compostiting

The World's Oldest Song

THE OLDEST COMPLETE SONG WE HAVE. I woke up in the middle of the night last night and couldn’t sleep, and so i decided to try and play some music to make me fall asleep, because sometimes that helps. But then I started to think about music in general, and humanity, and why do we make music? What’s the oldest song that we have? Music probably dates back to longer ago than we can remember, but what is the oldest song that we can still sing today?

The oldest song we know of at all is called Hurian Hymn #6, it was engraved in stone tablets found in Syria, and dates back to the Hurrian Culture around 1400 BC. It’s incomplete, though, and also we don’t know what the lyrics are. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpxN2VXPMLc here’s the Hurrian Hymn, though.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xERitvFYpAk is the oldest complete song we have record of. A man in ancient Greece named Seikilos wrote this song to remember his wife, and he buried an Epitaph with an engraving of the compostition with her. What’s especially cool about the Epitaph of Seikilos is that it has lyrics. The song dates back to somewhere between 200 BC and 100 AD. It’s so cool to listen to the music from this period, it somehow feels like you’re bringing the past back into the present, and it reminds you these were actually people who actually existed the same way that you exist now.

 Ironically, there were probably loads of songs written back then and before this, too. Silly songs, songs about politicians, songs about Gods, songs about all sorts of things, but the one that survived 2,000 years is a song written by a man to remember his wife. Besides the song, Seikilos wrote:

Eikōn hē lithos eimi. Tithēsi me Seikilos entha mnēmēs athanatou sēma polychronion.

A free translation of this is “I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.”

And indeed, how ironic these words are, because this is the only song that’s survived almost 2,000 years. It’s his grief, frozen in time, for us to hear two frikkin thousand years later. And 2,000 years later, we can still remember this man’s wife with this song. I think that’s really beautiful.

It’s a very brief compostition, the lyrics are:

Hoson zēs, phainou
Mēden holōs sy lypou;
Pros oligon esti to zēn
To telos ho chronos apaitei

While you live, shine on
Have no grief at all.
Life exists only for a short while
And time demands to be paid.

(The theme is, as eloquently stated by the marvelous Hank Green, is basically, YOLO, which I also enjoy).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxlste3JucU  here is Hank Green talking about these songs, cuz I love Hank Green, and I was excited to see that he had a similar thought process and had already done this research for me.