The oldest complete composition in the world is utterly heart-breaking

16 September 2016, 16:08

Song of Seikilos

By Lizzie Davis

The Song of Seikilos was engraved on a tombstone by a grieving husband almost two millennia ago.

The haunting Song of Seikilos is the oldest complete musical composition in existence and was engraved on a tombstone in the town of Tralles near modern-day Aydin in Turkey.

The text says:

While you live, shine
have no grief at all 
life exists only for a short while
and time demands an end.

And is signed from Seikilos to Euterpe – probably his wife.

The inscription includes signs and symbols to indicate the melody and modern musicologists have transcribed the music into modern notation so that it looks something like this:

The tombstone – or stele – was discovered in 1883 but then disappeared and was lated rediscovered being used as a pedestal for a flowerpot. It’s now housed in the National Museum of Denmark. Without a flower pot.

Here’s a performance of the piece.

One muso was such a fan they even got the piece tattooed on their side. If you really want to see, you can do here.