The extant Latin tradition of cento (the replication and combination of verse lines from a previous text to make a new work) largely uses the hexameter poems of Virgil, familiar to all educated Romans. The earliest extant cento proper is the 461-line tragedy Medea, usually ascribed to Hosidius Geta (200 ce), in which all the characters speak in Virgilian hexameters, and the choral lyrics consist entirely of final half-hexameters. There are eleven other pagan Virgilian centos from late antiquity, none longer than 200 lines; many are short epic narratives on mythological subjects (e.g., Mavortius’ Judgement of Paris [Iudicium Paridis]), but some are amusing parodies on trivial topics (e.g., the anonymous De alea and De panificio on dice playing and baking). The best known are the two epithalamian examples, the wittily obscene Nuptial cento (Cento nuptialis) of Ausonius, written c. 374, and the slightly less risqué Marriage-song of Fridus (Epithalamium Fridi) of Luxorius (early 6th century); Ausonius describes his technique in an important prefatory letter, classifying his cento as frivolum et nullius pretii opusculum—‘a slight work, frivolous and worthless’.
Originally named Athenais, Eudocia was the daughter of Leontius, a teacher of rhetoric. She was born in Athens (Evagrius Scholasticus Historia ecclesiastica 1.20) and probably followed her father in his career move to Alexandria, before returning to Athens, where Leontius was elected to the chair of rhetoric in 415ce with the help and intervention of Olympiodorus of Thebes (Olympiodorus fr. 28 FHG). Details of Eudocia’s life are complicated by the novelistic embellishments of the chroniclers (exemplified in Joannes Malalas 272-8 Thurn) and contemporary polemics persisting in later sources,1 but a basic narrative seems secure. Eudocia’s classical education (reported by Malalas 273 Thurn; Phot. Bibl. 183; Tzetz. Chil. 10.48–54) is evident in the nature of her literary output, her use of traditional poetic language, and her classical versification, which reveal formal training despite occasional inconsistencies and non-classical usages. Athenais converted to Christianity and changed her name to Eudocia before her marriage to Theodosius II on 7 June 421.
Faltonia Betitia Proba (fl. late 4th century) was a Roman poet, writer of a Christian cento (Lat. for patchwork), which circulated in the Eastern and Western Empire toward the end of the 4th century. The work consists of 694 verses culled from Virgil’s Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid, narrating episodes from Genesis, Exodus, and the four Gospels. The narrative sections are interspersed with proems, interludes, and epilogues pervaded by a confessional and devotional theme. The declared intention of the poet is to relate the “mysteries of Virgil” (arcana . . . vatis, v.12) and to show that Virgil “sang about the pious feats of Christ” (Vergilium cecinisse . . . pia munera Christi v. 23). This makes Proba one of the first Roman poets to have actively appropriated Virgil as a Christian prophet.There are over a hundred manuscripts containing Proba’s cento, the oldest of which date back to the 8th century, and a large number of early modern editions. Thanks to Giovanni Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claris (1374), Proba became important in the querelle des femmes as an example of an educated woman.