Sir Kenneth Dover: Hellenist and Chancellor, a frank moustached man.

Since this month is ‘Movember’, here at MUSA we are celebrating famous moustached men associated with St Andrews. Volunteer blogger, Selena Putri, writes about former Chancellor, Sir Kenneth Dover.

In the image below, Sir Kenneth is reading Supplementum Epigraphicum Volume XLVI, 1996. On the table is a ‘Book of Insects’ and a volume of Winnie the Pooh (though Winnie the Pooh cannot be identified on the picture). This photograph is in the MUSA collection and has featured in MUSA exhibitions! Since early youth, Dover had been fascinated by insects, demonstrating the idiosyncratic proclivities of this distinguished moustached man.

Sir Dover’s bona fides know no bounds; President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford (1976-87), President of the British Academy (1978-81), and Chancellor of our very own University of St Andrews (1981-2005), he is hailed as one of the world’s best hellenists (a specialist in the language of culture of ancient Greece) and is the author of Greek Homosexuality (1978), a seminal and groundbreaking text. The Independent described him as ‘a disarmingly frank pioneer historian’.

Dover was born in London in 1920, and from an early age had a fascination with linguistic complexities, teaching himself the grammar of Pacific languages during adolescence out of curiosity. He served in the Second World War in the Western Desert and Italy, returning to Oxford in 1945 to continue in academia after having received several prizes and scholarships.

Sir Kenneth Dover

In the 1950s, Dover became a world authority over Greek language and literature. He authored several acclaimed books during his time in St Andrews, which began in 1955. His best-remembered text, Greek Homosexuality (1978), drew on literature, visual art, history, mythology, and philosophy to share an unprecedented view of ancient Greek sexual and social practices. This book was a catalyst for the study of ancient sexual cultures in the 1980s and influenced even Michel Foucault. The text supplied the broad-minded area of study with much-needed scholarly techniques, approaches, and authority.

Dover’s high standing and notability did not evade cases of animosity and controversy; his time as President of the British Academy, especially regarding the expulsion of Soviet spy Anthony Blunt, a fellow, and Dover’s opposition to presenting Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree were experiences fraught with tension. Moreover, a protracted issue in Corpus Christi with the unstable behavior of Trevor Aston, a history fellow, led to several disputes, death wishes, and eventually Aston’s own suicide, for which Dover has expressed relief in his frank autobiography, Marginal Comment. The disclosures and confessions (including sexual accounts) of this autobiography had led to acrimony with certain Corpus fellows, although the autobiography can be appreciated for being an honest exploration of the motivations that shaped Dover’s academic enquiries. In fact, Oxford University Press had refused to publish this autobiography, most likely due to Dover’s plain-speaking tone and expressions vis-à-vis Aston’s suicide.

Dover can be remembered for far more than his linguistic and historical mastery; indeed, his imagination and drive to understand human behaviour, both ancient and contemporary, are just as noteworthy. He is a figure of St Andrean history that has been a pleasure to recover and research through the MUSA collection. Dover’s boldness and frankness urge me to end this post with Dover’s own words: “I do not spare the dead, nor do I expect to be spared when I am dead”.

By Selena Putri


You can find out more about the Movember cause here:


About Selena Putri

Selena is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of St Andrews. She studies Art History and International Relations and is interested in the traditions, notable figures and forgotten histories of St Andrews. She is an avid vlogger of student life and beyond the town, she is interested in the politics and sustainability of artistic, environmental, and cultural practices.


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