CHELYS , the common lyre of the ancient Greeks, which had a convex back of tortoiseshell or of wood shaped like the shell. The word chelys was used in allusion to the oldest lyre of the Greeks which was said to have been invented by Hermes. According to tradition he was attracted by sounds of music while walking on the banks of the Nile, and found they proceeded from the shell of a tortoise across which were stretched tendons which the wind had set in vibration (Homeric Hymn to Hermes, 47-51). The word has been applied arbitrarily since classic times to various stringed instruments, some bowed and some twanged, probably owing to the back being much vaulted. Kircher (Musurgia, i. 486) applied the name of chelys to a kind of viol with eight strings. Numerous representations of the chelys lyre or testudo occur on the Greek vases, in which the actual tortoiseshell is depicted; a good illustration is given in Le Antichità, di Ercolano (vol. i. pl. 43). Propertius (iv. 6) calls the instrument the lyra testudinea. Scaliger (on Manilius, Astronomicon, Proleg. 420) was probably the first writer to draw attention to the difference, between chelys and cithara (q.v.).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)