What about the comedy section of Aristotle's Poetics?
Actually finding a lost book, however, can be a mixed experience. In 2004, researchers unearthed Truman Capote's first attempt at a novel, which he himself decided was unfit for publication. Since its release in 2005, "Summer Crossing" hasn't replaced "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Neither has "Maurice, or the Fisher's Cot," a long-lost children's short story by Mary Shelley, caused a massive reevaluation of her career. No one in the future is going to be saying, "You may not know this, but Mary Shelley, the author of 'Maurice,' also wrote a horror novel called 'Frankenstein.' "
Maybe the most disappointing literary rediscovery, although no one will admit it, has been the Dead Sea Scrolls. As archaeology, they are the most incredible find, genuine early texts found in caves on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea buried for two millennia. Ever try reading them? They're like the boring bits from "Moby-Dick," only somehow more boring.
Not that these little disillusionments should take away from the value of missing books and the importance of their rediscovery. Modernity was born out of the Renaissance, which is the greatest rediscovery of missing books in history. When the Greek scholar Chrysoloras arrived in Florence in 1397, no one had been able to read Greek in Italy for seven centuries. Imagine the arrival of Homer and Plato and Aristotle in the original. And the consequences couldn't have been more staggering. To this day we are the inheritors of the nostalgia that haunts us, and the restless hunger for more knowledge that drives us.
We live in a world of too many books. There's not enough time to read the books we have to read, never mind the books we should read or the books we want to read. Every library, even a local public library, is an overwhelming experience. The books that don't exist are in some ways more important than the ones that do. From the First Emperor of China who buried the scholars alive in 213 B.C. to the torchers of Harry Potter books in 21st-century America, people who destroy books show the deep and abiding power of literature more than any promoter. It's the infinite possibility of missing volumes that makes them so desirable. They become, in their absence, books shivering with all that books can be.
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