Listen, I’m tired of ‘Aeneid is fanfiction’ takes, when PROBA exists!! I wanna talk about centos!! The word cento is from an ancient Greek term for a patchwork garment, something sewn together from odd fragments. There were Homeric centos in the Greek world, and the Romans used Virgil.
Faltonia Betitia Proba wrote in the mid-fourth century the Cento Vergilianus de laudibus Christi, in which she details the life of Jesus and deeds of the Old and New Testaments, using lines from Virgil but arranged in a new order to tell the biblical story. She either used a whole line or sewed together two different halves of lines to compose a new reasonably metrically correct line of epic hexameter. For example, lines 56-59, beginning the Creation section:
Principio caelum ac terras camposque liquentes (Aeneid 6.724)
lucentemque globum lunae solisque labores (Aeneid 6.725 + 1.742)
ipse pater statuit, uos, o clarissima mundi (Georgics 1.353)
lumina, labentem caelo quae ducitis annum. (Georgics 1.6)
In the beginning, heaven and earth and flowing sea
moon’s glowing sphere, sun’s honest toil,
the Father himself established, and you, O cosmos’
clearest lamps, which lead the year as it wheels round from heaven.
The result of using Virgil like this is that Proba’s Jesus resembles the epic hero Aeneas in fascinating ways. She is pretty free in her handling of biblical material, crafting new scenes like Jesus speaking furiously down from the cross—but otherwise Aeneas is a pretty good model for Jesus: one divine parent, pietas, more than mortal prowess, leadership, contact with the afterworld, rebirth, etc.
Her poem is the earliest complete and extant work in Christian history that was definitely written by a woman. She pioneered Christian literature for children, basically, by telling Bible stories in the Virgilian Latin. Studying Virgil was the basis for Roman education for centuries, but by the mid-fourth century the Roman Empire was at least nominally Christian. It was the perfect continuity with difference for their age.
I would not necessarily call what Proba did ‘fanfiction’, but she did transformative work with a core cultural text and made it into something new. It’s one step removed from original composition, a form of metacomposition. It depicts a VERY HIGH level of education by Proba to be familiar enough with Virgil to do this, and a VERY HIGH level of creativity and ingenuity.
Remixing and sampling are as old as civilization, I guess. I think that’s NEAT!
(Source for info on Proba is the book The Golden Bough, The Oaken Cross by Clark and Hatch, 1981)