A lost work
is a document or literary
work produced some time in the past of which no surviving copies are known to exist. Works may be lost to history either through the destruction of the original manuscript, or through the non-survival of any copies of the work. Deliberate destruction of works may be termed literary crime
or literary vandalism
. In some cases fragments may survive, either found by archaeology
, or sometimes reused as bookbinding
materials, or because they are quoted in other works. The most famous recent example of an original or early manuscript is the discovery of the Archimedes palimpsest
hidden in a much later prayer book. Most of the missing works are described by works or compilations which fortunately have survived, such as the Naturalis Historia
of Pliny the Elder
or the De Architectura
. Often authors wanted to destroy their own works, or instructed others to do so after their deaths, and we are fortunate that such action was not taken in several well-known cases, such as Virgil
saved by Augustus
's novels saved by Max Brod
. Many works were apparently lost when the Library at Alexandria
was burnt down in the Roman period, or perhaps later. Before the era of printing, manuscripts were handwritten, and so few copies existed, helping to explain why so much has been lost. Works which are not referred to by others must, of course, remain unknown and totally forgotten.
The term is most commonly applied to works from the classical world, although it is increasingly used in relation to more modern works.
Notable lost works
- Ta kata ten Asian (Affairs in Asia) in 10 books,
- Ta kata ten Europen (Affairs in Europe) in 49 books
- Peri ten Erythras thalasses (On the Erythraean Sea) in 5 books
- Sulpicius Alexander's Historia.
- Anaxagoras' book of philosophy- only fragments of the first part have survived.
- Archimedes' On Sphere-Making.
- Aristarchus of Samos' astronomy book outlining his heliocentric theory
- Imperator Caesar Divi filius Augustus' De Vita Sua
- Berossus' Babyloniaca (History of Babylonia)
- Gaius Iulius Caesar's
- Anticatonis Libri II (only fragments survived)
- Carmina et prolusiones (only fragments survived)
- De analogia libri II ad M. Tullium Ciceronem
- De astris liber
- Dicta collectanea ("collected sayings", also known by the Greek title άποφθέγματα)
- Letters (only fragments survived)
- Epistulae ad Ciceronem
- Epistulae ad familiares
- Iter (only one fragment survived)
- Laudes Herculis
- Libri auspiciorum ("books of auspices", also known as Auguralia)
- other works:
- contributions to the libri pontificales as pontifex maximus
- possibly some early love poems
- An account of Alexander's expedition
- A history of Greece from the Peace of Antalcidas (387) to the Phocian war (357)
- A history of the Phocian war
- Sulla's Memoirs, referenced by Plutarch
- Cato the Elder's:
- Origines, a 7 book history of Rome and the Italian states.
- Carmen de moribus, a book of prayers or incantations for the dead in verse.
- Praecepta ad Filium, a collection of maxims.
- A collection of his speeches.
- Quintus Tullius Cicero's four tragedies in the Greek style: Tiroas, Erigones, Electra, and one other.
- De arte alea
- an Etruscan dictionary
- an Etruscan history
- a history of Augustus' reign
- eight volumes on Carthaginian history
- a defense of Cicero against the charges of Asinius Gallus
- On pneumatics, a work describing force pumps
- Memorabilia, a compilation of his research works
- Persica, a history of Assyria and Persia in 23 books.
- Indica, an account of India
- On the Measurement of the Earth (lost, summarized by Cleomedes)
- Geographica (lost, criticized by Strabo)
- Conics, a work on conic sections later extended by Apollonius of Perga into his famous work on the subject.
- Porisms, the exact meaning of the title is controversial (probably "corollaries").
- Pseudaria, or Book of Fallacies, an elementary text about errors in reasoning.
- Surface Loci concerned either loci (sets of points) on surfaces or loci which were themselves surfaces.
- Verrius Flaccus':
- De Orthographia: De Obscuris Catonis, an elucidation of obscurities in the writings of Cato the Elder
- Saturnus, dealing with questions of Roman ritual
- Rerum memoria dignarum libri, an encyclopaedic work much used by Pliny the Elder
- Res Etruscae, probably on augury.
- De re militari, a military manual
- On Non-Existence (or On Nature) - Only two sketches of it exist.
- Epitaphios - What exists is thought to be only a small fragment of a significantly longer piece.
- Homer's Margites.
- Iliacon from the Trojan cycle
- Adlocutio ad Pollam
- Salticae Fabulae
- Laudes Neronis, a praise of Nero
- Prosa oratio in Octavium Sagittam
- Epistulae ex Campania
- De Incendio Urbis
- Memnon of Heraclea's history of Heraclea Pontica.
