Portrait of Dr Dunstan Lowe

Dr Dunstan Lowe

Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature


Dr Dunstan Lowe is Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature. He did his first two Classics degrees at Birmingham University, then a PhD at Cambridge University, and taught at Reading and Grand Valley State University before coming to Kent. 

Research interests

Most of Dunstan’s research is on Roman literature, especially the poets Virgil and Ovid. His published work in this area includes a book called Monsters and Monstrosity in Augustan Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2015). 

His other specialism is the role of classical antiquity in modern culture, especially in video games and other entertainment media, but he has also published on scientific marvels in antiquity and the Middle Ages. 

His next major projects are a study of physical ugliness in ancient Roman society, and a study of ancient Greece and Rome in video games. The thread connecting all this is an interest in how ideas can migrate from one culture to another and be thoroughly transformed.


Dunstan teaches ancient culture and society, especially Roman literature, and Latin language at all levels. 



  • Lowe, D. (2016). Twisting in the Wind: Monumental Weathervanes in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge Classical Journal [Online] 62:147-169. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1750270516000099.
    Monumental weathervanes have been overlooked as a tiny but important genre of ancient bronze sculpture. This is the first collective study of all three definite examples: the so-called ‘triton’ on the Tower of the Winds in Athens, a copy of this somewhere in Rome, and the winged female ‘Anemodoulion’ on the Bronze Tetrapylon in Constantinople. I propose to identify the intended subjects of these sculptures as the weather-deities Aiolos and Iris, thereby restoring a part of each monument’s original meaning that was unknown to the authors of our ancient written accounts. I also suggest that monumental weathervanes were first invented in Hellenistic Alexandria, which may explain why the Tower of the Winds shared the octagonal design of the Pharos, and why the Anemodoulion was mounted upon a bronze pyramidion.
  • Lowe, D. (2016). Suspending Disbelief: Magnetic Levitation in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Classical Antiquity [Online] 35:247-278. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/ca.2016.35.2.247.
    Static levitation is a form of marvel with metaphysical implications whose long history has not previously been charted. First, Pliny the Elder reports an architect’s plan to suspend an iron statue using magnetism, and the later compiler Ampelius mentions a similar-sounding wonder in Syria. When the Serapeum at Alexandria was destroyed, and for many centuries afterwards, chroniclers wrote that an iron Helios had hung magnetically inside. In the Middle Ages, reports of such false miracles multiplied, appearing in Muslim accounts of Christian and Hindu idolatry, as well as Christian descriptions of the tomb of Muhammad. A Christian levitation miracle involving saints’ relics also emerged. Yet magnetic suspension could be represented as miraculous in itself, representing lost higher knowledge, as in the latest and easternmost tradition concerning Konark’s
    ruined temple.
    The levitating monument, first found in classical antiquity, has undergone many cultural and epistemological changes in its long and varied history.
  • Lowe, D. (2014). Heavenly and Earthly Elements in Manilius’ Astronomica. Ramus: Critical Studies in Greek and Roman Literature [Online] 43:45-66. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/rmu.2014.3.
    I propose that Manilius’ fundamental view is that the stars represent order and the earth chaos, a conviction partly expressed through Stoic doctrine and partly through poetic tropes. He frequently uses the imagery of the four elements to divide the superior realm of air and fire from the inferior realm of water and earth. Significant themes contributing toward this include Gigantomachy, cosmic vapours, the planets, and the figure of the Whale (Cetus) in the Andromeda story near the close of the poem.
  • Lowe, D. (2014). A Stichometric Allusion to Catullus 64 in the Culex. Classical Quarterly (New Series) 64:862-865.
    I propose a new instance of ‘stichometric allusion’ (when poets allude to a source using corresponding line-numbers) in the Culex. This example (an allusion to Catullus 64) is notable because it spans two lines, and because it contains a repetition. Since this makes coincidence very unlikely, we can consider the possible motives and potential implications.
  • Lowe, D. (2013). Menstruation and Mamercus Scaurus (Sen. Benef. 4.31.3). Phoenix [Online] 67:343-352. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7834/phoenix.67.3-4.0343.
    Some of the most colourful evidence for Roman sexual behaviour, such as Seneca’s charge of cunnilingus and ‘menophilia’ against Mamercus Scaurus, should not be regarded as factual. Seneca applies a longstanding stereotype, directly or indirectly inspired by the tactics of Scaurus’ prosecutors, who possibly exploited a medical treatment Scaurus used.
  • Lowe, D. (2013). Chasing (Most of) the Giants out of Grattius’ Cynegetica. Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 104:183-188.
    Near the start of Grattius' Cynegetica, a cryptic mythological exemplum warns that careless hunting brings disaster. Most editors, including the most recent, have turned this into a version of the Gigantomachy with some strange features. In fact a much more satisfactory interpretation lies at hand with very little emendation. The exemplum is about Orion. Not only does this fit the context and match known versions of the myth, but it gives a role in Grattius' hunting poem to the most famous mythical hunter of all, who is otherwise absent.
  • Lowe, D. (2013). Women Scorned: A New Stichometric Allusion in the Aeneid. Classical Quarterly (New Series) [Online] 63:442-445. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0009838812000742.
    When making an allusion, a poet can choose to make the line numbering (stichometry) correspond with that of the source. A handful of examples in Roman poetry have been proposed, mostly in Virgil. This short paper collects these examples together and proposes a new one, in which Dido's appeal to the Furies in the Aeneid matches up with Medea's appeal to the Erinyes in Apollonius' Argonautica.
  • Lowe, D. (2013). Herakles and Philoktetes (Palaiphatos 36). Hermes 141:355-357.
    According to the best available commentary (Stern 1996), the 36th myth busted by Palaiphatos (concerning Herakles and a certain 'Philoites') is the only one too corrupt to understand, and also the only one about a myth unheard of elsewhere. I argue that it is really about 'Philoktetes', the well-known hero who lit Herakles' funeral pyre on Mount Oeta. (In Palaiphatos' interpretation, Herakles failed to cure himself by applying leaves, but Philoctetes treated him more successfully using cauterization.) This proves that Palaiphatos always chose popular myths, and especially those which his readers would know from the tragic stage.
  • Lowe, D. (2012). Sabazius in the Aeneid (7.431-60). Vergilius 58:81-91.
    The sensual bedroom epiphany of the Fury Allecto, by which Amata is driven into a Bacchic frenzy, resembles the initiation ritual of the cult of Sabazius, a "sacred marriage" in which a metal snake was dropped down the front of the initiand's clothes. This Thraco-Phrygian deity had a small but persistent presence in the Roman empire (attested in the army as early as the first century BC, and also at Pompeii), and was frequently identified with Dionysus. Virgil seems to have known of this cult and integrated it into the symbolic economy of the poem, in which feminine, sensual, oriental (including Phrygian) and ecstatic elements are opposed to the masculine self-control of the protagonist and his descendants.
  • Lowe, D. (2012). Trimalchio’s Wizened Boy (Satyrica 28.4). Classical Quarterly (New Series) [Online] 62:883-885. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0009838812000456.
    The 'puer vetulus' described by Petronius is meant to represent a sufferer of the rare congenital illness known as progeria or accelerated ageing. Survey the ancient evidence, I argue that Petronius' fondness for such an individual reinforces his portrayal as a gauche social climber.
