1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sambuca

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SAMBUCA, Sambute, Sambiut, Sambue, Sambuque, an ancient stringed instrument of Asiatic origin generally supposed to be a small triangular harp of shrill tone (Arist. Quint. Meib. ii. p. 101). The sambuca was probably identical with the Phoenician sabecha and the Aramaic sabka, the Greek form being σαμβύχη. The sabka is mentioned in Dan. iii. 5, 10, 15, where it is erroneously translated sackbut. The sambuca has been compared to the military engine of the same name by some classical writers; Polybius likens it to a rope ladder; others describe it as boat-shaped. Among the musical instruments known, the Egyptian nanga best answers to these descriptions. These definitions are doubtless responsible for the medieval drawings representing the sambuca as a kind of tambourine,[1] for Isidor elsewhere defines the symphonia as a tambourine. During the middle ages the word sambuca was applied (1) to a stringed instrument about which little can be discovered, (2) to a wind instrument made from the wood of the elder tree (sambūcus). In an old glossary (Fundgruben, i. 368), article vloyt (flute), the sambuca is said to be a kind of flute. “Sambuca vel sambucus est quaedam arbor parva et mollis, unde haec sambuca est quaedam species symphoniae qui fit de illa arbore.” Isidor of Seville (Etym. 2. 20) describes it as “Sambuca in musicis species est symphoniarum. Est enim genus ligni fragilis unde et tibiae componuntur.” In a glossary by Papias of Lombardy (c. 1053), first printed at Milan in 1476, the sambuca is described as a cithara, which in that century was generally glossed “harp,” i.e. “Sambuca, genus cytherae rusticae.”

In Tristan (7563-72) the knight is enumerating to King Marke all the instruments upon which he can play, the sambiut being the last mentioned:

Waz ist daz, lieber mann?
— Daz veste Seitspiel daz ich kann.”

In a Latin-French glossary (M.S. at Montpelier, H. 110, fol. 212 v.) Psalterium = sambue. During the later middle ages sambuca was often translated sackbut in the vocabularies, whether merely from the phonetic similarity of the two words has not yet been established. The great Boulogne Psalter (xi. c.) contains, among other fanciful instruments which are evidently intended to illustrate the equally vague and fanciful descriptions of instruments in the apocryphal letter of S. Jerome, ad Dardanum, a Sambuca, which resembles a somewhat primitive sackbut (q.v.) without the bell joint. It is reproduced by Coussemaker, Lacroix and Viollet-le-Duc, and has given rise to endless discussions without leading to any satisfactory solution. (K. S.)

  1. See Michael Praetorius, Synt. Mus. (Wolfenbüttel, 1618), p. 248 and pl. 42, where the illustration resembles a tambourine, but the description mentions strings, showing that the author himself was puzzled.