- Aetolica, a prose history of Aetolia.
- Heteroeumena, a mythological epic.
- Georgica and Melissourgica, of which considerable fragments are preserved.
- Ovid's poem Medea, of which only two fragments survive.
- Pamphilus of Alexandria's comprehensive lexicon in 95 books of foreign or obscure words.
- Pherecydes of Leros:
- A history of Leros
- an essay, On Iphigeneia
- On the Festivals of Dionysus
- Genealogies of the gods and heroes, originally in ten books; numerous fragments have been preserved.
- Pherecydes of Syros' Heptamychia
- Pliny the Elder's:
- History of the German Wars, some quotations survive in Tacitus' Annals and Germania
- Studiosus, a detailed work on rhetoric
- Dubii sermonis, in eight books
- History of his Times, in thirty-one books, also quoted by Tacitus.
- De jaculatione equestri a military handbook on missiles thrown from horseback.
- Gaius Asinius Pollio's Historiae ("Histories")
- Alexander Polyhistor's Successions of Philosophers.
- Praxagoras's History of Constantine the Great
- On Nature
- On the Nature of Man
- "On Propriety of Language"
- On the Choice of Heracles
- "On the Gods" (essay)
- On the Art of Disputation
- On the Original State of Things
- On Truth
- Quintilian's De Causis Corruptae Eloquentiae (On the Causes of Corrupted Eloquence)
- Diodorus Siculus' Bibliotheca historia (Historical Library)- of 40 books, only the first 5 books, and books 10 through 20 are extant.
- The Hellespontine Sibyl's Sibylline Books
- Socrates' verse versions of Aesop's Fables.
- Strabo's History.
- Marcus Terentius Varro's:
- Saturarum Menippearum libri CL (Menippean Satires in 150 books)
- Antiquatatum rerum humanarum et divinarum libri XLI
- Logistoricon libri LXXVI
- Hebdomades vel de imaginibus
- Disciplinarum libri IX
- De Viris Illustribus ("On Famous Men" — in the field of literature), to which belongs: De Illustribus Grammaticis ("Lives Of The Grammarians"), De Claris Rhetoribus ("Lives Of The Rhetoricians"), and Lives Of The Poets. Some fragments exist.
- Lives of Famous Whores
- Royal Biographies
- Roma ("On Rome"), in four parts: Roman Manners & Customs, The Roman Year, The Roman Festivals, and Roman Dress.
- Greek Games
- On Public Offices
- On Cicero’s Republic
- The Physical Defects of Mankind
- Methods of Reckoning Time
- An Essay on Nature
- Greek Terms of Abuse
- Grammatical Problems
- Critical Signs Used in Books
- On the Solstice(possible lost work)
- On the Equinox (possible lost work)
- Saturarum Menippearum libri CL or Menippean Satires in 150 books
- Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum libri XLI
- Logistoricon libri LXXVI
- Hebdomades vel de imaginibus
- Disciplinarum libri IX
- The work of the Cyclic poets (excluding Homer), specifically:
- six epics of the Epic Cycle: Cypria, Aethiopis, the Little Iliad, the Iliou persis ("Sack of Troy"), Nostoi ("Returns"), and Telegony.
- four epics of the Theban Cycle: Oedipodea, Thebaid, Epigoni (epic), and Alcmeonis.
- other early Greek epics: Titanomachy, Heracleia, Capture of Oechalia, Naupactia, Phocais, Minyas
- Lost plays of Aeschylus. He is believed to have written some 90 plays of which 6 plays survive. A seventh play is attributed to him. Fragments of his play Achilles were discovered in the wrappings of a mummy in the 1990s
- Lost plays of Agathon. None of them survive.
- Lost poems of Alcaeus of Mytilene. Of a reported ten scrolls, there exist only quotes and numerous fragments.
- Lost choral poems of Alcman. Of six books of choral lyrics were known (ca. 50-60 hymns), only fragmentary quotations in other Greek authors were known until the discovery of a fragment in 1855, containing approximately 100 verses. In the 1960's, many more fragments were discovered and published from a dig at Oxyrhynchus.
- Lost poems of Anacreon. Of the five books of lyrical pieces mentioned in the Suda and by Athenaeus, only mere fragments collected from the citations of later writers now exist.
- Lost works of Anaximander. There are a few extant fragments of his works.
