Article

cento, Latin

Stephen Harrison

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics


Published online March 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780199381135 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.7177

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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’.

Keywords: Latin; cento; poetry; hexameter; compilation

Article.  681 words. 

Subjects: Early Christianity ; Classical Literature ; Classical Reception

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