  • Lowe, D. (2011). Scylla, the Diver’s Daughter: Aeschrion, Hedyle, and Ovid. Classical Philology [Online] 106:260-264. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/661547.
    Ovid has been thought the inventor of the story that Scylla, the Odyssean monster, was once a beautiful nymph subsequently disfigured by a jealous goddess. I argue that this Hellenistic-sounding narrative had a Hellenistic origin, specifically in the lost works of Aeschrion and Hedyle. I propose that the element spliced with Homer's monster is not (primarily) princess Scylla of Megara, as some have claimed, but instead the daughter of Scyllias, the diver who reputedly sabotaged the Persian fleet at Artemisium.
  • Lowe, D. (2011). Tree-Worship, Sacred Groves and Roman Antiquities in the Aeneid. Proceedings of the Virgil Society 27:91-128.
    Virgil's vision of Italy in the age of heroes places great emphasis on sacred groves (often the scene of encounters with gods), and individual sacred trees (like the stump of Faunus where Aeneas' spear lodges in the final duel). This reflects a more widespread belief among the Romans that their oldest and best cultural practices concerned intimacy with, and reverence for, ancient trees. This article surveys the historical and literary evidence to associate tree-reverence with the religious origins of Roman poetry and with the mysterious god Faunus. I also argue that Virgil falsely links the battlefield practice of suspended votives--the tropaeum--with tree-worship in order to make it a token of proto-Roman values.
  • Lowe, D. (2010). Snakes on the Beach: Ovid’s Orpheus and Medusa. Materiali e Discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici 65:183-186.
    Why, in Ovid's account, is Orpheus' severed head attacked by a snake as it lies on the beach, and why is that snake turned to stone? I argue that this incident, instead of deriving from a lost episode in the Thracian bard's mythic cycle, is invented by Ovid as a rearrangement of elements from the Medusa myth told earlier in the poem. Both heads retain supernatural powers after death, and in Ovid each one provides a coda to a longer story by causing a petrifaction while deposited on a sandy beach.
  • Lowe, D. (2010). The Symbolic Value of Grafting in Ancient Rome. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 140:461-488.
    Some scholars have read Virgil’s grafted tree (G. 2.78–82) as a sinister image, symptomatic of man’s perversion of nature. However, when it is placed within the long tradition of Roman accounts of grafting (in both prose and verse), it seems to reinforce a consistently positive view of the technique, its results, and its possibilities. Virgil’s treatment does represent a significant change from Republican to Imperial literature, whereby grafting went from mundane reality to utopian fantasy. This is reflected in responses to Virgil from Ovid, Columella, Calpurnius, Pliny the Elder, and Palladius (with Republican context from Cato, Varro, and Lucretius), and even in the postclassical transformation of Virgil’s biography into a magical folktale.
  • Lowe, D. (2008). Personification Allegory in the Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Mnemosyne [Online] 61:414-435. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156852507X235209.
    "Ovid's well-known innovations in the use of personification allegory combine closely with those of Virgil, to form a distinctive 'Augustan' phase in the development of allegory in classical literature. Both Ovid and Virgil make fictional abstractions concrete and ontologically ambiguous. Innovations common to both the Aeneid and Metamorphoses constitute an important stage in the emergence of 'compositional allegory', in the wake of the Roman adoption of Stoicising interpretative reading practices in the course of the first century BC. Both epics involve Furies as models for their major personified abstractions, both in narrative role and in concrete detail. Uniquely in and to Roman literature, Furies changed from supernatural beings into personified abstractions. This change, enabled by the semantic replacement of proper names such as Erinys or Eumenis with the word Furia ('frenzy'), produced new depth and complexity in the form and metaliterary function of personifications in Roman epic and later literary traditions.

