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CENTO

Latin term indicating a cloth sewn with pieces of fabric of different colors; as a literary genre, it meant a poetic composition made up of words, hemistichs and verses of another poet, reordered to express something different from the original. They were composed esp. with the works of Homer Homerocentones and Virgil Virgiliocentones. Tertullian writes: “Today we see a totally different tale issue from Virgil, in which the material is adapted to the verse and the verse to the material. Thus Osidius Geta has completely puffed up Virgil’s tragedy Medea. And a relative of mine has, among other literary pastimes, expounded Cebe’s Table in the words of the same poet. Those who, following centonical usage, unite in a single work many pieces taken here and there from Homer’s poems are called Homerocentos” De praesc. haer. 39,3-5. Centos were not so much works of art as works of technique and memory; the author’s ability was shown by his restraint in interposing his own thoughts. Learning by memory had great importance in ancient education, and the centonists knew their models well. Other Christian centos are known besides that of Proba. According to Isidore of Seville Etymol. 1,39,26: PL 82, 121, a certain Pomponius composed a short poem titled Tityrus in honor of Christ; in fact we possess a dialogue between the Christian Tityrus and the pagan Meliboeus Versus ad gratiam Domini: CPL 1481. Then there is the incomplete De verbi incarnatione CPL 1482 by a 5th-c. imitator of Proba. The 116-verse De ecclesia CPL 1483 is a short address to the faithful in church, perhaps by a certain Mavortius. There are Greek Homerocentos attributed to the empress Eudoxia d. 460 see CPG 6025 with bibl., and many short centos. The most famous is Byzantine: the Christus patiens, of 2640 iambic trimeters PG 38, 131-338, attributed to Gregory of Nazianzus, a tragedy on Christ’s passion in the style of Euripides, as the author writes in the prologue.

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