A short story about my grandfather(s)’ lyra

Mary Shiraef
2 min readJan 5, 2024

To kick off 2024, I want to share this Christmas card my cousin, Giorgos Benakis, shared with me. It shows the lyra, a musical instrument crafted by our shared great-great-grandfather, Nikos Piskopakis, from Rethymno, Greece.

Once hanging on my grandfather’s wall in the United States (U.S.) , it is now an important artifact displayed in the Historical and Folk Art Museum of Rethymnon. As the story goes, it was gifted to my U.S.-born grandfather, also Nikos Piskopakis, in one of his earliest trips to Rethymno — which must have been in the early 1960s. Later, however, when his Greece-based first cousin, also Nikos Piskopakis, came to visit him in the U.S., he implored him to return the item to Rethymno to help preserve the local history of the fast-developing town. The lyra maker, Nikos Piskopakis, would become known as one of Crete’s “greatest-ever exponents” of the lyra — but with so much immigration from Crete to the U.S. and elsewhere, knowledge of the whereabouts of his work was diminishing.

Unlike the British Museum’s caretakers, my grandpa was a reasonable, persuadable man. He promptly returned and (re-)gifted the lyra to the local museum, I am proud to say. I am further happy to see it still being preserved, cleaned, and presented with such professionalism and care. This gorgeous New Year’s card displays the craftsmanship and attention to beauty my great-great-grandfather poured into his work. It further represents a connection my grandfather forged with Crete. For me, it contains a message of hope when we pay tribute to those who came before us and preserve their stories for our futures.

For the fuller story of this particular lyra, Giorgos Benakis has carefully researched and documented its history for a forthcoming book.

--

--

Mary Shiraef

Everyday Researcher, Occasional Teacher. I write here about the people, experiences, and businesses that bring me joy and occasionally, the politics that don't.