    French abstract (from l'Annee Philologique):
    Mise en valeur d'une phase « augustéenne » dans le développement de l'allégorie dans la littérature classique, à partir de l'analyse croisée des innovations d'Ovide et de Virgile. Ces transformations du style épique vont de pair avec la vulgarisation à Rome des pratiques de lecture stoïciennes des textes allégoriques, au cours du 1er s. av. J.-C. ; un exemple privilégié est celui du traitement des Furies, qui passent du statut d'êtres surnaturels à celui d'abstractions personnifiées."


  • Lowe, D. (2015). Monsters and Monstrosity in Augustan Poetry. [Online]. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/mpub.6111289.
    Roman poets of the Augustan period reinvented monsters from Greek myth, such as Harpies, Furies, and the warring Centaurs and Giants. These monsters represented the attractions and dangers of novelty in various contexts, ranging from social values to artistic innovation. Rome’s two great epics of the early principate, Vergil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, are both filled with mythical monsters. Like the culture that produced them, these poets were fascinated by unfamiliar forms despite their potential to disturb and disrupt.
    Monsters and Monstrosity in Augustan Poetry is the first full-length study of monsters in Augustan poetry, and the first metapoetic reading of monstrosity in classical antiquity. Dunstan Lowe takes a fresh approach to the canonical works of Vergil, Ovid, and their contemporaries, contributing to a very recent turn toward marvels, monsters, and deformity in classical studies.
    Monsters provided a fantastical means to explore attitudes toward human nature, especially in its relationship with sex. They also symbolized deformations of poetic form. Such gestures were doomed to replay the defeat of hypermasculine monsters yet, paradoxically, they legitimized poetic innovation. Lowe proposes that monstrosity was acutely topical during the birth of the principate, having featured in aesthetic debates of the Hellenistic age, while also serving as an established, if controversial, means for public figures to amaze the population and display their power. Monsters and Monstrosity in Augustan Poetry will appeal to scholars and students of classical Latin literature and of interdisciplinary monster studies.

