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

  • R. P. H. Green (a1)


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.



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1 See Ermini, F., II centone di Proba e la poesia centonaria Latina (Rome, 1909), pp. 4255.

2 Anthologia Latina I. I: Bailey, D. R. Shackleton (ed.), (Stuttgart, 1982), Praefatio p. III.

3 For the bibliography relevant to both Geta and Proba, see the article on Proba by Herzog, R. in Herzog, R. (ed.), Restauration und Erneuerung: Die lateinische Literatur von 284 bis 374 n. Chr. (Munich, 1989), pp. 337–40, and Consolino, F. E., ‘Da Osidio Geta ad Ausonio e Proba: le molte possibility del centone’, Atene e Roma ns 28 (1983), pp. 133–51.

4 Herzog, R., Die Bibelepik der Lateinischen Spätantike 1 (Munich, 1975), pp. xlix–li and 351.

5 Salzmann, M. R., Helios 16 (1989), 207–20, and Sivan, H., Vigiliae Christianae 47 (1993), 140–57.

6 Matthews, J. F., ‘The Poetess Proba and Fourth Century Rome: questions of interpretation’ in Christol, M., Demougin, S.Y., DuvalC., LepelleyL., Pietri, (edd.), Institutions, Sociétét, et Vie politique dans l'Empire Romain au ive siecle ap. J.-C, pp. 277304 (Rome, 1992) (this appeared when an earlier version of this paper had been completed), taking issue with Shanzer, D., ‘The anonymous carmen contra paganos and the Date and Identity of the centonist Proba’, Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes 32 (1986), pp. 232–48.

7 Shanzer, pp. 237–44. For the CCP, see Anthologia Latina 4 Riese, 3 Shackleton Bailey.

8 De viris illustribus 18; Etymologiae 1. 39. 26.

9 incipiunt indicula centonis probae inlustris romanae aniciorum mater De Maronis qui et virgilii mantuani vatis libris praedicta proba, uxor adelphy expraefecto urbis hunc centon religiosa mente amore Christi spiritu ferventi prudenter enucliate defloravit, as recorded by Reifferscheid, A. in Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Wieri) phil.-hist. Classe, LVI (1867), p. 552.

10 Proba uxor Adelphi mater Olibrii et Aliepii, cum Constantini bellum adversus Magnentium conscripsisset, conscripsit et hunc librum, recorded by Montfaucon, B. de, Diarium Italicum (Paris, 1702), p. 36. This and other manuscript texts are quoted from Schenkl's, K. edition (Poetae Christiani Minores, CSEL 16, (Prague, Vienna, Leipzig, 1888), pp. 511–609. As Matthews shows (279), Montfaucon found it at the abbey of S. Benedictus Padolirensis, now San Benedetto Po.

11 Pp. 285–8.

12 Seeck, O., Q. Aurelii Symmachi Quae Supersunt, (MGH AA VI I), p. xcv; the names are also confused in manuscripts of Ausonius, Grat. Act. 53–4, and elsewhere.

13 Shanzer, p. 233 n. 4.

14 inlustris may also be a gloss, not of course on grammatical grounds, but because it is more appropriate to the later fourth century (Matthews, p. 290 n. 24) than the middle. This is no problem, since even if the words Aniciorum mater were written in the lifetime of Proba 3 the interval before the addition of the gloss need not be a long one.

15 ut colant (Christum) omnes, ut adorent, hortatur (Proba), imo etiam et Alipyum virum suum idfacere monet.

16 Probae Alipii uxoris cento. The manuscript was briefly reported by Schenkl, who had received various information about it from his friend J. Müller but uses it nowhere else; see also Cipolla, C., Sanctis, G. de and in, C. FratiRFIC 32 (1904), p. 568.

17 Dolbeau, F., ‘Un nouveau catalogue des manuscrits de Lobbes aux xie et xiie siècles’, Recherches Augustiniennes 14 (1979), p. 219 (no. 238).

18 Shanzer, p. 235, n. 22.

19 Ep. 53.7. On the date and circumstances, see Nautin, P., Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes 19 (1973), pp. 213–30.

20 See Courcelle, P., ‘Les Exégèeses Chretiénnes de la Quatrième Eglogue’, Revue des Etudes Anciennes, 59 (1957), pp. 309–10.

