Classicism and Culture in a Late Roman Cento
The Latin Narcissus cento—a short poem of sixteen lines created from elements supplied by Vergil—is designed to picture the achievements of classical culture and to bring its ideals to mind, even as so many of the key aspects of classical antiquity were being sacrificed and renounced in the Christian present of Vandal North Africa, where the poem was probably written and certainly anthologized. This brief poem’s evocation of Narcissus—made up of the cultural units of Vergil’s verse and speaking to a highly educated elite with a deep command of Latin literature—is an interrogation of feelings of identification and highly valued emotional experience in a moment when the once vibrant presence of the ancient past was receding into the distance of a series of figures reflected in a pool.
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