We all know about the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria … the vast storehouse of knowledge that became the wonder of the ancient world. We also know just how tragically it all ended, though it wasn’t so much a terrible single event as a series of them. And most of what was contained in that ancient collection is lost forever. Part of our fascination with the Great Library is wondering what we might know now, or might have discovered, had we not lost all of those early books.
Turns out that ancient civilizations had plenty of technology we’ve since forgotten. So here are a few lost volumes that might have shed some light on all that came before us … and who knows, might have boosted us into a very different current reality.
On Sphere Making (Archimedes)
The last recorded thing that the brilliant scientist Archimedes said was don’t disturb my circles … which so annoyed the Roman soldier who captured him (and had orders to keep him alive at all cots) that he just straight up killed the world’s most eminent inventor without asking who he was. To the soldier, Archimedes was just some fool drawing in the dirt.
A fool who was the Da Vinci of his time, of course.
Some of Archimedes’ work survives–a testament to how incredibly valuable it was seen to be–but only a fraction. The most sought-after book that did not survive was On Sphere Making, which reportedly contains information about state-of-the-ancient-art technology. And these weren’t toys he was describing. Steam-powered machines were already in use, if not yet common.
Ancient Greece had inventions as sophisticated as an artificial, self-propelled, steam-powered bird in 370 B.C., compressed air cannons, alarm clocks, and repeating crossbows. Imagine what Archimedes’ inventions might have been!
But we’ll never know. Sadly.
This one’s a great choice for both science geeks and cryptohistorians. First, Plato’s first two volumes were brilliant explorations of scientific principles, and it’s likely the third would have delved into highly advanced concepts that might have changed the development of scientific theory as we know it, maybe even jump-starting us into a much earlier Age of Reason.
The second reason is purely selfish for me. After all, Plato brings up teases about the mythical land of Atlantis in the first two volumes (the ones that survive). Maybe in Book Three he’d have given us real leads on where and how to find it. Who could resist that?
The first draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson)
This is more because I have a burning curiosity about the process of other writers. Reportedly, Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife gave him some (possibly constructive?) feedback on the first draft of his landmark novel. He either burned it, or put it away, but if he did, his wife later disposed of it. Either way, it would be an amazing find if it still existed. Everybody, check your attics!
The Book of Bái Zé (Bái Zé Tú)
Surely something that would be of interest to folklorists (and fantasy writers): a massive compendium of the habits and natures of all 11, 520 types of supernatural creatures in Chinese legend, and how to overcome them. Every demon-hunter out there needs a copy of this in their backpack … but, unfortunately, it’s vanished without a trace. I blame vampires.
Interested in exploring the world of lost libraries? Wikipedia has a great list to start … and it will fascinate and horrify you to realize how much knowledge humanity has gained, and then lost, through the ages.
If you enjoy delving into how the world could be different if the Great Library survived, check out the Great Library series starting with Ink and Bone. The most recent release, Ash and Quill, is out July 11.
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