I’ve just come back from a memorial ceremony, so I thought it would be appropriate to share one of my favourite songs, from the Seikilos Epitaph.
This song was composed by a man named Seikilos in the 1st century of our era, and was engraved on a tombstone which may have belonged to Seikilos’s wife. The lyrics translate as such:
As long as you live, shine
Have no grief at all
Life only exists for a short time
And time demands its toll.
To me, this is both a beautiful and heartbreaking piece of wisdom. The man who composed the song has been dead for two millennia, but the bittersweet lyrics – that philosophy of “rise above the clouds and you will find the sunshine” – are just as meaningful to us now as they were to Seikilos. Like him, we are still reminded by death to live our lives to the fullest.
We often think of the Ancients as names, and the humanity behind them has been lost to time. We are horrified by the Syrian revolution and the 2011 tsunami in Japan, but Pompeii or the Trojan War? Not so much. We have all felt sympathy for the innocent victims of the Holocaust, but who has ever wept for children who may have been ritually sacrificed and eaten in Minoan times?
The Seikilos Epitaph reminds us of what time has made us forget: that death is tragic no matter when it occurs. The pain that a husband feels upon losing his wife, or parents upon losing their child, has not changed since Seikilos walked the Earth. And when you’re grieving, it’s a somewhat beautiful thing to know that you share your tears with people who lived millennia ago.
As long as you live, shine. We’re not the first to try and smile through our grief.