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The tragedy of the lost Classics—mourning the Greek and Roman works of literature we’ll never get to read

So much was lost, we don't even know what we're missing

Illustration: Kate Hazell

To be any kind of student of the classical world requires an acceptance of loss. The “classical world” that we construct is made from mere glimpses and shattered fragments. This is true of material culture, and also of literature. What survives and what does not can often seem totally arbitrary; plenty of famous works rely on the existence of a single medieval manuscript preserved in a single monastery. Our version of Euripides’s play The Bacchae has 50 crucial lines missing because a page in an…

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