There is no doubt that music is a universal language, something that all cultures and civilisations have in common. Since the dawn of time, music has been a type of entertainment – used in religious rituals and ceremonies or as a means to pass down stories and accounts of a distant past to a new generation. But just like an ancient fresco which has lost its colour or part of its design, recovering old music from antiquity has never been a sure thing. However, there is one complete song in existence from this time: the oldest song with lyrics in the world dates back to Ancient Greece, and people can still sing and play it today.
While the oldest song ever discovered – found in Ugarit, in present-day Syria – was actually a Sumerian hymn written about 3400 years ago, experts only have pieces of it, making it difficult for musicologists to try and recreate it today. As such, the oldest known complete musical composition, albeit a short one, is from Ancient Greece.
The Seikilos epitaph, in this case, a song carved on a tombstone, can still be played today, almost like the ancient Greeks did when it was first written. The epitaph, discovered in 1883 near Aydin, Turkey, seems to be from the first century AD; however, the exact date of the inscription is still debatable.
Now on display at the National Museum of Denmark, historians believe Seikilos dedicated the song to his wife Euterpe, although the muse of music was also known as Euterpe. The lyrics of the song, liberally translated into English, are as follows:
‘While you live, shine
have no grief at all
life exists only for a short while
and time demands its toll. ’
The tomb also includes another inscription in ancient Greek: it roughly translates to ‘I am a tombstone, an image. Séikilos placed me here as a long-lasting sign of deathless remembrance.’
The musical notation is written above each line, with symbols and letters, and has also been transposed into modern musical notation, allowing musicologists to reproduce the song. Want to hear it? Click on the video below and let us know what you think.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.