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.

Classic FM Apps

Get the Classic FM app for iPhone, iPad and Android - now with HD audio

Singer problems

14 singer confessions that will make you go 'same'

Relationship status music quiz

QUIZ: Can we guess your relationship status from your taste in music?

Britney painting to Mozart

Britney Spears painting to Mozart is one of life’s purest joys