Cento (poetry)

Cento (poetry)

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

The term comes from the Latin "cento", a cloak made of patches; and that from the Greek "κεντονιον". The Roman soldiers used these "centos", 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".

Ausonius 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 "Politics" of Lipsius ("Politicorum Libri Sex", 1589) consist only of centos; there being nothing of his own but conjunctions and particles. Proba Falconia wrote "Centones Virgiliani", 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.1728 [http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/HistSciTech/HistSciTech-idx?type=turn&entity=HistSciTech000900240334&isize=L] ] Alexander Ross did the same thing in his "Virgilii Evangelisantis Christiados" (1634) [J Christopher Warner. "The Augustinian Epic, Petrarch To Milton". University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-11518-9. 2005. P 136.] , his most celebrated work of poetry. Etienne de Pleure did the same in "Sacra Aeneis" (1618) [Gero von Wilpert. "Sachwörterbuch der Literatur". A. Kröner. 1959. p 81.] : an instance of whose centos on the adoration of the Magi, is as follows (asterisks separate quotations from different verses):



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