Although the transcription of the melody is unproblematic, there is some disagreement
about the nature of the melodic material itself. There are no modulations, and the
notation is clearly in the diatonic genus, but while it is described on the one hand as
being clearly in the diatonic Iastian tonos, in other places it is said to "fit perfectly"
within Ptolemy's Phrygian tonos since the arrangement of the tones (1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1
[ascending]) "is that of the Phrygian species" according to Cleonides. The overall note
series is alternatively described as corresponding "to a segment from the Ionian scale".
Another authority says "The scale employed is the diatonic octave from e to e (in two
sharps). The tonic seems to be a; the cadence is a f♯ e. This piece is … [in] Phrygic
(the D mode) with its tonic in the same relative position as that of the Doric. Yet
another author explains that the difficulty lies in the fact that "the harmoniai had no
finals, dominants, or internal relationships that would establish a hierarchy of tensions
and points of rest, although the mese (“middle note”) may have had a gravitational
function." Although the epitaph's melody is "clearly structured around a single octave,
… the melody emphasizes the mese by position … rather than the mese by function."

The following is the Greek text (in the later polytonic script; the original is in
majuscule), along with a transliteration of the words which are sung to the melody, and
a somewhat free English translation thereof:
Fragments of ancient music have been found
going back as far as the eighteenth century B.C.,
the most ancient ones recorded on cuneiform
tablets, but there is only one complete song from
antiquity known to have survived: the Seikilos
epitaph. It was discovered carved on a marble
column-shaped stele in Tralleis, near Ephesus,
Turkey, in 1883, and is now in the
Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

Dating to the first or second century A.D., the
stele announces its function clearly in the
inscription. "Εἰκὼν ἡ λίθος εἰμί.Τίθησί με
Σείκιλος ἔνθα μνήμης ἀθανάτου σῆμα
πολυχρόνιον", (I am a tombstone, an image.
Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of
Comments from Our Readers
Method:  Because I recognized the old Greek characters, I google-imaged "oldest
known greek inscription" per your query. Your picture was on the first page of

PS: I liked the song's melody a lot.
Collier Smith
In my "how to solve photo quizes" mental book, whenever the picture
contains mainly text, the solution lies within the text itself, so google it! I tried
unsuccessfully with the third line, then I tried the bottom one, since it was very
easily transposed out of the greek alphabet. So a search for nosapaitei took me to a
website in Spanish that explained about the Epitaph of Seikhilos. Since my Spanish
answers would have been mistranslated and I didn't know the whole terminology in
English, I searched directly for the epitaph in English and its Wikipedia had all the
info I needed (without having to translate).

Funny part is, the English versions use the word "Seikilos" (without the h), which
would be a greek kappa, wheras in Spanish, they use the Greek Xi. Both versions
agree in the music itself, in the mode that is now called mixolidian (playing the
natural scale fro G to G), which confuses me, because according to the writings, it
would be in Greek lidian mode, which would be according to my counterpoint
teacher in Mexico (the biggest authority in baroque music) to be our major scale
these days (not that big of a deal, since the note of discrepancy is not played in the
melody). And what it really doesn't make sense, is the English version playing it in
A and recurring to accidentals, making it, not only more difficult to sing, but
impossible for Greek notations.
Ida Sanchez
The symbols looked Greek, and having played guitar for 50 years, it looked like
lyrics with chords, so I googled "ancient greek music papyrus". No good -- results
were all falling apart. So i tried "ancient greek music carving". Bingo. I love love
love the lyrics -- "As long as you live, shine... let nothing grieve you beyond
measure for your life is short and time will claim its toll." I think this is gonna be
my new mantra...  
Karen Petrus
Technique -- Google search Ancient Greek Text. Found quiz text -- 32nd image.
Tom Collins
I might not have guessed what this was except that I recently heard a reference to
shape notes, so perhaps my head was open to the idea of alternatives to modern
mainstream music notation, and the thought that this might be an example came to
me after a couple of minutes' thought. I Googled "ancient music notation"
looked at resulting images, and fairly quickly found the one I was seeking. It turned
out that my French was just barely good enough to read the page it was on without
asking Google to translate. If I get it right, the stone was found in 1922,
subsequently lost, and rediscovered (19??) in the garden of a woman who was
using it as a base for a flower pot.

Deadlines loom, so that's as far as I go. Fun, thanks, Colleen.
Peter Norton
That music is lovely; I found myself wanting to hear more of the tune. It was too
Grace Hertz
It is really beautiful - haunting in a way. There are parts that remind me of Celtic
music somewhat.
Cindy Costigan
Enter Contest
Bookmark and Share
Quiz #462 - January 18, 2015
1. This is a copy of the oldest known _____.
2. What do the doodads between the lines represent?
3. Where can the original be found today?
TinEye Alert
You can find this photo on,
but the quiz will be a lot more fun if you solve the puzzle on your own.

