UofG holds Ancient Latin Examination Virtually

Published: 2 June 2020

An ancient University of Glasgow Latin examination got the virtual treatment this week due to the Covid-19 public health crisis.


Screenshot of the virtual competition for the Cowan Blackstone Medal Latin Competition


An ancient University of Glasgow Latin examination got the virtual treatment this week due to the Covid-19 public health crisis.

Three students from the College of Arts were quizzed on their knowledge of Latin via Zoom by a panel of three examiners.

Normally the Cowan Blackstone Medal Latin examination, which dates back to 1839 and is open to UofG students who have two years of Latin learning, is held in the main campus in front of an audience and examiners. The students wearing gowns are examined while seated on the historic Blackstone Chair, which holds the original Black Stone used by UofG in its earliest days, before written exams, for students to sit on while their knowledge was tested in a timed oral examination.

This year due to the Covid lockdown, it was a bit less formal with academics and students zooming from their living rooms. But while a lot of the ceremony of the day was missing including the Blackstone Chair, the examination was rigorous with three academics cross examining the students on Tacitus’ Agricola and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

The three students who took part this year were Fletcher Erskine; Daniel McCue and Joshua McGhee.Following the competition, Daniel McCue was named as the 2020 Cowan Blackstone Medal recipient.

The three judges for the competition were the School of Humanities | Sgoil nan Daonnachdan’s Professor of Latin Costas Panayotakis, Professor of Classics Catherine Steel and Lecturer in Classics Dr Natalia Tsoumpra.

Professor Steel said: “We were delighted to find there was an appetite again this year to run the Cowan Blackstone Medal competition. Even in lockdown having three students wishing to take part was great for the 2020 competition.

They have helped to continue this long-standing Latin competition tradition. I wish to congratulate them all for taking part particularly Daniel who is this year’s Cowan Blackstone Medal recipient.”

The Cowan Blackstone Medal was founded in 1839 by James Cowan, who had been an undergraduate in Arts at Glasgow. James Cowan founded the Grange School in Sunderland, which in the 19th century was the largest boarding school in the north of England.

It is awarded after voluntary public oral examination on extra Latin texts, taken by the candidate sitting on the Black Stone in the Blackstone Chair. The chair is also used at honorary graduations at the University. It is on permanent display at The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow.

Almost all the names of those who received the Cowan Medal are inscribed on the walls of the Humanity Classroom, including many well-known and distinguished professors and classicists.

The well-known author John Buchan also took part in the competition in November 1893 but came second. It was suggested in a 1989 article by Dr Ronald Knox of the University of Glasgow that Buchan may have called his book’s enemy spy ring - The Black Stone – as a nod or salute to his experience on the chair.

First published: 2 June 2020

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