Some of the greatest writers in history have had works lost over time.
There are some great written works from authors such as Shakespeare and Jane Austen that you’ll never have a chance to read. Here are the top 10:
1. Homer’s Margites
Before the Iliad and the Odyssey, there was the Margites. Little is known about the plot of the comedic epic poem—Homer’s first work—written around 700 B.C. But a few surviving lines, woven into other works, describe the poem’s foolish hero, Margites.
“He knew many things, but all badly” (from Plato’s Alcibiades). “The gods taught him neither to dig nor to plough, nor any other skill; he failed in every craft” (from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics).
It is unfortunate that no copy of Margites exists because Aristotle held it in high acclaim. In his On the Art of Poetry, he wrote, “[Homer] was the first to indicate the forms that comedy was to assume, for his Margites bears the same relationship to comedies as his Iliad and Odyssey bear to our tragedies.”
2. Lost Books of the Bible
There are 24 books in the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh—and depending upon the denomination, between 66 and 84 more books in Christian Bibles, divided between the Old and New Testaments.
Missing from these pages of scripture are what have become known as the “lost books” of the Bible. Sometimes the term is used to describe ancient Jewish and Christian writings that were tossed out of the biblical canon. But other books are lost in the true sense of the word. We only know that they existed because they are referenced by name in other books of the Bible.
The Book of Numbers, for instance, mentions the “Book of the Battles of Yahweh,” for which no copy survives. Similarly, the First and Second Book of Kings and the First and Second Book of Chronicles names a “Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” and a “Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah.” There are over 20 titles for which the text is missing.
Some of the quotations mentioning the lost books provide clues to their content. The “Book in Seven Parts,” for example, likely told readers about the cities that would be divided among the Israelites.
3. William Shakespeare’s Cardenio
Cardenio has been called the Holy Grail of Shakespeare enthusiasts. There is evidence that Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, performed the play for King James I in May 1613—and that Shakespeare and John Fletcher, his collaborator for Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen, wrote it. But the play itself is nowhere to be found.
And what a shame! From the title, scholars infer that the plot had something to do with a scene in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote involving a character named Cardenio. (A translation of Don Quixote was published in 1612 and would have been available to Shakespeare.)
“Never mind that we would have an entirely new play by Shakespeare to watch, the work would be a direct link between the founder of the modern novel and the greatest playwright of all time, a connection between the Spanish and British literary traditions at their sources, and a meeting of the grandest expressions of competing colonial powers,” mused novelist Stephen Marche in the Wall Street Journal in 2009. “If ‘Cardenio’ existed, it would redefine the concept of comparative literature.”