Language and History English two-minute tales, music and mental agility puzzles
The Seikilos Epitaph : Lost for seventeen centuries, caught up in a war, and used as a pedestal for a plant pot, this is the world’s oldest surviving song.
The Seikilos Epitaph

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.

More like this

Music and Musicians (33) Roman Empire (Roman Era) (1)

Picture: © inharecherche, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. View original
The base of the Seikilos Epitaph, the world’s oldest surviving complete song, where the words of the song (marked with indications of the melody) are engraved.
Music by George Frideric Handel

Amazon Books

Featured Music

Letters Game

What is the longest word you can make using these letters?

Press enter or type a space to see feedback on your word.

More like this: Letters Game Games with Words

Numbers Game

Make the total shown using two or more of the numbers underneath it. You can add, subtract, divide and multiply. Use any number once only.

More like this: Target Number (Mental Arithmetic Game) Mental Arithmetic

Selected Stories
Alfred Bird’s wife could eat neither eggs nor yeast. So being a Victorian, Alfred put his thinking-cap on.
Rascally republican Thomas Blood was usually to be found in any conspiracy against the King, but even when he stole the Crown Jewels the King never seemed to mind...
A prince falls for a dazzling dance-partner who teasingly vanishes at midnight.
England’s rulers from the only one named ‘the Great’, to the king who lost his crown to the Danes.
The Scottish missionary and medic believed that slavery could better be eradicated by trade than by force.
William Hyde Wollaston discovered new elements and helped Faraday to greatness, all from the top of a tea-tray.