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What is the oldest-known song?

For as long as they've been speaking, human beings have been singing and making music...

A section of the Seikilos epitaph, the oldest surviving complete musical composition in the world
Published: November 13, 2015 at 9:00 am
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Yet, despite claims that songs from ancient civilisations have been recovered – found carved into walls or impressed into clay tablets – it is nearly impossible to reconstruct ancient lyrics and melodies.


Arguably the earliest-known song, with both melody and lyrics recorded intact, from antiquity is the ‘Epitaph of Seikilos’, a funerary piece intended for voice and the string instrument, the lyre.

The Ancient Greek composition, thought to have been written in the first century AD, exists on a marble stele, which was discovered in 1883 in modern-day Turkey.

To go along with its melancholic melody (which can be heard here), are these sobering lyrics:

While you live, shine
Do not suffer anything at all
life exists only for a short while
and time demands its toll.


This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of BBC History Revealed magazine


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