Ausonius’ cento nuptialis as an example of the ancient Latin cento


Abstract

The term „cento” comes from the Latin cento, which means „a cloak made of patches,” „patchwork,” as the Greek does. Poems of Homer and Vergil were favorite sources for the ancient cento poets, who rearranged their frag­ments into totally different stories. The oldest preserved Latin cento is the tragedy „Medea” composed by Hosidius Geta from the fragments of Vergilian poetry circa 200 AD. We know, however, about other centos having been written before that date. Altogether, sixteen Virgilian and one Ovidian cento have been preserved. Thirteen of them, including the earliest and the latest of all extant Latin centos, are contained in the Codex called Salmasianus. Since the terminus ante quem for this manuscript is 534 AD, we assume that all preserved centos have been written between 200 AD, the broadly acknowledge date for Medea, and 534 AD. Ancient Virgilian centos mainly deal with well-known classical myths (8 of 13). Four of them have Christian themes, two treat trivial matters of everyday life, two are wedding-poems. The involvement of Decimus Ausonius Magnus (ca 310-394), a renowned teacher, rhetorician and poet, with the cento is not limited to being the author of a Virgilian cento, which he composed as a response to a similar poem by the Emperor Valentinian I (321-375). Ausonius is the only ancient author we know to have described cento in more detail and to have laid down the rules of the genre. In the introductory letter to the Cento nuptialis, addressed to his friend Axius Paulus, Ausonius maintains that verses of an original text, taken over to the cento, may be divided at any of the caesurae which occur in hexameter. No section longer than one line and a half should be taken over. The quotation may not be changed, although its meaning may change according to the new context. Ausonius compares activity of the cento poets to playing the game of stomachion. Doing so he emphasizes unity within cento and its playfulness as the particularly important traits of the genre. Ancient authors usually followed the technical rules put forth by Ausonius, although not all of them would have agreed with him about the similarity between writing a cento and playing a game. While some twentieth century scholars had treated cento with undeserved contempt, the research of the last decades has given it its honour back. Centos still require our attention, especially that, through their analysis, we may try to obtain a more faithful portrait of the well educated ancient reader. This reader knew his Virgil by heart, worshipped Virgil as the divinely inspired prince of Latin poetry, and preferred Virgil’s words to his own when he ventured to describe his world.


Keywords

Ausonius; cento

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Published : 2012-06-15


Krynicka, T. (2012). Ausonius’ cento nuptialis as an example of the ancient Latin cento. Vox Patrum, 57, 359-378. https://doi.org/10.31743/vp.4137

Tatiana Krynicka 
Uniwersytet Gdański  Poland




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