The Seikilos Epitaph is the oldest surviving song to be completely written down, text and music. It has made it through almost two-thousand years by the skin of its teeth.
‘WHAT is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.’ *
At about the same time that St James wrote this, a man named Seikilos, from a village near Ephesus, lost his wife.
She must have been fondly remembered, for in her tomb he hid a cylinder of stone engraved with a little song, complete with music. It runs something like this:
While thou livest, radiant be,
Grieve not, nay not for a moment;
Our life appeareth for but a little time,
And Time demands his toll.
After it was discovered in 1883, the stone survived being sawn down to make a pedestal for a flower-pot, but it was leading a charmed life, only narrowly escaping the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922.
Fortunately, the world’s oldest song ended up in the safest of places, a museum in Copenhagen, and the haunting melody of Seikilos’s last goodbye is still being heard today.
* See James 4:4
The Seikilos Epitaph
Sung (in Greek) by Nektaria Karantzi and the Earth and Sea Band.
Below is the Greek text, and a literal translation.
Ὅσον ζῇς φαίνου,
μηδὲν ὅλως σὺ λυποῦ.
πρὸς ὀλίγον ἐστὶ τὸ ζῆν,
τὸ τέλος ὁ xρόνος ἀπαιτεῖ.
As long as you live, shine,
Grieve not at all.
Life is for a short time,
Time demands its toll.