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The Epitaph of Seikilos=Ke$ha?

February 19, 2013

by Amanda Compton

Let’s illuminate a little bit of the context of our Greek friend Seikilos (I will assume Ke$ha’s context needs no explaining).  Housed in the Copenhagen National Museum, the Epitaph of Seikilos stands as a pillar of knowledge (literally, a pillar) for ancient Greek music, poetry, and musical notation.  It served as a tombstone saying, “I am a tombstone, an image.  Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance,” and has gained its rightful place in each dedicated music major’s history book because it, unlike other musical compositions that might be older, is the oldest COMPLETE musically notated composition.

Epitaph of Seikilos

Marble column with the “Epitaph of Seikilos,” c. first century A.D.

This cylindrical tombstone was discovered near Aidin, Turkey, and dates back to around 100 A.D.   While we know very little about Seikilos himself, his Epitaph (speculated to have been written for either himself or his wife) gives us clear proof that there was a unique Greek musical notation system, dating back to 300 or 400 B.C.  Historians have many examples of Greek song through written lyrics, but Seikilos is one of the few songs whose melody we can transcribe and listen to like a time capsule.

The sentiment in the poetry itself is intriguing.  Not mentioning religion or an afterlife of any kind, the lyrics encourage us to live in the moment and seize the day.  Much like Ke$ha’s “Die Young.”  Eh? EH?  Ke$ha is totally a modern day Seikilos:

Seikilos

As long as you live, be lighthearted.

Let nothing trouble you.

Life is only too short,

And time takes its toll.

Ke$ha

I hear your heart beat to the beat of the drums,

Oh, what a shame that you came here with someone

So while you’re here in my arms

Let’s make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young.

There are many similarities between these two stanzas.  They are both 4 lines.  They both present a problem and advise a solution.  They both bring to light a distinct perspective on life.  Certainly Ke$ha does not constitute the only artist that’s ever shared these sentiments, which makes the theme all the more poignant.  Human mortality pervades art and music throughout the ages.  Perhaps we wish we could live forever and create forever, but without the sense of urgency that the ticking clock gives us, would anything be as memorable or as sweet?

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