I think of Penelope weaving, and I see her hands move deftly, rhythmically. That's really how the song began. I could not find an instance when she played the lyra in her moments of sorrow, like Achilles did in the Iliad. So I gave her that moment, in this song, using her words. I thought of her words in a simple rhythm, in Aeolian mode, and imagined her weeping her fury, her passion, in one sweeping moment.
It is 3,500 years ago, and the lands are torn by wars. Penelope is resourceful and brave under brutal circumstances: she clings to the hope that her husband Odysseus, gone for almost twenty years since the Trojan War began, will come home and defend her home, her honor, and her son from the men who have invaded her home, threatened her son, and claimed her as a prize. Outwardly, she must be a queen, able to mollify and entertain her suitors. But alone in her chambers she is vastly shaken.
How does she express herself, alone? We are given glimpses of her sorrow, when all she wants to do is sleep, to escape. After waking, she laments:
“Ah in my utter wretchedness, soft slumber enfolded me.
Would that chaste Artemis give so soft a death,
At this very moment, that I might, with sorrow at heart,
no longer waste my life away…”
“ἦ με μάλ᾽ αἰνοπαθῆ μαλακὸν περὶ κῶμ᾽ ἐκάλυψεν.
αἴθε μοι ὣς μαλακὸν θάνατον πόροι Ἄρτεμις ἁγνὴ
αὐτίκα νῦν, ἵνα μηκέτ᾽ ὀδυρομένη κατὰ θυμὸν
(Homer, Odyssey, 18.201-204)
Then she is quickly joined by her attendants.
Epitaph of Seikilos
Engraved on an ancient Burial Stele at Tralles, Asia Minor, this beautiful poem with concise musical notations was discovered and published by Ramsay, 1883. Musical signs deciphered by Wessley, 1891. The stone itself, long preserved in the collection of Young at Doudja, disappeared after the burning of Smyrna (September 1923). It is now in the Copenhagen Museum, Inv. No. 14897.
This song, written in the ancient Greek Hypophrygian Mode, is so far, the oldest complete piece of music ever found - unlike the other precious shards of ancient Greek music which have survived; this piece is unique, as it survived in its entirety. The ancient Greek burial stele on which it was found bore the following epitaph:
"I am a stone icon. Seikilos placed me here, a mark of immortal remembrance throughout time."
The words of the song are:
"Hoson zes, phainou
Meden holos su lupou;
Pros oligon esti to zen
To telos ho chronos apaitei"