21 It is not known when Proba 2 died; Proba 3 was alive in 410.

22 Ammianus 16. 6. 2.

23 Matthews, pp. 291–9, against Shanzer, p. 235, n. 22 (end).

24 For dira cupido cf. Verg. G. 1.37 (preceded by regnandi), and A. 6.373 and 721, 9.185.

25 As noted by Opelt, I. in her useful article ‘Der zürnende Christus im Cento der Proba’, Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 7 (1964), pp. 106116, at p. 114, Proba adds to the Sermon on the Mount a denunciation of idolatry.

26 Her discrimination may be seen in her use of the Fourth Eclogue (cf. P. Courcelle, op. cit., pp. 294–319; Opelt, op. cit., p. 109); and her readiness to correct Vergil in line 25 of the Preface.

27 Wiesen, D. S., Hermes 99 (1971), p. 72.

28 Wiesen, agreeing with Courcelle, P., Archives d'Histoire Doctrinale et Littéraire du Moyen Age 22 (1955), p. 39, maintains that this is deliberate (pp. 86–7).

29 Wiesen, p. 72.

30 Wiesen, p. 84.

31 Consolino, F. E., op. cit. (n. 3), p. 148.

32 As by Herzog, (op. cit. n. 3), p. 339.

33 As by Fontaine, J., Naissance de la poeésie dans Voccident Chretien (Paris, 1981), p. 105.

34 Markus, R. A., ‘Paganism, Christianity and the Latin Classics in the Fourth Century’, in Binns, J. W. (ed.), Latin Literature of the Fourth Century (London, 1974), p. 3.

35 Amatucci, A. G., Storia delta Letteratura Latina Cristiana (Turin, 1955), p. 131.

36 Greg. Naz. Or. IV. 5 and 101/2, V. 39; Amm. 22.10.7, 25.4.20. These and other references are conveniently given by Bidez, J. and Cumont, F., Imperatoris Caesaris Flavii Claudii Iuliani Epistulae Leges Poematia Fragmenta Varia (Paris and London, 1922), pp. 6975; and the article of Hardy, B. C.The Emperor Julian and his school law’ in Church History 37 (1968), 131–43, begins with a survey of reactions to the measure.

37 Marrou, H.-I., Histoire de l'Education dans l'Antiquité (Paris, 1948), p. 428.

38 Chrysostom, John, adv. oppugn, vit. mon. 3.12 (PG 47.367), partially quoted by Athanassiadi-Fowden, P., Julian and Hellenism: an intellectual biography (Oxford, 1981), p. 1.

39 See Green, R. p. H., CQ 35 (1985), 493–5and Booth, A. D., Phoenix 36 (1982), 329343.

40 For Prohaeresius, see Jerome, Chron. s.a. 363, for Victorinus, Augustine, Confessions 8.5 (10), and for Ausonius the less clear-cut evidence assembled by Green, R. P. H. in CQ 35 (1985), 502 and 505.

41 Marrou, , Education, 409414, to be read against Kaster, R. A., Guardians of Language: the grammarian and society in Late Antiquity (University of California, 1988), pp. 99134.

42 Bowersock, G., Julian the Apostate (London, 1978), p. 84.

43 Augustine, , De Civitate Dei 18.52, Socrates 3.16, Sozomen 5.18 (P G 67.419–21 an d 1269–72).

44 See n. 40.

45 So Browning, R., The Emperor Julian (London, 1975), p. 173.

46 Tertullian, , de Idol. 10; for John Chrysostom, see n. 38.

47 According to RE 1.2842–3 the younger Apollinarius, later to become the bishop of Laodicea, wrote all these works, since the father seems to have died about 360; but if that is true it is more likely that they were written before the crisis than that Socrates is confused. But the identification of poet and theologian is far from certain: see also RAC 1. 520–1.

48 Good grounds for not doing so are offered by Ludwich, A., Hermes 13 (1878), 335–50, and Golega, J., ‘Der Homerische Psalter’ (Studia Patristica et Byzantina 6: Ettal, 1960), pp. 524 and 169–171.

49 This is not entirely true, as noted by Herzog, in his study of the cento(Bibelepik, 1535), but the longer scenes which she evokes do not involve matters of doctrinal substance.

