The term comes from the Latin cento, a cloak made of patches; and that from the Greek κεντονιον. The Roman soldiers used these centos, or old stuffs patched over each other, to guard themselves from the strokes of their enemies. Others say, that centos were probably used for the patches of leather, etc, with which their galleries or screens, called vineae, were covered; under which the besiegers made their approaches towards any place. Hence centonarii, the people whose business was to prepare these centos.
Ausonius laid down the rules to be observed in composing centos. The pieces, he says, may be taken either from the same poet, or from several. The verses may be either taken in their entirety, or divided into two; one half to be connected with another half taken elsewhere. Two verses should never be used running, nor much less than half a verse be taken. In accordance with these rules, he made a cento from Virgil.
The Politics of Lipsius (Politicorum Libri Sex, 1589) consist only of centos; there being nothing of his own but conjunctions and particles. Proba Falconia wrote Centones Virgiliani, in which she details the life of Jesus and deeds of the Old and New Testaments; it was written entirely in centos taken from Virgil. Alexander Ross did the same thing in his Virgilii Evangelisantis Christiados (1634), his most celebrated work of poetry. Etienne de Pleure did the same in Sacra Aeneis (1618): an instance of whose centos on the adoration of the Magi, is as follows (asterisks separate quotations from different verses):
|Adoratio Magorum, Matt. 2.|
|6, &c. Æn. 255.||Ecce autem primi sub lumina solis, et ortus,|
|2, Æ. 694.||Stella facem ducens multa cum luce cucurrit :|
|5, Æ. 526.||Signavitque Viam * cœli in regione serena.||8, Æ. 528.|
|8, Æ. 330.||Tum Reges * (credo quia sit divinitus illis||1, 9, 415.|
|1, 91, 416.||Ingenium, et rerum fato prudentia major)|
|7, Æ. 98.||Externi veniunt * quæ cuique est copia læti||1, 9, 57.|
|3, Æ. 464.||Dona dehinc auro gravia, * Regumque Parentem.||6, Æ. 548.|
|1, 9, 418.||Mutavere vias, * perfectis ordine votis :||10, Æ. 548.|
|6, Æ. 16.||Insuetum per iter, * spatia in sua quisque recessit.||12, Æ. 126.|