, thread', written only as [sr] (> Sahidic Coptic sir 'hair, line, stripe'). The last thing for me to figure out however is whether [sr] is from earlier Old Egyptian *zīra /θiːrə/, matching the expected Minoan form best as well as suggesting a reasonably early entry point of the name for the lyre into the Aegean linguistic sphere.
 The Persian seh-tār (سه تار) is another example.
 Bamford, Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering sacred science (1994), p.251 (see link): "What is the historical position of the Greek cithara? The Greeks believed that the cithara had come into Greece as a three-stringed lyre in the ninth century and that it had been developed in Greece itself. This is one of the many fallacies that must be abandoned, because of the pictorial evidence the seven-stringed lyre can be traced back to Minoan Crete, c. 1450 BCE." However, in light of my Minoan musings above, I wonder if this classical Greek stance is possibly due merely to a faulty historical recollection of timeline sullying an otherwise fundamentally correct etymology.
 Woodard, The Ancient Languages of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Aksum (2008), p.164 (see link) confirms that the Egyptian z was a voiceless interdental fricative /θ/, merging with s at a quite early date.