[ilds] Palimpsest versus Cento

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Tue Jun 12 14:42:55 PDT 2007

On 6/12/2007 5:01 PM, James Gifford wrote:

>I like this topic of palimpsest vs. pastiche vs. cento.  Bill, I think
>you're on to something with that third one...
>         CENTO
>         from The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.
>         Preminger, Alex; Brogan, T. V. F. (co-eds); Warnke, Frank J.;
>         Hardison Jr, O. B.; Miner, Earl (assoc. eds).
>         Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993. xlvi,
>         1383 p.
>         Copyright © 1993 by Princeton University Press.
>         (Lat. "patchwork"). A verse composition made up of lines
>         selected from the work or works of some great poet(s) of the
>         past. Homer largely served this purpose in Gr. lit., ranging
>         from the adaptations by Trygaeus of various lines in the Iliad
>         and Odyssey reported by Aristophanes (Peace 1090-94) to the
>         Homerokentrones of the Byzantine period. Similarly, Virgil was
>         the most popular source for centos in later Roman times. The
>         oldest of those extant is the tragedy Medea by Hosidius Geta
>         (2d c. A.D.), while the C. nuptialis of Ausonius and the C.
>         Vergilianus of Proba (4th c. A.D.) are among others drawn from
>         his work. Ren. and later works of this kind included the It.
>         Petrarca spirituale (1536) and the Eng. Cicero princeps
>         (1608), which was a treatise on government compiled from
>         Cicero. Centos are still occasionally published, e.g. in the
>         first issue of The Formalist (1990), and are now almost
>         invariably humorous, the humor arising from both the clever
>         juxtaposition of famous lines into a new semantic matrix and
>         also recognition of the diversity of their sources.
>         J. O. Delepierre, Tableau de la litt. du centon chez les
>         anciens et chez les modernes, 2 v. (1874-75)
>         R. Lamacchia, "Dall'arte allusiva al centone," Atene e Roma
>         n.s. 3 (1958)
>         "C.," Oxford Cl. Dict., 2d ed. (1972)
>         T. Augarde, Oxford Guide to Word Games (1984).
>         Robert J. Getty
>         T. V. F. Brogan 

Forgive the repetition if Bill has already posted the Princeton 
definition.  The /cento /is obviously not a new-coinage.  Aside from the 
classical and renaissance practice, the cento had a late eighteenth and 
nineteenth century boom--Chatterton, Browning, Pater, and Wilde 
variously claimed or have been cited as using the technique.  Just look 
into Wilde's "Pen, Pencil, & Poison," where most of Wilde's elaboration 
on the great forger is in itself "plagiarized."  Indeed, the stitching 
together of extant texts is one of the harbingers of 
"modernity"--wherever one hunts for the appearance of that snark.


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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