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A cento is a poetical work wholly composed of verses (lines) or passages (parts of lines) taken from other authors (usually poets), only disposed in a new form or order. Centos have been composed out of works by Homer, "Euripides, Virgil, Ovid, Cicero, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Emily Dickinson".[1]

Classical centosEdit

The term comes from the Latin cento, a cloak made of patches; and that from the Greek κεντονιον. 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.[2]

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.[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.[2]

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.[2]

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.[2]

Modern centosEdit

"Modern centos are often witty, creating irony or humor from the juxtaposition of images and ideas. Examples of contemporary centos include “The Dong with the Luminous Nose," by John Ashbery, and Peter Gizzi’s “Ode: Salute to the New York School.” Ashbery’s cento takes its title from the poem of the same name by Edward Lear and weaves together an unlikely array of voices, including Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, and Lord Byron. Gizzi employed the form to create a collage of voices, as well as a bibliography, from the New York School poets."[6]

See also Edit

References Edit

  • James P. Holoka, review of Homeric Stitchings: The Homeric Centos of the Empress Eudocia, in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.09.08.


  1. M.D. Usher, Homeric Stitchings: The Homeric centos of the Empress Eudocia. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998. Pp. xiv, 175. ISBN 0-8476-8999-9. Cited in Holoka.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Template:1728 [1]
  3. Tertullian, De Prescriptione Haereticorum 39
  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. Cento: Poetic Form,, Academy of American Poets. Web, Jan.3, 2018.

External linksEdit


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