Book section

  • Lowe, D. (2018). Loud and Proud: The Voice of the Praeco in Roman Love-Elegy. in: Complex Inferiorities: The Poetics of the Weaker Voice in Latin Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 149-158. Available at: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/complex-inferiorities-9780198814061.
    Our record of Roman love-poetry, from Catullus on into Propertius and Tibullus and finally Ovid, shows a preference for ‘countercultural’ idioms. These authors switch between voices and vocabularies, as does Horace, the other great first-person poet of the Augustan period. But the love-poet persona builds heavily on subverting the idioms deemed appropriate for freeborn elite Roman males (military language, triumphal imagery, prayer formulas, legalese), and embracing alternative modes of expression (emotional outbursts, passive or submissive behaviour, metaphors of slavery and torture). The techniques of Roman rhetorical training might seem to belong in the first category. However, I propose that we include a different, more scurrilous brand of ‘rhetoric’ in the second category: that of the "praeco" (herald or auctioneer).
  • Lowe, D. (2012). Triple Tipple: Ausonius’ Griphus Ternarii Numeri. in: Kwapisz, J., Szymanski, M. and Petrain, D. eds. The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry. Berlin: de Gruyter, pp. 333-350.
    Ausonius' poem on the number three has prompted at least four different avenues of interpretation aimed at answering the 'riddle'. I argue that all but one of them are misguided, and that the remaining one can only be speculative (though I offer some new speculations on it). I propose a different interpretation of the title, using the preface as the key to understanding the work in the wider context of Ausonius' age and individual poetics.
  • Lowe, D. (2012). Always Already Ancient: Ruins in the Virtual World. in: Thorsen, T. S. ed. Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age. Trondheim, Norway: Akademika Publishing, pp. 53-90.
    In videogames, classical buildings and objects are usually tarnished and collapsed. This chapter surveys how different styles of videogame from the 1980s to the 21st century depict antiquity. Four versions can be identified: its original freshness, its modern traces, and the moments of its destruction are three. The fourth is that ancient Greece and Rome were already made of ruins. This range reflects the nature of games themselves, as well as the tastes of modern audiences.
  • Lowe, D. (2010). Medusa, Antaeus, and Caesar Libycus. in: Homke, N. and Reitz, C. eds. Lucan’s “Bellum Civile”: between epic tradition and aesthetic innovation. Berlin: de Gruyter, pp. 119-134.
    Although it is well known that Lucan’s Libya is a wild and threatening place, its threat is not restricted to indigenous people, places and things, such as Hannibal, Cleopatra, the Syrtes, or the desert with its catalogue of horrifying snakes. He also associates Libya with anti-Republican Romans, above all Julius Caesar, who endangers the Republic with his excessive, animalistic energy and resembles the continent where he is trapped in the final book.
    Although the gods as characters are removed from the world of the Bellum Civile, Lucan allows supernatural traces to linger in particular locations such as the Gallic grove in Book 3 or Thessaly in Book 6. Libya is by far the greatest of these reservoirs of frightening myth and fantasy, which do violence to the historical credibility of the narrative, just as Libya itself is presented as the origin or conduit of a number of historical characters who assault Italy and Europe.
    Lucan’s two mythic narratives (Antaeus in Book 4 and Medusa in Book 9) are essential parts of the hostile Libyan landscape, but in very different ways. The male Antaeus, associated with lions, is connected with a region of solid rock where he was destroyed. The female Medusa, associated with snakes, is connected with a region of shifting sands where she left a deadly, everlasting legacy. To complicate matters further, even though Medusa’s snakes represent the annihilation of the Republican self, the logic of the narrative is undermined and there is even a sympathetic subtext.
    As part of Libya’s historical and mythical legacy, these stories reveal that for Lucan, historical epic is linked with Republicanism, but mythical epic is in the service of dictatorship.
  • Lowe, D. (2010). Burnt Offerings and Harpies at Nasidienus’ Dinner-Party (Horace, Satires 2.8). in: Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History. Brussels: Latomus, pp. 240-257.
    Horace's last Satire describes a disastrous dinner party hosted by the gourmet Nasidienus, which is ruined by a collapsing tapestry. The food served afterwards is presented in a dismembered state. This article argues that several elements of the scene recall the greedy Harpies of Apollonius' Argonautica, and that Horace's friend Virgil shows the influence of this Satire in his own Harpy-scene in Aeneid 3. It also argues that the confusion in the middle of the dinner causes the food cooking in the kitchen to be neglected and burned. This explains the state of the subsequent courses, which Nasidienus has salvaged from a separate disaster backstage.
  • Lowe, D. (2009). Playing with Antiquity: Videogame Receptions of the Classical World. in: Lowe, D. and Shahabudin, K. eds. Classics For All: Reworking Antiquity in Mass Cultural Media. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars PRess, pp. 62-88.
    This chapter documents a range of video games that portray classical antiquity. Two trends are identified. One is empire-building, which tends to treat classical (especially Roman) history and seek factual accuracy. The other is hero-centred action, which tends to treat classical (especially Greek) myth and seek creative reinvention. The two trends often intersect in surprising ways.

Edited book

  • Lowe, D. and Shahabudin, K. eds. (2009). Classics for All: Re-Working Antiquity in Mass Cultural Media. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
    Description from amazon.co.uk:
    "Classical culture belongs to us all: whether as academic subject or as entertainment, it constantly stimulates new ideas. In recent years, following Gladiator s successful revival of the toga epic , studies of the ancient world in cinema have drawn increasing attention from authors and readers. This collection builds on current interest in this topic, taking its readers past the usual boundaries of classical reception studies into less familiar and even uncharted areas of ancient Greece and Rome in mass popular culture. Contributors discuss the uses of antiquity in television programmes, computer games, journalism, Hollywood blockbusters, B-movies, pornography, Web 2.0, radio drama, and children s literature. Its diverse contents celebrate the continuing influence of Classics on modern life: from controversies within academia to ephemeral pop culture, from the traditional to the cutting-edge. The reader will find both new voices and those of more established commentators, including broadcaster and historian Bettany Hughes, Latinist Paula James, and Gideon Nisbet, author of Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture. Together they demonstrate that rich rewards await anyone with an interest in our classical heritage, when they embrace the diversity and complexity of mass popular culture as a whole."


