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What Is A Cento?

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Chapter Summary

Centos are poems made up entirely of verses lifted, verbatim or with only slight modification, from Virgil, if they are Virgilian centos, or from the Iliad and Odyssey, if Homeric centos. Centonists piece together verses to form a new, altered but still coherent text. The outcome is that the hypotext is being recast. Centos are therefore by their nature parasitic. The practice of composing centos is attested among Christians in the 2nd century C.E., but the appearance is certainly not a Christian invention, and was in use much earlier. This chapter shows how centos stitch together scraps from classical texts to create new texts. Centonists took advantage of Homer and Virgil as texts open to yield fresh texts and recast classical literature in a playful way. They represent a total or extreme kind of intertextuality restraining the literary activity of the centonists.

Keywords: Centonists; Centos; Christians; classical literature; classical texts; Homer; Virgil

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