Lyre Association of North America

Jan Braunstein, Czech Republic: Musical Forms Workshop Followup

As a follow up to my Musical Forms workshop at the international conference in Detroit – here is more information on the Seikilos epitaph and the music itself.

While you live, shine
Have no grief at all
Life exists only for a short while
And time demands an end.

The Song of Seikilos, or Seikilos Epitaph, I believe is the oldest known music “literature” that we have.*  It was found engraved on a tombstone alongside with this line: "Εἰκὼν ἡ λίθος εἰμί. Τίθησί με Σείκιλος ἔνθα μνήμης ἀθανάτου σῆμα πολυχρόνιον."  which translates as: "I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.”  It is also the oldest known song coming from ancient Greece. The rest is more or less speculation. The dating is also not known exactly but it is likely somewhere between 100 BC to 100 AD. The preserved engraving is also not complete so we don’t know whether the tombstone belonged to Seikilos himself or he put it there for someone else. The last preserved words (not printed in my version) is “Σείκιλος Εὐτέρ” (Seikilos Euter...) Euter- is probably the beginning of a name which could be Euterpe or perhaps Euterpos. No one knows for sure...

 The original lyrics and Czech translation are here. There is also a picture showing the original engraving of this piece. The symbols above the text are the musical notation.

*Wikipedia: The Seikilos epitaph is the oldest surviving complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world. The song, the melody of which is recorded, alongside its lyrics, in the ancient Greek musical notation, was found engraved on a tombstone, a stele, near Aydın, Turkey (not far from Ephesus). Approximately 2,000 years old, it is a HellenisticIonic song in Phrygian octave species. While older music with notation exists (for example the Hurrian songs), all of it is in fragments; the Seikilos epitaph is unique in that it is a complete, though short, composition.

 Jan Braunstein - Ateliér Délos, Czech Republic
atelier@delos.cz / www.delos.cz