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date: 27 November 2022

cento, Latinfree

cento, Latinfree

  • Stephen Harrison


  • Christianity
  • Latin Literature
  • Reception

Updated in this version

Text and bibliography updated to reflect current scholarship. Keywords added.

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’.

Christian cento writers had a more serious evangelistic purpose in blending pagan learning and poetic prestige with Christian doctrine. The influential poet Proba used 694 Virgilian verses to paraphrase parts of the Old and New Testament about 360 ce. Three other shorter Christian centos are extant, mostly owing something to her, and these are to be dated between the third and sixth centuries ce: the anonymous On the incarnation of the Word (De verbi incarnatione) and On the church (De ecclesia: the poet is hailed at the end as Maro iunior, ‘younger Virgil’), and the Verses in honour of the Lord (Versus ad gratiam Domini) of Pomponius, a Virgilian “Eclogue” in which “Meliboeus” is instructed in Christian doctrine. Pope Gelasius is said to have declared a “metrical cento on the subject of Christ compiled from Virgilian verses” an apocryphal text in 494 ce (Migne, PL 59. 162); Isidore claims this was Proba's cento (De vir. ill. 22), but both this and the authenticity of Gelasius’ decree are disputed. Later Latin poetical texts up to the Renaissance include passages of cento from Horace, Ovid, and Christian poets as well as Virgil, but the literary form of full cento ceases in late antiquity.


Texts and Commentaries
  • Clark, Elizabeth A., and Diane F. Hatch. Massey The Golden Bough, the Oaken Cross: The Virgilian Cento of Faltonia Betitia Proba. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981.
  • Galli, Maria Teresa, and Hosidius Geta. Hosidius Geta Medea, Text, Translation and Commentary. Göttingen, Germany: Edition Ruprecht, 2017.
  • Green, Roger P. H., and Decimus Magnus Ausonius. The works of Ausonius. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Happ, Heinz. Luxurius: Text, Untersuchung, Kommentar. Stuttgart, Germany: Teubner, 1986.
  • Lamacchia, Rosa, and Hosidii Getae. Hosidius Geta Medea: Cento Vergilianus. Leipzig: Teubner, 1981.
  • Rosenblum, Morris. Luxorius: A Latin Poet among the Vandals. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961.
  • Salanitro, Giovani, and Hosidius Geta. Medea. Rome: Edizioni dell'Ateneo, 1981.
Minor centos
  • Baehrens, Emil. Poetae Latini Minores IV. Leipzig, Teubner, 1882.
  • Carmignani, Marcos, and Sergio Audanov, eds. Vergiliocentones. Critical Studies: Los Centones Virgilianos: Estudios críticos, Córdoba, Spain: Editorial Brujas, 2017.
  • Cullhed, Sigrid Schottenius. Proba the Prophet: The Christian Virgilian Cento of Faltonia Betitia Proba. Boston: Brill, 2015.
  • Garambois-Vasquez, Florence, and Daniel Vallat. eds. Varium et mutabile:Mémoires et métamorphoses du centon dans l’Antiquité. Saint-Étienne, France: Publications de l’Université de Saint-Étienne, 2017.
  • Hinds, S. “The self-conscious cento.” In Décadence: “Decline and Fall” or “Other Antiquity”? eds. Marco Formisano and Therese Fuhrer, 171–197. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2014.
  • Lamacchia, R. “Centoni (centones).” Enciclopedia virgiliana 1 (1984): 733–737.
  • McGill, Scott. Virgil Recomposed. The Mythological and Secular Centos in Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Pollmann, Karla. “Sex and Salvation in the Vergilian Cento of the Fourth Century,” in Romane Memento: Vergil in the Fourth Century, ed. Roger Rees, 79–96. London: Duckworth, 2004.
  • Rondholz, Anke. The Versatile Needle. Hosidius Geta's Cento “Medea” and Its Tradition. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012.