Cento (poetry)

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A cento is a poetical work wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors; only disposed in a new form or order.

Etymology[edit]

The term comes from the Latin cento, a cloak made of patches; and that from the Greek κέντρων (gen. κέντρωνος). The Roman soldiers used these centones, or old stuffs patched over each other, to guard themselves from the strokes of their enemies. Others say, that centos were probably used for the patches of leather, etc., with which their galleries or screens, called vineae, were covered; under which the besiegers made their approaches towards any place. Hence centonarii, the people whose business was to prepare these centos.[1]

History[edit]

The cento originated in the 3rd or 4th century. The first known cento is the Medea by Hosidius Geta, composed out of Virgilian works, according to Tertullian.[2] However, an earlier cento might be present in Irenaeus's late 2nd century work Adversus Haereses. He either cites or composes a cento as a demonstration of how heretical Christians modify canonical Gospels.[3]

Ausonius (310–395) laid down the rules to be observed in composing centos. The pieces, he says, may be taken either from the same poet, or from several. The verses may be either taken in their entirety, or divided into two; one half to be connected with another half taken elsewhere. Two verses should never be used running, nor much less than half a verse be taken. In accordance with these rules, he made a cento from Virgil, the Cento Nuptialis.[1]

Faltonia Betitia Proba wrote a Cento vergilianus de laudibus Christi, in which she details the life of Jesus and deeds of the Old and New Testaments; it was written entirely in centos taken from Virgil.[1]

In the Greek World, centos are mainly composed by verses taken from Homer.

The Politics of Justus Lipsius (Politicorum Libri Sex, 1589) consist only of centos; there being nothing of his own but conjunctions and particles. Etienne de Pleure did the same as Proba in Sacra Aeneis (1618).[4] Alexander Ross did the same thing in his Virgilii Evangelisantis Christiados (1634),[5] his most celebrated work of poetry.

Example[edit]

The following is an instance of the cento Sacra Aeneis (1618), by Etienne de Pleure, on the adoration of the Magi (asterisks separate quotations from different verses):

Adoratio Magorum, Gospel of Matthew 2.
6, &c. Aeneid. 255. Ecce autem primi sub lumina solis, et ortus,
2, Aeneid 694. Stella facem ducens multa cum luce cucurrit :
5, Aeneid 526. Signavitque Viam * coeli in regione serena. 8, Aeneid 528.
8, Aeneid 330. Tum Reges * (credo quia sit divinitus illis 1, 9, 415.
1, 91, 416. Ingenium, et rerum fato prudentia major)
7, Aeneid 98. Externi veniunt * quae cuique est copia laeti 1, 9, 57.
3, Aeneid 464. Dona dehinc auro gravia, * Regumque Parentem. 6, Aeneid 548.
1, 9, 418. Mutavere vias, * perfectis ordine votis : 10, Aeneid 548.
6, Aeneid 16. Insuetum per iter, * spatia in sua quisque recessit. 12, Aeneid 126.[1]

Modern example[edit]

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen, (John KeatsOn First Looking into Chapman’s Homer)

But still I long to learn (Alison Chisolm)

tales, marvellous tales,

Of ships and stars and isles where good men rest, (James Elroy FleckerThe Golden Road to Samarkand)

How others fought to forge my world. (Alison Chisolm)

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What wild ecstasy? (John KeatsOde on a Grecian Urn)

How far the unknown transcends the what we know. (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - Nature)

We are the music-makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, (Arthur O'ShaughnessyOde)

Step forward, (Walter Savage Landor - Interlude)

To feel the blood run through the veins and tingle

Where busy thought and blind sensation mingle. (Percy Bysshe Shelley - Fragment)

Come, my friends, ‘tis not too late, (Alfred, Lord Tennyson - Ulysses)

For we are the movers and shakers Of the world for ever, it seems; (Arthur O'ShaughnessyOde)

To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. (Alfred, Lord TennysonUlysses)

This cento was devised by the British poet Alison Chisholm for a promotional film of BBC Two, broadcast on Boxing Day 2012 and subsequent months.[6]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChambers, Ephraim, ed. (1728). "Cento". Cyclopaedia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences 1 (first ed.). James and John Knapton, et al. p. 180. 
  2. ^ Tertullian, De Prescriptione Haereticorum 39
  3. ^ AH 1.9.4: 4. Then, again, collecting a set of expressions and names scattered here and there [in Scripture], they twist them, as we have already said, from a natural to a non-natural sense. In so doing, they act like those who bring forward any kind of hypothesis they fancy, and then endeavour to support them out of the poems of Homer, so that the ignorant imagine that Homer actually composed the verses bearing upon that hypothesis, which has, in fact, been but newly constructed; and many others are led so far by the regularly formed sequence of the verses, as to doubt whether Homer may not have composed them. Of this kind is the following passage, where one, describing Hercules as having been sent by Eurystheus to the dog in the infernal regions, does so by means of these Homeric verses—for there can be no objection to our citing these by way of illustration, since the same sort of attempt appears in both:— "Thus saying, there sent forth from his house deeply groaning."— Od., x. 76. "The hero Hercules conversant with mighty deeds."— Od., xxi. 26. "Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelus, descended from Perseus."— Il., xix. 123. "That he might bring from Erebus the dog of gloomy Pluto."— Il., viii. 368. "And he advanced like a mountain-bred lion confident of strength."— Od., vi. 130. "Rapidly through the city, while all his friends followed." — Il., xxiv. 327. "Both maidens, and youths, and much-enduring old men."— Od., xi. 38. "Mourning for him bitterly as one going forward to death." — Il., xxiv. 328. "But Mercury and the blue-eyed Minerva conducted him."— Od., xi. 626. "For she knew the mind of her brother, how it laboured with grief."— Il., ii. 409. Now, what simple-minded man, I ask, would not be led away by such verses as these to think that Homer actually framed them so with reference to the subject indicated? But he who is acquainted with the Homeric writings will recognise the verses indeed, but not the subject to which they are applied http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103109.htm
  4. ^ Gero von Wilpert. Sachwörterbuch der Literatur. A. Kröner. 1959. p 81.
  5. ^ J Christopher Warner. The Augustinian Epic, Petrarch To Milton. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-11518-9. 2005. P 136.
  6. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/aboutthebbc/posts/Celebrating-BBC-Two, BBC, Retrieved 29 July 2013

Sources[edit]

  • James P. Holoka, review of Homeric Stitchings: The Homeric Centos of the Empress Eudocia, in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.09.08.
  • Oscar Prieto Domínguez, De Alieno Nostrum: el Centón profano en el mundo griego. Estudios filológicos, 328. Salamanca: 2011. ISBN 9788478002085.

External links[edit]