- Lost plays of Aristarchus of Tegea. Of seventy pieces, only the titles of two of his plays, with a single line of the text have survived.
- Lost plays of Aristophanes. He wrote forty plays, eleven of which survive.
- Lost works of Aristotle. It is believed that we have about one fifth of his original works.
- Lost work of Aristoxenus. He is said to have written 453 works, dealing with philosophy, ethics and music. His only extant work is Elements of Harmony.
- Lost works of the historian Arrian.
- Lost works of Callimachus. Of about 800 works, in verse and prose; only six hymns, sixty-four epigrams and some fragments survive; a considerable fragment of the epic Hecale, was discovered in the Rainer papyri.
- Lost works of Chrysippus. Of over 700 written works, none survive, except a few fragments embedded in the works of later authors.
- Lost works of Cicero. Of his books, six on rhetoric have survived, and parts of seven on philosophy.
- Lost plays of Cratinus. Only fragments of his works have been preserved.
- Lost works of Democritus. He wrote extensively on ethics, of which little remains.
- Lost works of Diphilus. He is said to have written 100 comedies, the titles of fifty of which are preserved.
- Lost works of Ennius. Only fragments of his works survive.
- Lost works of Empedocles. Little of what he wrote survives today.
- Lost plays of Epicharmus of Kos. He wrote between 35 and 52 comedies, many of which have been lost or exist only in fragments.
- Lost plays of Euripides. He is believed to have written over ninety plays, eighteen of which have survived. Fragments, some substantial, of most other plays also survive.
- Lost plays of Eupolis. Of the 17 plays attributed to him, only fragments remain.
- Lost works of Heraclitus. His writings only survive in fragments quoted by other authors.
- Lost works of Hippasus. Few of his original works now survive.
- Lost works of Hippias. He is credited with an excellent work on Homer, collections of Greek and foreign literature, and archaeological treatises, but nothing remains except the barest notes.
- Lost orations of Hyperides. Some 79 speeches were transmitted in his name in antiquity. A codex of his speeches was seen at Buda in 1525 C.E. in the library of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, but was destroyed by the Turks in 1526. In 2002, Natalie Tchernetska of Trinity College, Cambridge discovered and identified fragments of two speeches of Hyperides that have been considered lost, Against Timandros and Against Diondas. Six other orations survive in whole or part.
- Lost poems of Ibycus. According to the Suda, he wrote seven books of lyrics.
- Lost works of Clitomachus. According to Diogenes Laertius, he wrote some 400 books, of which none are extant today, although a few titles are known.
- Lost works of Leucippus. No writings exist which we can attribute to him.
- Lost works of Melissus of Samos. Only fragments preserved in other writers' works exist.
- Lost plays of Menander. He wrote over a hundred comedies of which one survives. Fragments of a number of his plays survive.
- Lost works of Philemon. Of his ninety-seven works, fifty-seven are known to us only as titles and fragments.
- Lost poetry of Pindar. Of his varied books of poetry, only his victory odes survive in complete form. The rest are known only by quotations in other works or papyrus scraps unearthed in Egypt.
- Lost plays of Plautus. He wrote approximately one hundred and thirty plays, of which twenty-one survive.
- Lost poems and orations of Pliny the Younger.
- Rhetorical works of Julius Pollux.
- Lost works of Posidonius. All of his works are now lost. Some fragments exist, as well as titles and subjects of many of his books.
- Lost works of Proclus. A number of his commentaries on Plato are lost.
- Lost works of Pythagoras. No texts by him survive.
- Lost plays of Rhinthon. Of thirty-eight plays, only a few titles and lines have been preserved.
- Lost poems of Sappho. Only a few full poems and fragments of others survive.
- Lost poems of Simonides of Ceos. Of his poetry we possess two or three short elegies, several epigrams and about 90 fragments of lyric poetry.
- Lost plays of Sophocles. Of 123 plays, 7 survive, with fragments of others.
- Lost poems of Stesichorus. Of several long works, significant fragments survive.
- Lost works of Theodectes. Of his fifty tragedies, we have the names of about thirteen and a few unimportant fragments. His treatise on the art of rhetoric and his speeches are lost.
- Lost works of Theophrastus. Of his 227 books, only a handful survive, including On Plants and On Stones, but On Mining is lost. Fragments of others survive.
- Lost works of Xenophanes. Fragments of his poetry survive only as quotations by later Greek writers.
- Lost works of Zeno of Elea. None of his works survive intact.