  • Lowe, D. (2014). Review of Lennon, Jack P., Pollution and Religion in Ancient Rome. History Today [Online] 64:59-59. Available at: http://www.historytoday.com/blog/2014/02/pollution-and-religion-ancient-rome.
  • Lowe, D. (2011). Review of Martin M. Winkler, 'Cinema and Classical Texts: Apollo's New Light'. Classical Review [Online] 61:299-301. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0009840X10003021.
  • Lowe, D. (2008). Review of P. Murgatroyd, 'Mythical Monsters in Classical Literature'. Journal of Roman Studies 98:252-252.
  • Lowe, D. (2007). Review of Maria Plaza, 'The Function of Humour in Roman Verse Satire: Laughing and Lying'. Bryn Mawr Classical Review:1-1.
  • Lowe, D. (2007). Review of Barbara Weiden Boyd, 'Virgil's Aeneid 8 & 11: Italy & Rome'. Bryn Mawr Classical Review [online]:1-1. Available at: http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2007/2007-01-24.html.
  • Lowe, D. (2007). Review of Davide del Bello, 'Forgotten Paths: Etymology and the Allegorical Mindset'. Bryn Mawr Classical Review [Online]:1-1. Available at: http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2008/2008-11-11.html.
  • Lowe, D. (2006). Review of Michael Paschalis (ed.), 'Greek and Roman Imperial Epic' Paschalis, M. ed. Scholia Reviews [Online] 15:31-31. Available at: http://www.classics.ukzn.ac.za/reviews/06-31pas.htm.
  • Lowe, D. (2006). Review of Sarah Annes Brown, 'Ovid: Myth and Metamorphosis'. Scholia Reviews [Online]:16-16. Available at: http://www.classics.ukzn.ac.za/reviews/06-16bro.htm.
  • Lowe, D. (2005). Review of Yasmin Syed, 'Virgil's Aeneid and the Roman self. Subject and Nation in Literary Discourse'. Bryn Mawr Classical Review [Online]:1-1. Available at: http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2005/2005-08-25.html.
  • Lowe, D. (2005). Review of Andrew Dalby, 'Venus: A Biography'. Getty Publications, 2005. Bryn Mawr Classical Review [Online]:1-1. Available at: http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2005/2005-10-42.html.


  • Lowe, D. (2018). Dust in the Wind: Late Republican History in the Aeneid. in: Gildenhard, I. ed. Augustus and the Destruction of History: The Politics of the Past in Early Imperial Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available at: https://www.classics.cam.ac.uk/seminars/philological/supplementary-volumes.
    [Description quoted from an early draft of the introductory chapter:]
    Dunstan Lowe starts with a nuanced survey of the territory, sensibly suggesting hermeneutic restraint in how to deal with the phenomenon of possible allegorization: in many instances, the allusive recall of a historical event or figure is perhaps just that: an allusive recall rather than a full-blown allegory. He then goes on to consider the intertextual presence of one late-republican figure who has so far eluded proper recognition, let alone received sustained discussion: Sertorius. Lowe shows how the tame stag of Aeneid 7 and Hercules and Cacus episode in Aeneid 8, while also standing in allusive dialogue with a wide range of literary texts also reworks themes and motifs from historiographical treatments of Sertorius. He concludes by reasserting the principle of hermeneutic abstinence: the intertextual presence of Sertorius in the fabric of Virgil’s epic narrative does not yield any obvious allegory or clear political message. Rather, what we find on display here is Virgil’s encyclopaedic desire which informs his approach to all areas of discourse – from literary to philosophy, as well as historiography. The ambition to offer, in and through the Aeneid, a preview (however allusive) of all of Roman history and its main characters operates independent of, indeed outside and perhaps even in contradistinction to, any narrow ideological commitments, complements the Augustan teleology that constitutes the backbone of Virgil’s conception of history (for better or worse), and enriches the historiographical dimension of his epic.
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