50 See the article of I. Opelt cited in n. 25.

51 Clark, E. A. and Hatch, D. F., The Golden Bough, the Oaken Cross: the Vergilian cento of Faltonia Betitia Proba (American Academy of Religion: Texts and Translations 5 [1981]), pp. 78.

52 Ausonius, Prof. 21.16, in the most recent text.

53 Quintilian, , Institutio Oratorio 1.9.1.

54 Dionysii Thracis Ars Grammatica, in Grammatici Graeci, Uhlig, G. (ed.), (Leipzig, 1883), sect. 1.

55 Browning, R., The Emperor Julian, (London, 1975), p. 171.

56 Quintilian, IO 1.9.17, with Colson, F. H., CQ 8 (1914), 44f.

57 Bolgar, R. R., The Classical Heritage and its Beneficiaries (Cambridge, 1954), p. 396 (n. 41).

58 See Seneca, Ep. 88.3, admittedly a rather exaggerated account of the gap between grammaticus and philosopher.

59 Grammatici Latini (Keil, ), 3.459515.

60 Confessions 1.I6 (26).

61 As suggested by Green, R. P. H., The Works of Ausonius (Oxford, 1991), p. 518.

62 Comm. in Abacuc, 3.14 (CCL 76A. 660). On the date of his birth, see Kelly, J. N. D., Jerome: his life, writings and controversies (London, 1975), pp. 337–9and Booth, A. D., Phoenix 33 (1979), 346–53.

63 Ihm, M., Rh. Mus. NF 50 (1895), 195; Shanzer, 245.

64 Manitius, M., Rh. M. NF 45 (1890), 316–17.

65 Shanzer, 245.

66 For Pomponius, see Schenkl, , op. cit. pp. 560f. and 609–615; and Vidal, J. L., Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes 29 (1983), p. 236. For the unity of Proba and Pomponius in transmission, see Matthews, , op. cit., pp. 285–6.

67 Shanzer produces some new evidence for the former (pp. 240–44), but the chronological problems will have to be discussed more clearly than they are in her n. 50. For the latter, see Matthews, J. F., Historia 19 (1970), 464–79, reprinted in his Political Life and Culture in Late Roman Society (London, 1985), as item VII. Another way to get round the lingering death in line 27 would be to take rependat as potential.

68 Cf. Claudian 28.396 scilicet ut Latio respersos sanguine currus (aspicerem) and line 6; and Paulinus c. 10.25–8 ciere surdum Delphica Phoebum specu, vocare Musas numina fandique munus munere indultum dei petere e nemoribus aut iugis and lines 13–15.

69 Cf. n. 19.

70 On the date of this work, see Harries, J. D., Latomus 43 (1984), 6984.

71 Seeck, , (op. cit. n. 12), p. xcvi.

72 Zonara s 13. 23. 39.

73 For their literary efforts see Shanzer, , op. cit., p. 247.

74 Green, R. P. H., The Works of Ausonius, p. 707.

75 For a possible example of such literary co-operation, see Green, R. P. H., Respublica Litterarum 1 (1978), p. 94 (n. 16).

76 Anthologia Latino 893 Riese, with Schmid, W., Rh. M. NF 96 (1953), 101–65.

77 See now Green, R. P. H., ‘Ausonius a t Prayer’ in Ayres, L.. (ed.), The Passionate Intellect, Essays Presented to I. G.Kidd (New Brunswick, 1995), pp. 333–43.

78 See Courcelle, P., op. cit., p. 298. Not that such inferences are always impossible; the fact that similar bits of Vergil are used in obscene contexts may be evidence that Ausonius' Cento Nuptialis was read in Africa by Luxorius(Anth. Lat. [Riese], 18. 64–5).

79 See PL 59. 162 centimetrum de Christo, Virgilianis compaginatum versibus, apocryphum.

80 Schenkl, , op. cit., p. 516. Now St Petersburg Class, lat. F xiv 1.

81 Aldhelmi Opera, Ehwald, R. (ed.), (MGH AA 15: Berlin, 1919), p. 188, line 31.

82 Labriolle, P. de, Histoire de la Littérature Latine Chretienne (Paris, 1920), p. 430. I am grateful to my colleagues Jill Harries and Harry Hine for reading earlier versions of this paper and making valuable suggestions, and to the CQ referee.

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