The Seikilos epitaph is the oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world. The song, the melody of which is recorded, alongside its lyrics, in the ancient Greek musical notation, was found engraved on a tombstone, near Aidin, Turkey (not far from Ephesus). The find has been dated variously from around 200 BC to around AD 100, but the first century AD is the most probable guess.
Also on the tombstone is an indication that states in Greek "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 deathless remembrance".
Although the material is sparse, it indicates that the Greeks had developed a musical system in the third or fourth century BC. It was probably only used by professional composers and choir leaders, while others learned the tunes by listening to them. Texts of plays, regardless of type, were often copied without music, so the lyrics with music like that of the Seikilos epitaph are extremely rare. There is no evidence that the Greek musical system survived into the Middle Ages, but texts from Byzantine times and the early Renaissance have added notations after the Greek system.
The tune 
Translated into modern musical notation, the tune is something like this:
|Tune performed on a computer (midi file format). (help·info)|
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:
- 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 while,
- τὸ τέλος ὁ xρόνος ἀπαιτεῖ.
- to telos ho chronos apaitei.
- and time demands its toll.
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],
The Epitaph 
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. 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. 
Older musical compositions 
There is a tradition of music notation older than the Greek system. A corpus of music fragments recorded on cuneiform tablets goes back to about 2000 BC.
Some scholars believe that an extant corpus of Chinese music, first recorded in the Tang dynasty (AD 618–907), predates this work as well as the earlier fragments of Greek music. This is based on the conjecture that because the recorded examples of Chinese music are ceremonial, and the ceremonies in which they were employed are thought to have existed "perhaps more than one thousand years before Christ" (J. A. Van Aalst), the musical compositions themselves were performed, even in 1000 BC, in precisely the manner prescribed by the sources that were written down in the seventh century AD. (It is based on this conjecture that Van Aalst dates the "Entrance Hymn for the Emperor" to c. 1000 BC.) Even allowing for the hypothesis that the Emperor's court musicians transmitted these melodies with complete fidelity over sixteen centuries, there is no material evidence to date the composition, or any other piece of Chinese music, to earlier than the Tang dynasty (Pan). This leaves the Epitaph of Seikilos the oldest complete musical composition that can be reliably dated.
See also 
- Historical Anthology of Music. Two volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1949. ISBN 0-674-39300-7
- Chinese Music. J.A. van Aalst, 1884, 1933.
- Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980.
- China. Rulan Chao Pan, 1980.
- Norton Anthology of Western Music: Ancient to Baroque. Volume one. New York, New York, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. ISBN 0-393-97990-3
- Epitaph of Seikilos. C. V. Palisca, J. P Burkholder, 2006.
- Landels, John G. (1999). Music in Ancient Greece and Rome. Routledge. p. 252.
- Mathiesen, Thomas J. (1999). Apollo's lyre: Greek music and music theory in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. University of Nebraska Press. p. 148.
- Winnington-Ingram, R.P. (October 1929). "Ancient Greek Music: A Survey". Music & Letters (The Oxford University Press) 10 (4): 343. JSTOR 726126.
- Mathiesen, Thomas J. (1999). Apollo's lyre: Greek music and music theory in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. University of Nebraska Press. p. 149.
- Pöhlmann, Egert; West, Martin L., eds. (2001). Documents of ancient Greek music: the extant melodies and fragments. Oxford University Press. p. 88.
- Pöhlmann, Egert; West, Martin L., eds. (2001). Documents of ancient Greek music: the extant melodies and fragments. Oxford University Press. p. 91.
- Randel, Don Michael, ed. (2003). "Seikilos epitaph". The Harvard Dictionary of music. Harvard University Press. p. 767.
- Pilch, John J. (2011). Flights of the Soul: Visions, Heavenly Journeys, and Peak Experiences in the Biblical World. Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 79.
- Pöhlmann, Egert; West, Martin L., eds. (2001). Documents of ancient Greek music: the extant melodies and fragments. Oxford University Press. p. 90.