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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Seikilos Epitaph - Seikilos

[inscription] I am a tombstone, an image.  Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.

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



While not strictly poetry, the epitaph of Seikilos as it is called, is an ancient Greek tombstone inscription, likely placed between 200 BC and 100 AD, located in modern day Turkey, near ancient Ephesus.  It is notable for being the first whole notated piece of music in human history.  Earlier notated fragments survive, but this is the first complete piece of music yet found.  It is a song, presumably written by Seikilos, to his wife, who had passed on.  On the tombstone itself, alongside the text, is the musical notation, which has been reconstructed into actual music by scholars.

The text itself is an enduring message of peace and love, containing wisdom that even two thousand years ago must have seemed ancient and timeless.  Life is short, time marches on, and all we can really ever hope to do in our brief time is shine.  Live without grief.  I love that image of life, not to live, but to shine.  Be radiant.  It's the kind of message that inspires hope and peace, and seeing it in an ancient source makes it feel almost sacred.

The light, shining, feel of the poem is reflected in the melody, which pierces through time with crisp brilliance.  It refreshes in a way that is difficult to describe.  The melody is diatonic, and plays in the modern Dorian mode (ancient Greek Phrygian mode).  The opening interval, a perfect fifth, underscores the feeling of light.  It's a beautiful melody, and I often find myself humming or whistling it without intending to.  I hope it can lift your spirits.

Imagine yourself, two thousand years ago, feeling a Mediterranean breeze, mourning the death of a loved one.  The sun is upon you, and you sing.  The most fitting tribute you know is to live with radiance, to honor the memory of the departed with love and clarity.  You write this inscription in the hopes that someday, it may bring peace to some other grieving soul.  Let the melody fill you.  For your enjoyment, here is the song, first spoken, then sung.


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