- Golden line
The golden line is a type of
Latin dactylic hexameterfrequently mentioned in Latinclassrooms in English speaking countries and in contemporary scholarship written in English.
The golden line is variously defined, but most uses of the term conform to the oldest known definition from Burles' Latin grammar of 1652 [Edward Burles, "Grammatica Burlesa". London 1652, p. 357. Facsimile edition, ed. R. C. Alston, in the series English Linguistics 1500-1800 (A Collection of Facsimile Reprints), 307. Menston, England: Scholar Press Ltd. 1971.] ::If the Verse does consist of two
Adjectives, two Substantives and a Verb only, the first Adjective agreeing with the first Substantive, the second with the second, and the Verb placed in the midst, it is called a Golden Verse: as, ::"Lurida terribiles miscent aconita novercae". ( Ovid, " Metamorphoses" 1.147)::"Pendula flaventem pingebat bractea crinem."These lines have the abVAB structure, in which nouns are placed at the end of the line in an interlocking order. "Pendula" is an adjective modifying "bractea" and "flaventem" is an adjective modifying "crinem".::"Pendula" flaventem pingebat "bractea" crinem.:"adjective a", adjective b, VERB, "noun A", noun B (abVAB)
Another example would be
Virgil, " Aeneid" 4.139::"aurea" purpuream subnectit "fibula" vestem, :"a golden clasp bound her purple cloak" word-by-word the line translates as "golden" purple bound "clasp" cloak". The endings on the Latin words indicate their syntactical relationship, whereas English uses word order to do the same job. So a Latin listener or reader would know that "golden" and "clasp" go together even though the words are separated.
The term "golden line" originates in England. The definition quoted above is the earliest known use of the term, in an obscure Latin textbook published in England in 1652, which never sold well and of which only four copies are extant today. It appeared in some American and British Latin Grammars in the 19th and early 20th century. [*G.A. Jacob, "The Bromsgrove Latin Grammar", London: Simpkin & Marshall 1858, p. 259.
*C. Cooper, "An Introduction to the Latin Hexameter". (Melbourne 1952). p. 44-45.] Only a few scholars outside the English-speaking world discuss the golden line. It is not found in any current handbooks on Latin grammar or
metricsexcept for Mahoney's online "Overview of Latin Syntax" [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0022&query=head%3D%2328] and Panhuis's "Latin Grammar" [Dirk Panhuis, "Latin Grammar", Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006 p. 206] .
The term "golden line" did not exist in Classical antiquity. Classical poets probably did not strive to produce them (but see the "teres versus" in the history section below). Winbolt, the most thorough commentator on the golden line, described the form as a natural combination of obvious tendencies in Latin hexameter, such as the preference for putting adjectives towards the beginning of the line and nouns at the emphatic end. The golden line is an extreme form of
There are about ten different definitions of the “golden line.” Often scholars do not explicitly offer a definition, but instead present statistics or lists of golden lines, from which one must extrapolate their criteria for deeming a verse golden.
The So-Called "Silver Line"
Although Burles’s 1652 definition (see the introduction above) is explicit about the abVAB structure, many scholars also consider lines with this chiastic pattern to be “golden”::"humanum" miseris volvunt erroribus "aevum" (
Prudentius, "Hamartigenia" 377):"adjective a", adjective b, VERB, noun B, "noun A" (abVBA)Perhaps this more inclusive definition is based upon the famous definition offered by the poet John Drydenin his introduction to the "Silvae", “that Verse commonly which they call golden, or two Substantives and two Adjectives with a Verbbetwixt them to keep the peace.” Wilkinson [L. P. Wilkinson, "Golden Latin Artistry", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963, pp. 215-216.] offered the humorous definition “silver line” for this variant. Wilkinson also offered another humorous distinction, the "bronze line", but this term has rarely been used since. [One exception: Dirk Panhuis, "Latin Grammar", Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 2006, p. 206]
Criteria for inclusion and exclusion
Most scholars who care about the topic exclude the less common variants in which one or both nouns precede the verb, gold (aBVAb, AbVaB, ABVab) and silver (aBVbA, AbVBa, ABVba). Some scholars include lines with extra prepositions, adverbs, exclamations, conjunctions, and relative pronouns. For example, Orchard [A. Orchard, "The Poetic Art of Aldhelm", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 97.] does not offer a definition of the golden line, but his criteria can be extracted from his list of the golden lines in
Aldhelm’s "Carmen de virginitate". He allows relative pronouns (2, 4, 112, 221, 288), prepositions (278, 289), conjunctions like "ut" and "dum" (95, 149, 164, 260), exclamations (45), and adverbs (14). He also allows extra adjectives, as in “"Haec suprema"”. He includes silver lines (4, 123, 260). He disqualifies inverted or mixed order, where nouns come first (101, 133, 206, 236, 275, 298). He allows participles as the verb in the middle (71, 182), but he does not include the periphrastic verbal form in 271: "Atque futurorum gestura est turma nepotum".