Congratulations to Our Winners

Arthur Hartwell                Peter Norton
Milene Rawlinson                Tom Collins
Cynthia Costigan                Mike O'Brien
Edna Cardinal                Karen Petrus
Carol Gene Farrant                Collier Smith

Grace Hertz and Mary Turner
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The Siekilos Epitaph
1.  It's the oldest known written music.
2.  Changes to pitch and duration.
3.  On a stele in the National Museum of Denmark.

How Ida Solved the Puzzle

How Carol Solved the Puzzle
Sometimes your questions lead to the answer when Ive drawn a
blank on the image.  That was the case here.  I googled the oldest
known and a list of choices came up, one being the oldest known
melody.  I found myself listening to a lecture about Hurrian Hymn
Text H6.  While it was in English, I had no clue what the man was
saying.  I dont speak music.  Moving on down the page I came to an
image of the Seikilos stele.  Bingo!  To make sure, I found out more
about the stele.  Yup, that is it.  It is the oldest surviving example of a
complete musical composition, including musical notation (aka:
doodads), from anywhere in the world.  It currently resides at the
National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

I do not see how one gets 4 minutes and 30 seconds out of that short
little score, but you can listen to it here:

It is quite lovely.

As an aside, when reading about Hurrian Hymn Text H6, I couldn't
help but think what a pain it must have been to carry around your
sheet music.

Carol Farrant


N.B.  I imagine that carrying around sheet music like that would
give you a Bach ache.

- Q. Gen.
The "Seikilos Epitaph" is the oldest known
complete song, found with lyrics and music
notation carved on a tombstone in what is
now Turkey. The tombstone and the
significance of its inscription were first
identified in 1883, and is now held at the
National Museum of Denmark. The
engraving and lyrics are in Ancient Greek,
and probably date to the first century AD.
The engraving says "from Seikilos to
Euterpe" and it is thought to be from a man
Seikilos to his wife Euterpe, which is why
the song is known as the "Seikilos Epitaph".
This engraving and other fragments suggest
that the ancient Greeks had used a form of
music notation since the 3rd or 4th centuries BC. We have not included the Greek lyrics
in this example, but have shown two verses based on the song's melody. The first
verse is played using a harp-like instrument, and the second verse is played on a
recorder or flute-like instrument with the harp (or lyre) strumming chords as an
accompaniment. Despite being 2000 years old, it is surprising how familiar this music
seems. It uses a scale on A in the Mixolydian mode which was common in the musical
theory of Ancient Greece. The music is available as
PDF Sheet Music (using modern
musical notation), a
MIDI file and an MP3 file.
Another Example of Ancient Music
Hymn to the Moon Goddess, Nikkal, Wife of Yrikh
More about the Seikilos Epitaph
deathless remembrance".“I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an
everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.” The last line is damaged, reputedly by
Anglo-Irish railway engineer Edward Purser who was on site building the Smyrna-Aidin
Ottoman Railway when the stele was discovered and who sawed off the base so his
wife could use it as a flower display, but it appears to be a dedication from Seikilos to a
Euterpe, perhaps his wife?

It’s the song that ensured the stele would truly be an everlasting memorial because he
didn’t just have the lyrics engraved, but rather also included the melody in ancient
Greek musical notation. The lyrical message is your basic carpe diem. These are the
lyrics in transliterated Greek and in an English translation:

Hoson zes, phainou
Meden holos su lupou;
Pros oligon esti to zen
To telos ho chronos apaitei

While you live, shine
Have no grief at all;
Life exists only a short while
And time demands its toll

Because of the clear alphabetical notation Seikilos’ song is playable today. Lyre expert
and ancient music researchers Michael Levy has a wonderfully virtuoso performance
on his
YouTube channel for which he uses a wide range of lyre techniques to give it
that zesty drinking song vibe.

Musician and Oxford University classicist Armand D’Angour is working on a research
project to use the latest and greatest discoveries on Greek musical notation to bring
ancient music back as accurately as possible.

And now, new revelations about ancient Greek music have emerged from a few dozen
ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting
of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words.

The Greeks had worked out the mathematical ratios of musical intervals – an octave is
2:1, a fifth 3:2, a fourth 4:3, and so on.

The notation gives an accurate indication of relative pitch: letter A at the top of the
scale, for instance, represents a musical note a fifth higher than N halfway down the
alphabet. Absolute pitch can be worked out from the vocal ranges required to sing the
surviving tunes.

While the documents, found on stone in Greece and papyrus in Egypt, have long been
known to classicists – some were published as early as 1581 – in recent decades they
have been augmented by new finds. Dating from around 300 BC to 300 AD, these
fragments offer us a clearer view than ever before of the music of ancient Greece.

Dr. David Creese, a Classics professor at Newcastle University, has constructed a
zither-like instrument with eight strings on which he plays ancient Greek music. Instead
of strumming or plucking the strings like you would with a lyre or traditional zither, he
strikes them with a little mallet. You can see him playing it in class in this
. That is the Song of Seikilos he is playing in that video, incidentally, but obviously
not a full rendition.

