How ancient writers lost their books? A modern parallel!

Ancient writers often composed their works in many books.  Often, we find that not all of these books have reached us.  Some have; some have not.

This evening I had an illuminating experience.

Like many people, I have a directory on my hard disk, full of PDF’s of old Loeb editions.  Among these are nine volumes of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, obtained from long ago and seldom looked at.

This evening I wanted to consult a passage, referenced as being in book 36.  I looked for my Loeb PDF’s, and was troubled to discover that volume 9, in PDF, apparently ended with book 35.  Was it possible…?

Indeed it was.  It turned out that the Loeb edition was in TEN volumes; and the tenth volume is not to be met with online.

I had never noticed.  As far as I knew – until the pinch came – I had all of Pliny the Elder.

Why this should be is hard to say.  Possibly copyright, that bugbear of scholarship, is to blame.  But it doesn’t matter, for our purposes, just why the volume is absent.

The point is that Pliny is now circulating, and circulating very widely, in a mutilated form.  If some disaster intervened, and my hard disk was the sole transmitter of his work, those last book(s) would be gone for good.

It’s very like the situation that must have happened many times in antiquity.  A busy owner, a mass of books, seldom consulted, and one or more volumes quietly absent and unnoticed.

It is no surprise that we have missing volumes of ancient multi-volume works.  The marvel is that so much has survived!

In the mean time … does by chance anyone have a PDF of the 10th volume of the Loeb edition?


7 thoughts on “How ancient writers lost their books? A modern parallel!

  1. I am one of those “like many people” with a folder full of old Loebs obtained from and the likes. But neither I have it. One problem (if we can call it that way) with several multi-volume Loeb sets, is that not all volumes are available while multiple copies from other volumes have been archived. I’ve seen it with Plato, Strabo, Philo.

    Perhaps this might interest you for the not-too-distant-future:

  2. Lacus Curtius has good pointers. Perseus has bks. 36 and 37 in English in an 1855 translation.

  3. Thank you for the kind thought: it’s actually volume X that’s in question, tho. I have a copy of the Downloebables site locally. Fortunately a kind gentleman has pointed me to a copy. 🙂 If it is PD, then I’ll upload that to myself.

  4. Oh, I get it. In the 1965 edition, Volume VII is the volume with Book 36 in it. I think you’re looking at the older Loeb translation that was divvied up differently.

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