Since there is no clear ancient definition, most modern scholars and teachers base their definition on what they learned from their first Latin teachers. Some definitions are very idiosyncratic. [This quotation shows the multitude of definitions: “I interpret the concept ‘golden line’ more strictly than (e.g.) W. B. Sedgewick, "Speculum" V (1930) p. 50, who seems to count any combination of two epithets, two nouns, and a verb, though less strictly than L. P. Wilkinson "Golden Latin Artistry" (1963) p. 216 for whom chiastic order of nouns and epithets count only as 'silver.'”---Alan Cameron, "Claudian: Poetry and Propaganda at the Court of Honorius" (Clarendon Press Oxford 1970), p. 290.] One scholar of British Literature completely missed the
hyperbatonwhich is central to the form. [Pat Rogers, "Pope and the Destiny of the Stuarts", Oxford University Press 2005, p. 253.]
Use by Classical Poets
Do classical poets use the golden line? And if so, how? Statistics cannot really answer this question, but they do illuminate some long-term trends in the use of the golden line. The following statistical tables are offered with the warning that they are based upon one scholar's definitions of golden and "silver" lines (The tables are from Mayer in the bibliography below [K. Mayer, "The Golden Line: Ancient and Medieval Lists of Special Hexameters and Modern Scholarship," in C. Lanham, ed., "Latin Grammar and Rhetoric: Classical Theory and Modern Practice", Continuum Press 2002, pp. 139-179.] ). There is no consensus on their definition. Table 1 gives the totals for the gold and silver lines in classical poetry, listed in approximate chronological order from
Catullusto Statius. Table 2 gives similar figures for a few poets in late antiquity, while Table 3 gives figures for a selection of early medieval poems from the fifth to tenth centuries of this era.
In all three tables, the first column is the total number of verses in the work in question, followed by the number of “golden lines” and “silver lines” in the work. More important for the purposes of comparison are the last three columns, which give the percentage of golden and silver lines in respect to the total number of verses. Aside from a few exceptions, only poems with more than 200 lines are included, since in shorter poems the percentage figures are arbitrary and can be quite high. See, for example, the combined percentage of 14.29 in the "
Apocolocyntosis". Similarly, other short poems that are not included on the tables, such as the "Copa", "Moretum", "Lydia", and Einsiedeln Eclogues, have rather high combined percentages between 3.45 and 5.26.
Table 1 Golden and Silver Lines in Classical Poetry
Table 3 reveals several interesting tendencies in golden line usage in the early medieval period. The fact that
Caelius Sedulius, Aldhelm, and the Hisperica Faminahave a pronounced preference for the form has long been noted. Corippusin the sixth century also uses the golden line significantly more than classical authors. Note that there is not a comparable increase in the silver line: If anything, these authors have fewer silver lines. This trend may be due to the growing fondness for leonine rhymes, which are facilitated by the golden line structure but not by the silver line. Another tendency, seen in Corippus, Sedulius, Aldhelm, and Walther de Speyer, is an extremely large number of golden lines in the beginning of a work, which is not matched in the rest of the work. Many scholars only tallied figures for the golden line at the beginnings of these poems, and therefore can have inflated numbers. In the first 500 lines of Aldhelm’s "Carmen de virginitate", for example, there are 42 golden lines and 7 silver lines, yielding percentages of 8.4 and 1.4 respectively; in the last 500 lines (2405-2904) there are only 20 golden lines and 4 silver lines, yielding percentages of 4 and 0.8 respectively--a reduction by half. Corippus’s "Ioannis" and Sedulius’s "Paschale" have even more extreme reductions. These skewed percentages may indicate that the golden line is an ideal that is artfully strived for but which cannot be continuously realized over the course of a long epic.
