Kenneth Mayer deposited The Golden Line: An Exercise that Changed an Academic Discipline on Humanities Commons 1 year, 11 months ago
What happens when an exercise succeeds too well? Could a school exercise designed to teach
a foreign language also influence how a discipline interprets its central literary texts?
For centuries in Britain, Latin versification was the pinnacle of both pedagogy and scholarship,
the ultimate proof of a good teacher and a good pupil. Every day, schoolchildren had to
compose dozens of Latin hexameters. And–at least since 1612–they were forced to compete in
composing “golden lines.”
Today, scholars around the world comment on golden lines in Vergil and Ovid in the mistaken
belief that they represent an ancient poetic convention.
This school exercise changed academic scholarship. Its propagation is due to its appeal to the consumers of the exercise, the students.
From the 1600s until today, students have expressed pride and joy in identifying and composing golden lines.
Today, Latinists worldwide analyze the main poets of the classical canon by
the metric of the golden line. Student preferences for a school exercise have changed not only
pedagogy but scholarly practice.