School of History, Classics & Archaeology

About our staff

Photo of Douglas Cairns

Professor Douglas Cairns


Professor of Classics


Contact information
Address: Room 00M.12, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School, Teviot Place
Telephone: +44 (0)131 651 1647
Office hours: Please contact by e-mail; on research leave 2017-22

A Glaswegian, I graduated with MA (Hons) in Classics, University of Glasgow, in 1983 and received the PhD in Greek, University of Glasgow, in 1987.

I have been Lecturer in Greek, University of St Andrews, 1986; Post-doctoral Fellow, Leverhulme Trust, Georg-August Universität, Göttingen, 1987-8; Lecturer in Classics, University of Otago, 1988-92; Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Classics, University of Leeds, 1992-9; Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Classics, University of Glasgow, 1999-2004. 

I took up the Chair of Classics at Edinburgh on 1 September 2004 and served as Head of Classics 2004-5 and Head of School from 2005-8. 

I was a Research Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung in 1993-5 (Georg-August Universität, Göttingen), 2011 (Humboldt Universität, Berlin), and 2016 (Technische Universität Dresden), and held a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust from 2008-11 and a Senior Research Fellowship from the ERC/Oxford University Project, The Social and Cultural Construction of Emotions, 2012-13. I recently directed the AHRC-funded project, A History of Distributed Cognition (2014-18) and the Leverhulme Trust International Research Network, Emotions through Time (2016-18), and am currently director of the ERC AdG Project, Honour in Classical Greece (2018--22).

In 2008 I was Visiting Professor in Classics, Kyoto University, Japan.  I have been Peter A. Vlachos Lecturer in Classics (Colby College, 2007), Margaret Heavey Lecturer in Classics (NUI Galway, 2009), Platsis Symposiast (University of Michigan, 2009). George R. Langford Family Eminent Scholar Chair, Florida State University (2012), and Visiting Professor in Classics at the University of Pisa (2017). I have taught also at the University of Bologna (2013, 2017), International Christian University, Tokyo (2017), Tokyo University (2017), Fu Jen University, Taiwan (2018).

I was elected to membership of Academia Europaea in September 2013, to a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in February 2018, and to a Fellowship of the British Academy in July 2018.

In January 2018 I was awarded the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung's Anneliese Maier-Forschungspreis.

I am or have been involved in the following international collaborations:

Affiliated researcher, Excellenz-Cluster, Languages of Emotion, Freie Universität Berlin, 2011-12

Member, Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature, University of Oslo/Norwegian Academy, September 2011-

Member, Swiss Center for Affective Science, May 2013-

Member, Groupe de recherche international AITIA/AITIAI – Le lien causal dans la pensée antique: origines, formes et transformations (funded by CNRS Paris; Coimbra, Edinburgh, Oxford, Paris, Sao Paolo, Venice), 2014-18

PI, Leverhulme International Research Network, Emotions through Time, with colleagues in Cyprus, Edinburgh, London, Odense, and Vienna, 2016-18.

PhD topics supervised (Edinburgh)

(i) Human Beings in the Iliad

(ii) Reading Quintus Reading Homer

(ii) Eros in the Greek Novel

(iv) Artemis in Magna Graecia

(v) Religion in Herodotus

(vi) Psychological Imagery in Ap. Rhod.

(vii) Xenophon’s Theory of Moral Education

(viii) Fate and Determinism in Sophocles’ Theban Plays

(ix) Demeter in Hellenistic Poetry

(x) The Body in the Mind in Homer

(xi) Politics, Ideology, and Economy in the Pindaric World

(xii) Pindar, Sophocles, and Archaic Greek Thought

(xiii) Music and Emotions in the Ancient Aristotelian Tradition

(xiv) Myth in Athenian Oratory

(xv) Greek Parodic Poetry

(xvi) The Myth of the Leucippides,

(xvii) Antigone in the Twentieth Century

(xviii) The Social Therapeutic Function of Greek Tragedy through the Lens of Lev S. Vygotsky

(xix) Heterosexual Erôs in Greek Tragedy

(xx) Archilochean Poetics

(xxi) Emotions and Politics in the Iliad

(xxii) Becoming a God in Ancient Greek Thought

External appointments
  • Vice-President, The Classical Association
  • Editor, Journal of Hellenic Studies
  • Chair, Classical Association Journals Board
  • Member, Editorial Board, Lexis: Ancient Philosophy (A. M. Hakkert, Amsterdam)
  • Series editor, Edinburgh Leventis Studies
  • Series editor, The Edinburgh History of Distributed Cognition (with M. Anderson)
  • Member, Leverhulme Trust Research Awards Advisory Committee
  • Member, GEV 10, VQR 2011-2014
  • Research Assessor, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland
  • Member, sub-panel 29, REF 2021
Useful Links

Research in a Nutshell video

See also the video of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies lecture, 13 November 2014:  'The Horror and the Pity: Phrike as a Tragic Emotion'.

The handout for this talk is available on the SPHS website:

Also available is the talk ‘Language, Literature, and History in the Study of Emotion’: (Edinburgh, 14 April 2016).

This is part of the University's seminar series, ‘The world as we feel it’: see the project website at:

See also a recent talk (to the Royal Society of Medicine) on hybris: