Lost work

A lost work is a document or literary work produced some time in the past of which no surviving copies are known to exist. In contrast, surviving copies of old or ancient works may be referred to as extant. Works may be lost to history either through the destruction of the original manuscript, or through the loss of all later copies of a work. The term most commonly applies to works from the classical world, although it is increasingly used in relation to more modern works.

Works or fragments may survive, either found by archaeologists, or accidentally by anyone, as in the case of the spectacular find of the Nag Hammadi library scrolls. Works also survived when they were reused as bookbinding materials; when they were quoted or included in other works; or as palimpsests, which are documents made of materials that originally had one work written on them, but which were then cleaned and reused. The discovery in 1822 of large parts of Cicero's De re publica was one of the first major recoveries of an ancient text from a palimpsest, while another famous example is the discovery of the Archimedes palimpsest, which had been used to make a prayer book almost 300 years later. Works may be recovered in libraries as a lost or mislabeled codex, a palimpsest, or even as a part of another book or codex.

Most known missing works are described by works or compilations that survive, such as the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder or the De Architectura by Vitruvius. Sometimes authors destroyed their own works. Other times they instructed others to destroy the work after their deaths; such action was not taken in several well-known cases, such as that of Virgil's Aeneid, which was saved by Augustus, and Kafka's novels, which were saved by Max Brod. Handwritten manuscripts existed in very limited copies before the era of printing, so the destruction of ancient libraries, including the multiple attempts on Alexandria, resulted in the loss of numerous works. Of course works that no one has subsequently referred to remain unknown.

Deliberate destruction of works may be termed literary crime or literary vandalism (see book burning).

Notable lost works

Classical world

Specific works

Multiple works

Ancient Chinese texts

Ancient Indian texts

Manichaean texts

Lost Biblical texts

Lost texts referenced in the Old Testament

Lost works referenced in the New Testament

Lost works pertaining to Jesus

(These works are generally 2nd century and later; some would be considered reflective of proto-orthodox Christianity, and others would be heterodox.)

2nd century

3rd century

4th century

5th century

6th century

Anglo-Saxon works

12th century

14th century

15th century

16th century

17th century

18th century

19th century

20th century

Lost literary collections

Further information: Book burning and List of destroyed libraries
"A great nombre of them whych purchased those supertycyous mansyons, resrved of those lybrarye bokes, some to serve theyr jakes [i.e., as toilet paper], some to scoure candelstyckes, and some to rubbe their bootes. Some they solde to the grossers and soapsellers..." — John Bale, 1549

Rediscovered works

Lost works in popular culture

See also


  1. Aristotle's Monograph On the Pythagoreans
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  3. Jonathan Barnes, "Life and Work" in The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle (1995), p. 9.
  4. Roger Pearse (2002-07-03). "Photius, Bibliotheca or Myriobiblion (Cod. 1-165, Tr. Freese)". Tertullian.org. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  5. Roger Pearse (2002-07-03). "Photius, Bibliotheca or Myriobiblion (Cod. 1-165, Tr. Freese)". Tertullian.org. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  6. Margaret Clunies Ross, The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 144.
  7. "Yongle dadian". Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  8. Asimov, Eric. "The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  9. Ellul, Michael (1986). "Carlo Gimach (1651–1730) – Architect and Poet". Proceedings of History Week. Historical Society of Malta: 15–38. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 April 2016.
  10. "Biography of Adam Smith (1723-1790)". rug.nl.
  11. "Leon Trotsky: My Life (6. The Break)". Marxists.org. 2007-02-06. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
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  13. Writers and writing - Robert Van Gelder - Google Boeken. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  14. Scammell, Michael (7 April 2016). "A Different 'Darkness at Noon'". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  15. Panufnik, Andrzej (1987). Composing Myself. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-58880-7.
  16. "Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern Fiction". jrank.org.
  17. Appel, JM. Phoning Home, University of South Carolina Press, 2014
  18. Allen, Charles (2002). The Buddha and the Sahibs. London: John Murray.
  19. Scott, David (May 1995). "Buddhism and Islam: Past to Present Encounters and Interfaith Lessons". Numen. 42 (2): 141. doi:10.1163/1568527952598657. JSTOR 3270172.
  20. Gertrude Emerson Sen (1964). The Story of Early Indian Civilization. Orient Longmans.
  21. "Destruction Of Chinese Books In The Peking Siege Of 1900 - 62nd IFLA General Conference". Ifla.org. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  22. Wilford, John Noble; Laurie Goodstein (April 6, 2006). "'Gospel of Judas' Surfaces After 1,700 Years". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  23. "View the Gospel of Judas Interactive Document". National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on Apr 8, 2006. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  24. Alter, Alexandra (February 3, 2015). "Harper Lee, Author of 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' Is to Publish a Second Novel". The New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  25. "Mozart i Salieri van escriure junts una cantata". El Periódico de Catalunya. January 22, 2016. Retrieved January 25, 2016.
  26. The History of the Necronomicon

Further reading

External links

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