7 Lost Bodies of Work (That Would Have Changed Everything)
History has one hell of a chronic problem when it comes to keeping some of the greatest triumphs in human achievement safe from the triumphs of greater assholes. As a result, a whole lot of the most important stuff humans have ever created has been destroyed or lost.
Here are a few of the works of art, literature and science that would have been some of the most influential in history, had they lasted long enough.
The (Supposed) Lost Sayings of Jesus
The Q Document, if it exists, is probably the single most influential thing recorded, like, in the history of ever.
This is because the Q Document supposedly contains the lion's share of the collected teachings of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, and is the suspected source for many of his quotes in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
The Gospel according to Q.
Basically, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written apart from each other, but there are certain sections to them that are nearly identical, right down to identical phrasing. So, some scholars think that means both books were referencing the same document. A document that apparently contained Jesus' teachings. A document that has never been found.
But if it's out there, somewhere, holy crap. The parts they used from it are the really important sections: the Golden rule, the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, a bunch of parables... literally enough stuff to found an entire religion with. And that's only the parts they used.
What else was in there? We'll never know.
Red means Q wrote it.
So What Happened?
The mere existence of the document is the subject of heated discussion (as is, well, everything having to do with the subject of where the Bible came from). This has nothing to do with whether or not you believe in Christianity, by the way. The point is, the Gospels seem to be borrowing from a collection of sayings of someone who was, at the very least, one of the most influential teachers in human history. And we don't have the document they were referencing.
Keep in mind, working with what wound up in the Bible alone, we only have a few hours' worth of information on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The dude was a freaking rabbi. There had to have been more to his teachings, never mind conversations, jokes and witticisms. Think of how the evolution of Western culture would have changed if we had more specific writings from Jesus on, say, slavery, or homosexuality, or abortion, or women's rights.
Or gun control.
Scholars arguing against the existence of the Q Document rightfully point out that this would have been a hell of a thing for the early church to lose. And it would have been lost a long, long time ago. We can't even find records of people referring to the document, no matter how far back we go.
Either way, if the Q Document ever existed, it is likely gone forever; buried in the middle of the desert, or even worse... erased from memory.
The Half-Life's Work of Nikola Tesla
Tesla gets mentioned on Cracked just slightly less than Batman, but we'd probably have devoted the whole site to him if half of his life's work hadn't gotten lost in a fire.
Before he moved to Colorado Springs to help Wolverine do magic tricks in 1899, the bulk of Nikola Tesla's research could be found at 35 South Fifth Avenue, New York. Within this real life mad science lab could be found Tesla's full collection of equipment, notebooks, laboratory data and a secure perimeter of Tesla coils.
Tesla was as secretive and mysterious as he was awesome, and we can only speculate about the unholy inventions he was developing in his New York lab. One thing we know was lost was his unified field theory, something which scientists still haven't worked out to this day, but which Tesla claimed to have nailed by 1894.
Tesla showing Mark Twain his miniature Hadron Collider.
So What Happened?
It turns out that a fire of mysterious origins began in the basement of the apartment building that housed Tesla's lab, destroying absolutely everything.
Now, we're not so bold as to suggest that Thomas Edison personally snuck into Tesla's building with a tin of gasoline and a box of matches. We want to suggest that, but if anyone had the motive and the inclination to bust Tesla down a few notches, it was probably Guglielmo Marconi, another of his many, many rivals who mainly clashed with Tesla on the issue of radio innovations.
Marconi later got the Nobel prize for work that Tesla had almost certainly done in his sleep already. Not suspicious at all.
The Library of Alexandria
It was simply the biggest, most famous and easily the most sorely-missed library in history. Situated in Alexandria, Egypt, the Library of Alexandria was the de facto National Archives of Antiquity. It housed anywhere between 650,000 to one million scrolls, which was basically everything ever written up until that point.
If it was old and it was worth a damn, you'd better believe this library had a copy of it. The life's work of hundreds, maybe even thousands of years' worth of geniuses could be found in their collection, and probably a totally kick-ass DVD collection to boot.
Not to mention that these are Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans we're talking about here: Do you have any idea how much porn their greatest library must have contained?
So What Happened?
Alexandria was situated smack dab in the middle of Let's-Burn-Shit-To-The-Groundville, Ancient Egypt. It's fairly remarkable that it managed to survive for as long as it did. During the centuries of its attempted existence, the Library of Alexandria--and all we could have ever wanted to know about the Ancients--was kind of destroyed multiple times, by various people who liked to burn things.
Historians aren't exactly sure at what point the Egyptians just stopped trying to rebuild the library, but it's generally accepted that it was partially or completely burned down four times--the first three at the hands of the Roman Empire (once by Julius Caesar himself) and then finally by the Muslim conquest of 642 at which point they apparently said, "You know what, screw it."
Actually, the only thing we do have left to remember the great Library of Alexandria with are a bunch of paintings of people burning it down.
The Contents of Ernest Hemingway's Suitcase
Ernest Hemingway: Just about every word written by the man would put hair on your chest and brass on your balls. Had he not grown weary of his own badassery and taken his own life in 1961, he'd probably still be forcing the English-speaking world to sobbingly read through his books at gunpoint.
In one, now-lost suitcase, was the sum of just about everything Ernest Hemingway had written up to 1922, including his war years. Also, if we know anything about Hemingway: Some shotgun shells, a necklace of severed ears and a year's supply of black label scotch.
Trust us. There are books somewhere in there.
