In 1904 William Ramsay received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in the identification of different noble gases. Ramsay became one of the most important chemists of the last century: his discoveries brought new elements to the periodic table, such as helium and argon, and his radioactivity research consolidated a whole new field of study.
However, what matters to me about Ramsay is not his outstanding work in chemistry, but his favorite hobby. From a young age, the Scotsman toured different deserts of Europe and Asia in search of archaeological sites. He had a special eagerness: to find in some area of Asia Minor physical evidence that allowed him to refute Luke’s biblical account.
Having studied in the famous historical schools of Germany in the mid-19th century, he learned that the New Testament was a religious treatise written in the mid-200s. C., and not a historical document written in the first century. I was convinced of that teaching. But I wanted proof.
Then, in 1883, he decided to travel to Ephesus, one of the 12 Ionian cities on the banks of the Aegean Sea, in Turkey. That year he made numerous explorations, until one day a marble cylinder with Greek inscriptions was found. When they translated the message carved into the rock they realized several things. hat it dated from the first century and that it was a song. The oldest complete song discovered so far. Ramsay, who 20 years later would win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering elements, had also discovered the genesis of musical composition.
Was the theme of that letter a war song? Were those letters a praise to the gods or to the emperors? No. William Ramsay found the first love song buried under Ionian catacombs. Words that rose from the center of the earth to pierce the desert in proud spirals, making strident pranks, dotted by warm modulations of crying that were like the beating of a heart:
It is one of the stanzas of the song that Sicilo wrote to his wife Euterpe after his death. Love travels in everything that touches the spirit and death is the principle of creation, even if we think otherwise.
The Epitaph of Sicilo, as they named the piece, is a temple of the heart. That rock is the chest of a man who has lost his beloved. It is written to know where it is and a song to know where the heart is. The heart of Sícilo, like that of Euterpe, became marble.
The epitaph was preserved in a museum in Izmir until it was lost during the holocaust of Asia Minor, between 1919 and 1922, after the destruction of the city. “A city in ruins buries a heart in love.”
Years later, in the same place where the ruins were home, they found the base with the last line of the erased text, held by a village woman who used it to support a pot. No destination would have been more appropriate than that: flowers on a farewell song.
This is not the story of a chemistry nobel. Nor of an archaeological discovery. Those letters, which came together and formed a proclamation against death, have only the texture of time left, which is that of eternity. All these words do not speak of cycle and Euterpe, but of the weather, the panic, the fragility, the end and the beginning of everything, the deep malaise and the love for life.
Do you want to hear the “Epitaph of Sycil”, interpreted in Greek by a man and a woman? Want to know how sound became music? Welcome to “Master Class”, a space where we will talk about music and history, but especially about time. This text is a companion to the new podcast of HJCK Radio.