Another possible explanation for the diminished use of golden lines within an author’s work (observed already in
Virgil; see Table 1) is that, with time, poets may gradually free themselves from the constraints of the form. The golden line may have been taught in the schools as a quick way to elegance, which poets would use with increasing moderation as their experience grew. Two poems that appear to be juvenalia point to this conclusion. The Hisperica Faminais a bizarre text which is apparently from seventh-century Ireland. It seems to be a collection of school compositions on set themes that have been run together. Of its 612 lines, 144--23.53 percent--have the golden line structure. Most of the lines that are not “golden” are merely too short to have more than three words; or, occasionally, they are too long. These extremely short or long lines are due to the fact that the poem is not written in hexameter. It may be written in some rough stress-based meter, but even that cannot be stated with certainty. But the ideal model that the composers took for their verses appears to have been the golden line. Walther de Speyercomposed his poem on the life of St. Christopher in 984 when he was seventeen. The percentage of golden lines is high, but the number of near-misses is enormous. When you read Walther you get the impression that he was programmed in school to write golden lines.
The large number of golden lines in poetry from the sixth through ninth centuries could reflect the combination of several trends, such as the preference for
hyperbatonand the growing popularity of leonine rhymes. The statistics do not (and cannot) prove that the form was ever taught and practiced as a discrete form. Even if the golden line was not a conscious poetic conceit in the classical or medieval period, it might have some utility today as a term of analysis in discussing such poetry. However, the form now appears in canonical English commentaries to authors from Callimachusto Aldhelmand most scholars who refer to the golden line today treat it as an important poetic form of indisputable antiquity.
The first person to mention the golden line may be the grammarian Diomedes Grammaticus, in a list of types of Latin hexameters in his "
Ars grammatica". This work was written before 500 CE, and it has been plausibly suggested that he wrote after 350 CE.Diomedes' chapter entitled “"De pedibus metricis sive significationum industria"” (Keil 498-500) [ [http://kaali.linguist.jussieu.fr/CGL/text.jsp?id=T25&topic=de%20arte%20metrica%20(cum%20poemate,%20compositione,%20structura,%20musica)&ref=1,473,15-529,28 This section in an on-line edition of Diomedes] ] describes the "teres versus", which has been identified by del Castillo (p. 133) as the golden line::Teretes sunt qui volubilem et cohaerentem continuant dictionem, ut ::"Torva Mimalloneis inflatur tibia bombis" :Rounded verses are those that conjoin a fluent and contiguous phrase, such as::"Torva Mimalloneis inflatur tibia bombis."The example verse is a golden line. However, it is difficult to understand what "conjoin a fluent and contiguous phrase" ( "volubilem et cohaerentem continuant dictionem") means and how exactly it applies to this verse. None of the other ancient metricians use the term "teres versus" or Polytonic|κυκλοτερεῖς (the Greek form that Diomedes mentions as its equivalent). The only other commentator to mention the "teres versus" was the Renaissancescholar Julius Caesar Scaliger(1484-1558), who did not seem to understand Diomedes. In his book "Poetices Libri Septem" (1964 Stuttgart facimile reprint of the 1561 Lyon edition, p. 71-72, text in Mayer), Scaliger offers a muddled attempt at understanding Diomedes. He mentions that " Quintilianand others" mention this as a "teres versus"::"Mollia luteola pingens vaccinia calta" (a mangled version of Virgil, " Eclogue" 2.50)Our manuscripts of Quintilian do not include this verse of Virgil, but it is the first pure golden line in Virgil and it becomes the most famous golden line citation. Scaliger's use of this example is evidence that someone between Diomedes and him took the term "teres versus" to be similar to a modern golden line.
