This is the oldest song in existence that you can hear reconstructed now. It was written by a grieving musician named Seikilos 2000 years ago, and composed in honour of a dead loved one. 2000 years ago means it could well be from the time of Jesus but is probably from 200 years after his death.
The lyrics and melody were discovered in Turkey in 1885 inscribed on a tombstone. The inscription reads “Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.” Interesting because these letter signs imbue the stone with the personhood of the beloved, a first-person “me”, and a forever and clear message: to live life to the fullest for it is short. If you think death too morbid to think about, consider that the healthiest and reportedly happiest people think of death often. And lyrics like this – ‘lyric’ a word derived from the ancient greek harp-like instrument the Lyre – work as a healthy dose of perspective. The translation is tenuous but as Jorge Luis Borges says, “the original is unfaithful to the translation”.
As long as you live, shine,
Let nothing grieve you so
For your life is short,
and time will claim its toll.
Could be written today.
And can be listened to right now.
It is touching to think of human emotion and creativity spanning in an auditory medium for centuries, and touching to think of the many songs and kinds of music that never made it to today, and how beautiful music before all the logic of the modern world was invented. It was beyond the imagination of Seikilos that her or his music would reach you through the sorcery of screen and speaker today.
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