Lost Biblical texts
Lost texts referenced in the Old Testament
Lost books referenced in the New Testament
Lost New Testament apocrypha
- Hegesippus' Hypomnemata (Memoirs) in five books, and a history of the Christian church.
- The Gospel of the Lord compiled by Marcion of Sinope to support his interpretation of Christianity. Marcion's writings were suppressed although a portion of them have been recreated from the works that were used to denounce them.
- Papias' Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord in five books, mentioned by Eusebius.
- Various works of Tertullian. Some fifteen works in Latin or Greek are lost, some as recently as the 9th century (De Paradiso, De superstitione saeculi, De carne et anima were all extant in the now damaged Codex Agobardinus in 814 AD).
- Sozomen's history of the Christian church, from the Ascension of Jesus to the defeat of Licinius in 323, in twelve books.
- Nigramansir. A Moral Interlude and a Pithy. by John Skelton. Printed 1504. A copy seen 1759 in Chichester has since vanished.
- Ur-Hamlet - an earlier version of the play Hamlet predating William Shakespeare's version, author believed to be Thomas Kyd.
- Love's Labour's Won, lost play by William Shakespeare.
- Maya codices ceremonially destroyed by Diego de Landa (1524-1579), bishop of Yucatán, on 12 July 1562. At least 27 codices and approximately 5,000 Mayan "idols" were burnt.
- The Ocean to Cynthia - a poem by Sir Walter Raleigh of which only fragments are known.
- Luís de Camões' philosophic work The Parnasum of Luís Vaz is lost.
- During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, many monastic libraries were destroyed. Worcester Abbey had 600 books at the time of the dissolution. Only six of them have survived intact to the present day. At the abbey of the Augustinian Friars at York, a library of 646 volumes was destroyed, leaving only three surviving books. Some books were destroyed for their precious bindings, others were sold off by the cartload, including irreplaceable early English works. It is believed that many of the earliest Anglo-Saxon manuscripts were lost at this time.
- "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
- Cardenio, play by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher (1613)
- El Manuscrito de Astorga, written by one Juan de Bergara in 1624. Dealt with fly fishing, has been in the possession of Francisco Franco.
- Lost haikus of Ihara Saikaku.
- Jean Racine's first play, Amasie (1660) is lost.
- John Milton wrote nearly two acts of a tragedy called Adam Unparadiz'd, which was then lost.
- Lost works of Molière:
- A translation of "De Rerum Natura" by Lucretius.
- Le Docteur amoureux (play, 1658)
- Gros-René, petit enfant (play, 1659)
- Le Docteur Pédant (play, 1660)
- Les Trois Docteurs (play, ca. 1660)
- Gorgibus dans le sac (play, 1661)
- Le Fagotier (play, 1661)
- Le Fin Lourdaut (play attributed, 1668)
- Lost works of Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh include;
- Ughdair Ereann - fragments survive
- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's journal was burnt by her daughter on the grounds that it contained much scandal and satire.
- Edward Gibbon burned the manuscript of his History of the Liberty of the Swiss.
- The Green-Room Squabble or a Battle Royal between the Queen of Babylon and the Daughter of Darius a 1756 play by Samuel Foote is lost.
- Beethoven's 1793 'Ode to Joy', which was later incorporated into his ninth Symphony
- Memoirs of Lord Byron - destroyed by his literary executors led by John Murray on 17 May 1824. The decision was made to destroy Byron's manuscript journals in order to protect his reputation. Opposed only by Thomas Moore, the two volumes of memoirs were dismembered and burnt in the fireplace at Murray's office.
- The Scented Garden by Sir Richard Francis Burton - manuscript of a new translation from Arabic of The Perfumed Garden, was burnt by his widow, Lady Isabel Burton née Arundel, along with other papers.
- Parts two and three of Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol - burnt by Gogol at the instigation of the priest Father Matthew Konstantinovskii.
- At least four complete volumes and around seven pages of text are missing from Lewis Carroll's 13 diaries, destroyed by his family for reasons frequently debated.
- The son of the Marquis de Sade had all of de Sade's unpublished manuscripts burned after de Sade's death in 1814; this included the immense multi-volume work Les Journées de Florbelle.
- Franz Liszt claimed to have written a manual of piano technique for the Geneva Conservatoire. Many early works, including 3 sonatas and 2 concertos for piano, are also believed to be lost due to the want of a fixed domicile.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins burned all his early poetry on entering the priesthood.
- In the Suspiria de Profundis of Thomas de Quincey, 18 of 32 pieces have not survived.
