University of Cambridge > > Cambridge Classical Reception Seminar Series  > Creative Copies: Eudocia's 'Homerocentones' and the Scribe as Author in Christian Late Antiquity

Creative Copies: Eudocia's 'Homerocentones' and the Scribe as Author in Christian Late Antiquity

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As a technique which allows poetic composition through the patchwork of lines and half-lines taken from someone else’s poetry (typically Homer in Greek and Virgil in Latin), cento has traditionally been derided as a derivative and uncreative practice, emblematic of literary decline in Late Antiquity. Naturally, however, this position has been challenged in recent years and critical movements based in reception and reader-response have lent the form more sympathetic analysis. Cento’s process of verse selection and juxtaposition is now commonly recognised as one which, as it produces a different (if generally familiar) narrative, also twists the original sense of those verses into an ironic subtext. Indeed, it is seen to give something to its words as much as it depends upon earlier poetic practice.

But what does it mean to call this practice creative? What makes this creativity possible? In this paper I look at one specific cento against the background of early Christianity and consider the social position of both mediatory and originary forms of writing. I will argue not only that the figure of the scribe (and therefore the figure of the centonist) became an important creative agent during this period, but also that intermediary forms of literature such as cento provided more scope for literary creativity than those wherein an author was seen to produce work from scratch.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Classical Reception Seminar Series series.

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