The English fascination with the golden line seems to trace back to
Bede. Bede advocated a double hyperbaton, and also the placing of adjectives before nouns. In the examples from each criterion (double hyperbaton and adjectives before nouns) Bede includes at least one golden line, but from his other examples it is clear that he did not limit these injunctions to the golden line: :But the best and most beautiful arrangement ["optima ... ac pulcherrima positio"] of the dactylic verse is when the penultimate parts respond to the first ones and the last parts respond to the middle ones [primis penultima, ac mediis respondet extrema] . Sedulius was in the habit of using this arrangement often, as in ::"Pervia divisi patuerunt caerula ponti" [Sedulius, "Paschal". 1.136, a golden line] :and::"Sicca peregrinas stupuerunt marmora plantas" [Sedulius, "Paschal". 1.140, another golden line] :and::"Edidit humanas animal pecuale loquelas" [Sedulius, "Paschal". 1.162, not a golden line] Bede’s remarks in his "De arte metrica" were repeated and made more strict by Renaissanceguides to versification, ultimately leading to Burles’s description of the golden line. The earliest is the 1484 "De arte metrificandi" of Jacob Wimpfeling::It will be a mark of extraordinary beauty and no mean glory will accrue when you have distanced an adjective from its substantive by means of intervening words, as if you were to say ::"pulcher prevalidis pugnabat tiro lacertis".And two years later the" Ars Versificandi" of Conrad Celtesfollowed Wimpfeling::Fifth precept: the most charming form of poem will be to have distanced an epithet from its substantive by means of intervening words, as if you were to say ::"maiores cadunt altis de montibus umbre::"pulcer prevalidis pugnabit tiro lacertis".In 1512 Johannes Despauteriusquoted Celtis’s remarks verbatim in his "Ars versificatoria" in the section "De componendis carminibus praecepta generalia" and then more narrowly defined excellence in hexameters in the section "De carmine elegiaco": :Elegiac poetry rejoices in two epithets, this is to say adjectives, (not swollen, or puffed-up, or affected adjectives). This is almost always done so that the two adjectives are placed in front of two substantives, so that the first responds to the first. Nonetheless, you will frequently find different types, for we are not imparting laws, but good style. Propertius, book 2:::"Sic me nec solae poterunt avertere sylvae":: "Nec vaga muscosis flumina fusa iugis".:Nor is this inelegant in other genres of poetry, for examples::"Sylvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena.":Care must be taken that the two words are not in the same case and number, because that leads to ambiguity. That is not the case when Virgil says::"Mollia lutheola pingit vaccinia calta.":Moreover, there should not be two epithets [for one noun] , because that is faulty according to Servius. An example would be:::"dulcis frigida aqua."Despauterius here combines Bede’s two rules into one general precept of elegance: Two adjectives should be placed before two substantives, the first agreeing with the first. It is not quite the golden line, for there is no provision for a verb in the middle. However, Despauterius quotes the famous example of the golden line, "Eclogue" 2.50, as a good example of the type. This line is the first pure golden line in Virgil's works. It is also the example line given in Scaliger above.The same general remarks about epithets are found in John Clarke’s 1633 "Manu-ductio ad Artem Carmificam seu Dux Poeticus" (345): :"Epitheta, ante sua substantiva venustissime collocantur, ut :" ::"Pendula flaventem pingebat bractea crinem"::"Aurea purpuream subnectit fibula vestem", [" Aeneid" 4.139] ::"Vecta est fraenato caerula pisce Thetis."The source of Clarke’s first example line is unknown, but the same line is also one of Burles’s examples of the golden line. Burles’s discussion of the golden line is clearly based upon this tradition concerning the position of epithets. Burles’s golden line is a narrow application of the principles outlined by Bede almost a millennium earlier.