Compare Dr. Creese’s version with Mr. Levy’s. I find it fascinating how different the
two performances of such a simple song can be, and it underscores the inherent
challenges of resurrecting ancient music even when you have the words and melody.
The Tune
Above the lyrics (transcribed here in polytonic script) is a line with letters and signs for
the tune:
Translated into modern musical notation, the tune is something like this:
Ὅσον ζῇς φαίνου
Hoson zēs phainou
While you live, shine
μηδὲν ὅλως σὺ λυποῦ
mēden holōs sy lypou
have no grief at all
πρὸς ὀλίγον ἐστὶ τὸ ζῆν
pros oligon esti to zēn
life exists only for a short
τὸ τέλος ὁ χρόνος ἀπαιτεῖ.
to telos ho chronos apaitei.
and time demands its toll.
The Epitaph was discovered in 1883 by Sir W. M.
Ramsay in Tralleis, a small town near Aidin. According
to one source the stele was then lost and rediscovered
in Smyrna in 1922, at about the end of the Greco-
Turkish War of 1919–1922. According to another
source the stele, having first been discovered during
the building of the railway next to Aidin, had first
remained at the possession of the building firm's
director Edward Purser, where Ramsay found and
published about it; in about 1893, as it "was broken at
the bottom, its base was sawn off straight so that it
could stand and serve as a pedestal for Mrs Purser's
flowertops"; this caused the loss of one line of text, i.
e., while the stele would now stand upright, the
grinding had obliterated the last line of the inscription.
To hear the melody played with the lyrics, click on the start arrow.
The Dedication
The last two surviving words on the tombstone itself are (with the bracketed characters
denoting a partial possible reconstruction of the lacuna or of a possible name

Σείκιλος Εὐτέρ[πῃ], Seikilos Euter[pei],

meaning "Seikilos to Euterpe"; hence, according to this reconstruction, the tombstone
and the epigrams thereon were possibly dedicated by Seikilos to Euterpe, who was
possibly his wife. Another possible partial reconstruction could be

Σείκιλος Εὐτέρ[που], Seikilos Euter[pou],

meaning "Seikilos of Euterpos", i.e. Seikilos, son of Euterpos
While you live, shine
Have no grief at all;
Life exists only a short while,
and time demands its toll.
A More Complete History of the Epitath
The stele next passed to Edward Purser's son-in-law, Mr Young, who kept it in Buca,
Smyrna. It remained there until the defeat of the Greeks, having being taken by the
Dutch Consul for safe keeping during the war; the Consul's son-in-law later brought it
by way of Constantinople and Stockholm to The Hague; it remained therein until 1966,
when it was acquired by the Department of Antiquites of the National Museum of
Denmark (
Nationalmuseet), a museum situated at Copenhagen. This is where the stele
has since been located.
Throughout the excavations of the early 50's archaeologists dug up
many fragments of cult songs. Among them were three fragments of
a single tablet in different states of preservation. Miraculously, these
pieces fit together. As a result, we now have an almost complete text
known as the “Song Tablet.” After the tablet was put together, it
measured about 7.5 inches long and about 3 inches high. It is
inscribed on both sides and even on the edges in wedge-shaped
cuneiform characters running from left to right horizontally across
the tablet. The text consists of Akkadian terms written in a
Hurrianized manner and enscribed in Ugaritic Cuneiform script.

The writing on the tablet consists of three parts. First, there are four
lines of text that run over, on the front (or obverse, as scholars call
it) and continue on the back (or reverse side) covering even the right
edge of the tablet. Below this four-line text on the front of the tablet
are two finely drawn parallel lines. Between the parallel lines at each
end, two angle wedges have been inscribed. Below the two parallel
lines is the second part, consisting of six lines. This does not,
however, continue on the reverse, although a few signs run over on
the right edge of the tablet.

A third part is at the bottom of the tablet’s back (reverse) side. To
read it, the tablet must be turned upside down. Without even knowing
cuneiform, one might guess that this third text is a label which
describes the contents of the tablet and which, perhaps, identifies the
author or scribe. This label or colophon on the back of the song tablet
is written in Akkadian, one of the best known ancient languages.

To hear the Hymn to the Moon Goddess Nikkal, click
Excellent the article on the Siekilos Epitaph
on Find-a-Grave
Historic Artifact. An Ancient Greek
tombstone dated between 200 BC
and 100 AD, it contains the world's
oldest piece of music that survives
complete. It derives its name from
the popular belief that a musician
named Seikilos composed the brief
song in memory of his wife,
Euterpe, and had it inscribed on her
grave column. Seikilos probably lived
in the historical city of Tralles, now
part of Aydin in southern Turkey. He
may have descended from a musical
family. The stele he erected was of a
type commonly used in Grecian
culture for those who died young.
Its inscription begins: "I am an icon in stone. Seikilos placed me here
as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance". The song follows,
an epigram on a theme that is as familiar to us now as it was then:
"As long as you live, shine / Let nothing grieve you beyond measure /
For your life is short / And time will claim its toll". Epigrammatic
verse was also a standard feature on grave columns; what makes the
Seikilos Epitaph unique is that he provided the score along with the
lyrics, just as epigrams were sung rather than recited in performance.