Why do we care about a bunch of his early stuff? Well, as one Hemingway biographer put it: "almost all writers show their chief debts in their earliest work." Imagine H. G. Wells without The Time Machine, J. D. Salinger without The Catcher in the Rye, or M. Night Shyamalan without anything prior to The Happening.
Such a world exists right now, and it is called "Ernest Hemingway without his suitcase." Your world.
So What Happened?
What else? His wife lost it.
Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, thought she was doing a good wifely deed when she gathered every scrap of her husband's writing that she could find around the house--including 18 full short stories and his first goddamn novel--and packed them all in a suitcase to take to where the future Nobel Prize laureate was staying in Switzerland "so that he could get on with his writing during the Christmas season."
The suitcase never made it to Geneva. It was most likely stolen at a train station before it even left the country. We can only assume that some crook dumped it down a storm drain upon realizing that it was full of worthless documents, tragically ignorant to the fact that he held a treasure that would've set him up for life if he'd only held onto it.
Related: Is Adam Sandler The New Ernest?
The Rest of the Canterbury Tales
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is one of--if not the--seminal work of English literature, written by an author second only to William Shakespeare in influence on the English language (particularly when it came to fart jokes). Just about everything written by the man changed the English-speaking world forever.
He basically raised the English language from its reputation as the barbarian dialect of mud-shoveling peasants to the lofty level of Latin or Italian in literature, poetry, witticism, satire and all manner of subjects concerning asses and the gasses that come from asses.
So What Happened?
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was expected to clock in at anywhere between 100 and 120 chapters. Unfortunately, the dude only managed to finish 24 tales before he suffered an insurmountable and permanent state of writer's block commonly known as death.
The author's grand vision was a massive novel documenting the adventures of a group of pilgrims on their long journey to Canterbury, who pass the time by bullshitting each other with tall stories. Basically, it would have been Aesop's Fables framed within The Lord of the Rings. What we're left with is about a quarter of the intended whole, some chapters just cobbled together from incomplete drafts and notes that Chaucer jotted onto the page. Another clue that the work was nowhere near complete: The characters don't even get to Canterbury.
Such a shame, too. We'll never know how much richer our language would be today if the man who contributed to our lexicon such phrases as arse and knobbe had survived to tell the remaining three fourths of his epic. Shakespeare could have had so much more to work with.
In Your General Direction, a new play by William Shakespeare.
A Huge Painting by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo
The Salone dei Cinquecento in Florence's city hall was commissioned to be adorned by a massive two-part artwork composed by perhaps the two greatest artists who ever walked the Earth. And the contract was signed by Machiavelli. That's like Batman fighting Superman in a cage match refereed by Iron Man.
"LEO-ANGELO: THE BRAWL IN CITY HALL."
It was the first and last non-ninja related occasion that Leonardo and Michelangelo ever worked together, and had it worked out, it would today be regarded the greatest artwork of all time, anywhere, full stop.
So What Happened?
Leonardo totally dropped the ball on this one. At some point during the painting process (for which he actually had to invent something to stand on), Leonardo's combination of shitty oils and slippery surfaces meant that the artwork started to smudge like he was scrawling it on a whiteboard. That was only the first stage of a Homer Simpson-esque string of catastrophes that led to Leo trying desperately to dry the painting with burning torches before it could drip--this melted the wax that he'd used in the undercoat, and ultimately lubed the whole thing right off the wall.
Meanwhile, Michelangelo got as far as making some preliminary sketches before the new Pope ordered him back to Rome to build a tomb for him instead (because you just never know when your time will come). Both artists eventually abandoned the project, and what little of it that did exist was destroyed by many curious hands, at a time before art curators implemented a "no touching" policy on the works of fucking Michelangelo and da Vinci.
Don't fret, however. There actually exists a real life Da Vinci Code-esque national treasure hunt in Italy to find whatever remained of Leonardo's portion. It turns out that the replacement fresco painted by Giorgio Vasari contains a hidden message: "Cerca trova" ("He who seeks, finds"), which professional Goonie Dr. Maurizio Seracini believes may somehow lead him to the lost Leonardo fresco, and/or Jesus' kids.
All Music Made Through Most of Human History
Quick, what's the best song of all time?
Don't bother answering. The odds are overwhelming that we don't have it. All records of the music that humans were making for the first several thousand years of the art form, simply doesn't exist.
Franz Liszt, the world's first rock star. Seriously.
So What Happened?
Obviously there was no way to make sound recordings until very recently. But what about sheet music? Don't we have all sorts of ancient scrolls of that laying around?
Nope. While the history of musical notation dates back to Ancient Greece, India and China, it doesn't change the fact that almost nothing has survived. And most of what we have isn't really something you can make into your ring tone.
Humans have been singing and playing music for tens of thousands of years. What did it sound like? Who were the great musical geniuses through the millennia? We have no freaking idea.
How did Homer sing the Iliad? What war songs did Genghis sing as his Mongolian horde prepared for battle? What the hell did the national anthem of the Roman Empire sound like? How many Django Reinhardts or Jimi Hendrixes went unnoticed until the advent of YouTube? How good were they? What styles existed that we've never even heard of?
No. Don't be cute: These aren't rhetorical questions, we seriously want to know. Tell us, God dammit!
Do have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Know way too much about a random topic? Create a topic page and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!
For more pieces of antiquity gone forever, check out 7 Books We Lost to History That Would Have Changed the World. Or find out about some sports that didn't make it because they were just too badass, in 6 Ancient Sports Too Awesome For the Modern World.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 05.17.2010) to see boobs so awesome, they have to be fake (they are).
Are you up to date on Jennifer Love Hewitt? You really should be.