The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Proba's cento: its date, purpose, and reception

R. P. H. Greena1

a1 University of St Andrews

It may seem faintly absurd to claim or imply that a Vergilian cento has suffered unjustified neglect from scholars. These works—of which there are sixteen, covering a period of over three centuries within Late Antiquity—are usually treated at best with amused tolerance, and at worst (as in the new Anthologia Latino) with angry disdain. Though always ingenious, sometimes funny, and occasionally informative about the reception of Vergil, they are seldom admired. Even among Italian scholars, some of whom have paid much attention to centos, a recession has set in since the annus mirabilis of 1981, which saw two editions of the Medea of Hosidius Geta. Proba has, deservedly, attracted more attention than most; her aims and methods as a Christian poetess were carefully and illuminatingly studied twenty years ago by Reinhard Herzog, and her interest as a female Roman aristocrat has brought her further attention, especially in recent years. The main aim of the present article is to suggest a particular context and a serious purpose for her cento. A postscript will show that it went on to enjoy considerable popularity until the end of the century, and an introductory section will discuss its date, but very briefly, since Matthews has convincingly said most of what needs to be said about a recent attempt to redate it. Proba's preface, much of it not in cento form, calls for detailed treatment from various angles—textual, literary, historical—and will be explored in a separate article.