Greco-Roman mythology: slaying giants with a lyre?
March 31, 2021 2:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm translating an Italian Baroque era text sung by the character of Emperor Nero, who at this point is dead and in the underworld. At the end, he threatens to go to war with the Gods, and makes a reference to using a string instrument as a weapon against the Giants. Is this a reference to something in the Gigantomachy? Text below.

Text in Italian:
Fiamme, folgori e dardi
avventerò dal mio tremendo soglio
che tal contro i Giganti
la poetica cetra.

Non finse in Flegra
il Regnator dell’ Etra.
My translation at this point:
Flames, lightning and darts
I will hurl from my tremendous throne;
just as against the Giants
the poetic cittern.

He will not end in Phlegra,
the Monarch of the Ether.
Phlegra, the "burning region", was supposed to have been the battlefield of the Gigantomachy. That and the reference to Giants makes me think that this is a reference to some specific event during that mythical war. But if it is, I can't find it.

Earlier in the text, Nero has already made a reference to playing his lyre while Rome burned. (He used the word "lira" there, not "cetra.")
posted by Pallas Athena to Writing & Language (5 answers total)
It does sound like it refers to the killing of the giant Porphyrion by Zeus and Heracles. One used lightning, and the other arrows ('darts'), I think.

I'd read this as Nero threatening to use the power of his music as a weapon against the Gods,
using the battle as a metaphor, rather than referring to a lyre being literally used against the Giants. But I'm only going on your translation, as I don't read Italian.
posted by pipeski at 2:42 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]

Is there a second definition of cetra?
posted by sciencegeek at 2:43 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]

Is it a reference to Metamorphoses, 10.149-151?
I have sung so often Jupiter's great power
before this day, and in a wilder strain,
I've sung the giants and victorious bolts
hurled on Phlegraean plains.

Iovis est mihi saepe potestas
dicta prius: cecini plectro graviore Gigantas
sparsaque Phlegraeis victricia fulmina campis
posted by Wobbuffet at 2:46 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]

Isn't this simply a reference to Nero's self-identification with Apollo? As well as fighting in the war with the Giants, Apollo was the inventor of the cithara or seven-stringed lyre, and Nero, famously, had himself depicted on coins as Apollo Citharoedus, dressed in musician's robes and playing the cithara.

Tacitus refers to this with distaste in Annals XIV.14, where Nero's identification with Apollo is treated as evidence of his overweening vanity. But sculptures of Apollo Citharoedus were a fashionable decoration in Roman villas, so it looks as though this piece of imperial image management (Nero as Grecian, cultured, artistic) may have found favour with the Roman upper classes.
posted by verstegan at 4:07 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]

Achilles killed his lyre teacher with his lyre; it is possible that this is a distant reference to the fires of Troy.

Phlegrean fields are also a region in the South of Italy, near Naples. It's where Cuma and the Sybyl are (also associated with Aeneas and founding of new reigns/cities). So there might be a number of classical references on top of the Gigantomachy (main) one.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:27 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]

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