There are so many books out there, you probably don’t stop to think much about the books we’ve lost. The fire that destroyed the Library of Alexandria alone probably took out a huge chunk, but time has pruned down what’s available, as well. Here are five books that are lost, and will likely never be found:
Homer is known for the Iliad and the Odyssey, but before that, Homer had written a comedic epic poem called the Margites. We only have a few lines describing the hero Margites, who is an incompetent person who “fails in every craft.” It was apparently very popular in the ancient world. The scattered bits we do have from the Margites come from Aristotle’s work, who was a big fan of the poem, and said it was as definitive to comedy as the Iliad and Odyssey were to tragedy.
Plato wrote two dialogues – Timaeus and Critias – that work to explain the universe. The third part, which historians assume would have been called the Hermocrates, might have described what happened to Atlantis. Since Atlantis is likely not a real place, it would all have been metaphorical, but still important to influence thought and philosophy. For those who believe Atlantis is real, the book would be a thrilling explanation of what happened to the mysterious civilization. Many historians think Plato never got around to writing the third part at all, which if true, means we’ll never know anything more about it.
Lost books of the Bible
When folks were putting together the Bible, they tossed out what they didn’t like, or what they decided didn’t fit with the overall message of the Word. Some of these books are mentioned in the canon books, like “The Book of the Battles for Yahweh.” There are about 20 books with no known text. The most controversial is probably the Gospel of Eve, which would have been from the New Testament apocrypha. Given the content of the few verses we do have from church father Epiphanius, the book was pretty racy. It advocates free love, consuming semen as a religious act, and practicing coiutus interruptus to prevent pregnancy. Due to Epiphanius’ criticisms, copies of the book were burned, and lost to history.
Historians believe this lost play was performed for King James I sometime between 1612-1613, and that it was written by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, who co-wrote Henry VIII. We know this because the title appears on a publisher’s register for play rights in 1653. Unfortunately, it appears the play was never printed. The plot likely follows a Don Quixote character named Cardenio. The book would have been very popular around the time Shakespeare wrote and staged the play. Shakespeare fans would be especially elated to find the play, because it joins the playwright with the author of the modern novel (Cervantes), and British and Spanish literary traditions.
Jane Austen’s Sanditon
Jane Austen is famous for only six books, but she was working on a seventh. Not as much “lost” as “incomplete,” this novel has 11 chapters before it abruptly ends. Jane Austen died at age 42 before she could finish. The book’s plot centers on a character named Charlotte Heywood who goes to Sanditon, a seaside town, which is being turned into a resort. Some authors have tried to finish the novel themselves, but none of them have gotten close to capturing Austen’s voice.