Scholars like to believe that their critical approaches to classical poetry are direct and immediate, and that they understand classical literature in its own context or, depending on their critical stance, from the perspective of their own context(s). However, the use of “the golden line” as a critical term in modern scholarship demonstrates the power of the intervening critical tradition. The golden line may originally have been the "teres versus" of Diomedes, but this fact does not legitimate its use as a critical term today. No commentators today count up "versus inlibati", "iniuges", "quinquipartes", or any of the other bizarre forms assembled by Diomedes.
In all likelihood the golden line is a term gradually developed by Medieval and Renaissance grammarians, from Bede to Burles, but this indeterminate (and apparently unknown) pedigree does not explain its curious hold on Anglo-American scholarship. Far more interesting than the appearance of the golden line in ancient and medieval poetry is the use of the term by these modern critics. Today major works and commentaries on canonical poets in Latin and Greek discuss them in light of the golden line, and occasionally even the silver line: Neil Hopkinson’s
Callimachus, William Anderson’s "Metamorphoses", Richard Thomas’s " Georgics", Alan Cameron’s Claudian, Andy Orchard’s Aldhelm. Most of these critics assume or imply that golden lines were deliberate figures, practiced since Hellenistictimes and artfully contrived and composed by the poets in question. This process of scouring the canonical texts for such special verse forms is entirely in the spirit of the ancient lists of Servius, Victorinus, and Diomedes. Thus, in a curious way, the arcane wordplay that fascinated ancient grammarians has--in the English-speaking world, at least--come again to play a role in interpreting and explicating the central works of the classical canon.
The Golden Line in Non-English Scholarship
Non-English-speaking scholars who refer to the golden line in print usually pointedly use the English term: Thraede p. 51: “die Spielarten der ‘golden line.’ ” Baños p. 762: “el denominado "versus aureus" o golden line” Hellegouarc’h p. 277: “l’origine du ‘versus aureus’ ou ‘golden line.’” Schmitz p. 149 n 113, "der von John Dryden gepraegte Terminus Golden Line." Enríquez’s "áureo verso" is very different from the golden line used by English scholars. Baños, Enríquez, and Hellegouarc’h all refer exclusively to Wilkinson 215-217 and other English scholars for discussions of the term. Typical would be the French article of Kerlouégan, which never mentions the term, but which is entirely devoted to the form.
These works are often cited in golden line literature, but they do not mention the term and are only peripherally connected to the form, except for Kerlouégan
1908 Friedrich Caspari, "De ratione, quae inter Vergilium et Lucanum intercedat, quaestiones selectae". Dissertation, Leipzig.
1916 Eduard Norden, "P. Vergilius Maro Aeneis Buch VI" Teubner, Leipzig Berlin.
1949 J. Marouzeau, "L' Ordre des mots dans la phrase latine". Paris 3.107.
1972 François Kerlouégan, “Une mode stylistique dans la prose latine des pays celtiques.” "Études Celtiques" 13:275-297.
Chronological listing of Non-English Golden Line Citations
1978 Klaus Thraede. "Der Hexameter in Rom". Munich: C. H. Beck’sche. p. 51: “die Spielarten der ‘golden line.’ (The first mention of the golden line in non-English speaking scholarship)
1987 J. Hellegouarc’h, “Les yeux de la marquise...Quelques observations sur les commutations verbales dans l’hexamètre latin.” "Revue des Études Latines" 65:261-281.
1988 S. Enríquez "El hexámetro áureo en latín. Datos para su estudio", Tesis doctoral, Granada (available in microfiche). Enríquez refers to the definitions of several English scholars, but he himself includes any line with a verb in the center, surrounded by two substantives and adjectives. He therefore includes (p. 331) the following examples of the "áureo verso"::"florentem cytisum sequitur lasciva capella" (
Virgil"Eclogue" 2.64) aAVbB:"Temporis angusti mansit concordia discors." ( Lucan"BC" 1.98) AaVBb
His "áureo verso" includes not only the gold and silver lines defined above (of which Enríquez cites a large number of examples), but also lines without any chiastic structure at all. Perhaps this definition (which strikes English-speaking scholars as bizarre) is common in Spain, because Baños and Antolín also use Enriquez's definition.
