What’s the oldest known song ?

Music is a general language that every tribe, cultures and civilisations have in common. Music has been a type of entertainment since the dawn of time that’s used in religious rituals and ceremonial activities or as a means to pass accross information and accounts of a distant past to a new generation.

The history of music is as old as humanity itself, the oldest instruments ever discovered were flute-like instruments that were traced back to Germany, 40,000 years ago when the Neanderthals died out. Arguably the oldest-known song, was found in modern-day Syria, while the oldest one with lyrics was discovered in ancient Greece (The Seikilos epitaph).

The oldest known song is called “The Hurrian Hymn” which was discovered in the 1950s, it was inscribed on a clay tablet with Cuneiform text. It’s the oldest surviving melody and is over 3400 years old, experts only have pieces of it, making it difficult for musicologists to try and recreate it today.

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The Seikilos epitaph is song carved on a tombstone and can still be played today, almost like the ancient Greeks did when it was first written.

Now on display at the National Museum of Denmark, historians believe Seikilos dedicated the song to his wife Euterpe, although the muse of music was also known as Euterpe. The lyrics of the song, liberally translated into English, are as follows:

‘While you live, shine

have no grief at all

life exists only for a short while

and time demands its toll. ’

The tomb also includes another inscription in ancient Greek: it roughly translates to ‘I am a tombstone, an image. Séikilos placed me here as a long-lasting sign of deathless remembrance.’

The musical notation is written above each line, with symbols and letters, and has also been transposed into modern musical notation, allowing musicologists to reproduce the song.

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