- In 1871, Gustave Flaubert buried a box of letters and papers as war approached; the box was never recovered.
- A schoolmate of Arthur Rimbaud confessed he lost a notebook of poems by the famous poet.
- The first draft of Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History was sent to John Stuart Mill, whose maid mistakenly burned it, forcing Carlyle to rewrite it from scratch.
- Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Lehi from the Mormon Golden Plates were either hidden, destroyed, or modified by Lucy Harris, the wife of transcriber Martin Harris. Whatever their fate, the pages were not returned to Joseph Smith and declared "lost." Smith did not recreate the translation.
- Letters written by Felix Mendelssohn seem to suggest that he wrote a cello concerto. It was supposedly lost when the only copy of it fell off the coach that was carrying it to its dedicatee.
- Various works of Johannes Brahms. Brahms was a perfectionist who destroyed many of his own early works, including a violin sonata. He claimed once to have destroyed 20 string quartets before he issued his official First in 1873. When he retired, he even destroyed manuscripts of his fifth and sixth symphonies.
- Isle of the Cross, Herman Melville's follow up to the unsuccessful Pierre was rejected by his publishers and has subsequently been lost.
- Robert Louis Stevenson burned his first completed draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after his wife criticized the work. Stevenson wrote and published a revised version.
- Leon Trotsky describes the loss of an unfinished play manuscript (a collaboration with Sokolovsky) in his My Life, end of chapter 6 (sometime between 1896-1898).
- The Poor Man and the Lady. Thomas Hardy's first novel (1867) was never published. After rejection by several publishers, he destroyed the manuscript.
- James Joyce's play "A Brilliant Career" (which he burned) and the first half of his novel "Stephen Hero" (which may yet turn up)
- Various parts of Daniel Paul Schreber's "Memoirs of My Nervous Illness" (original German title "Denkwürdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken") (1903) was destroyed by his wife and doctor Flesching for protecting his reputation, which was mentioned by Sigmund Freud as highly important in his essay "The Schreber Case" (1911).
- The French composer Albéric Magnard's house was set on fire by German soldiers in 1914. The fire destroyed Magnard's unpublished scores, such as the orchestral score of his early opera Yolande, the orchestral score of Guercoeur (the piano reduction had been published, and the orchestral score of the second act was extant) and a more recent song cycle.
- "Text I" of Seven Pillars of Wisdom - a 250,000 word manuscript by T. E. Lawrence lost at Reading railway station in December 1919.
- The Irish Public Records Office in Dublin - burnt by the IRA in 1922, destroying 1,000 years of state and religious archives.
- In 1922, a suitcase with almost all of Ernest Hemingway's work to date was stolen in Paris from his wife. It included a partial WWI novel.
- The novels Tobold and Theodor by Robert Walser are lost, possibly destroyed by the author, as is a third, unnamed novel. (1910 - 1921)
- Symphony No. 8 (Sibelius). Composer Jean Sibelius mysteriously destroyed his last symphony.
- The original version of Ultramarine by Malcolm Lowry was stolen from his publisher's car in 1932, and the author had to reconstruct it.
- Lost papers and a possible unfinished novel by Isaac Babel, confiscated by the NKVD, May 1939.
- Manuscript of Efebos, a novel by Karol Szymanowski, destroyed in bombing of Warsaw, 1939.
- There are reports that Bruno Schulz worked on a novel called The Messiah, but no trace of this manuscript survived his death (1942).
- Some pages of William Burroughs's original Naked Lunch were stolen.
- Three early, unpublished novels by Philip K. Dick written in the 1950s are no longer extant: A Time for George Stavros, Pilgrim on the Hill, and Nicholas and the Higs.
- The manuscript for Sylvia Plath's unfinished second novel, provisionally titled Double Exposure, or Double Take, written 1962-63, disappeared some time before 1970.
- The screenplay for the proposed Dean Stockwell-Herb Berman film After the Goldrush is reportedly lost.
- Diaries of Philip Larkin - burnt at his request after his death on 2 December 1985. Other private papers were kept, contrary to his instructions.
- Stuart Kelly - The Book of Lost Books (Viking, 2005) ISBN 0-670-91499-1
- Leo Deuel - Testaments Of Time: The Search for Lost Manuscripts and Records (New York: Knopf, 1965).
- Hermann W.G. Peter - Historicorum Romanorum Reliquiae (2 vols., B.G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1870, 2nd ed. 1914-16)
- Glen Dudbridge- Lost books of Medieval China (London: The British Library, 2000)