1990 Marina del Castillo Herrera, "La metrica Latina en el Siglo IV. Diomedes y su entorno". Granada: Universidad de Granada. Connects Diomedes' "teres versus" with the "áureo verso" but does not define or elaborate.
1992 J.M. Baños Baños, "El versus aureus de Ennio a Estacio", "Latomus" 51 p. 762-744.
1993 Norbert Delhey. "Apollinaris Sidonius, Carm. 22: Burgus Pontii Leontii. Einleitung, Text und Kommentar". Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte 40. Berlin/New York, p. 86. (silver lines).
1994 J.J.L. Smolenaars, "Statius: Thebaid VII, Commentary". Leiden: E.J. Brill, p. 37.
1995 Fernando Navarro Antolín, "Lygdamus : Corpus Tibullianum III." 1-6, New York : E.J. Brill, 1995, p. 381 (follows the aAVbB form of Enríquez).
1998 Dirk Panhuis, "Latijnse grammatica". Garant, Leuven-Apeldoorn "gouden, zilveren, en bronzen vers."
1999 S. Enríquez. "El hexámetro áureo en la poesía latina", "Estudios de Métrica Latina" I, pp.327-340, Luque Moreno-Díaz Díaz (eds.).
2000 Christine Schmitz, "Das Satirische in Juvenals Satiren". Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000, p. 148-9.
2004 Enrico Di Lorenzo. "L'esametro greco e latino. Analisi, problemi e prospettive, Atti delle "Giornate di Studio" su L'esametro greco e latino: analisi, problemi e prospettive". Fisciano 28 e 29 maggio 2002. Quaderni del Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichità. Napoli, p. 77.
2008 Unknown author "GOUDEN VERS: PV in het midden + 2 adj vooraan + 2 subst achteraan (of omgekeerd)" http://www.stevenf.eu/latijn/stijlfig.html accessed April 3, 2008.
*Edward Burles, "Grammatica Burlesa". London 1652, p. 357. Facsimile edition, ed. R. C. Alston, in the series "English Linguistics 1500-1800 (A Collection of Facsimile Reprints)", 307. Menston, England: Scholar Press Ltd. 1971.
*M. del Castillo Herrera, "La metrica Latina en el Siglo IV. Diomedes y su entorno," Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1990.
* [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Kenmayer K. Mayer] , “The Golden Line: Ancient and Medieval Lists of Special Hexameters and Modern Scholarship,” in C. Lanham, ed., "Latin Grammar and Rhetoric: Classical Theory and Modern Practice", Continuum Press 2002, pp. 139-179.
*A. Orchard, "The Poetic Art of Aldhelm", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
*L. P. Wilkinson, "Golden Latin Artistry", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963, pp. 215-216.
*S. E. Winbolt, "Latin Hexameter Verse: An Aid To Composition", London: Methuen, 1903, pp. 220-221.
Internal and external Links
*The golden line according to Magister J. White's "Real New Latin Grammar" [http://www.fralibrary.com/teachers/white/literary_devices.htm#Golden]
*The golden line in Carmina's guide to interpreting poetry [http://www.dl.ket.org/latinlit/carmina/terminology/terminology.htm]
*The golden line according to Anne Mahoney's "Overview of Latin Syntax" [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0022&query=head%3D%2328] (note that one of her examples of the golden line is a line with a noun in the genitive instead of an adjective)
*An article suggesting that the golden line is from Greek Hellenistic poetry, J.D. Reed, "Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik" 106 (1995) 94–95 [http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/ifa/zpe/downloads/1995/106pdf/106094.pdf]
*Note about the golden line in N. W. Slater, "Calpurnius and the Anxiety of Vergilian Influence" [http://www.classics.emory.edu/indivFacPages/slater/slater17.html]
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