Staff profiles

Photo of Professor Karen Ni-Mheallaigh

Professor Karen Ni-Mheallaigh



01392 724491

My research interests are rooted in the world of the ancient imagination. I explore the different ways in which ancient fictional writing interacts with its context, e.g.

1) how fiction interacts with its contemporary written culture, especially through pseudo-documentary fictions;

2) intersections betweeen ancient scientific and imaginative thought;

3) ancient 'wonder-culture,' namely the fascination with the fantastic that might be true, the conversion of the fantastic into reality and ways of creating the experience of fiction in ancient visual, material and literary culture.

Much of my research has focussed on the works of Lucian of Samosata.

As well as Greek and Latin language, I teach modules related in ancient narrative, novels, ancient astronomical thought, paradoxography and wonder-culture.

I am on leave on a Marie Curie research fellowship at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (Denmark) 2014-2016, during which time I am working on my research project, Discovering the ancient scientific imagination.

Research interests

My research interests are rooted in the world of the ancient imagination. Basically, I explore the different ways in which ancient fictional writing interacts with its context. My research currently falls into three categories:

1) Pseudo-documentary fiction. This term describes texts which assert fictionally that they are based on, or related to, an authentic document such as an inscription, a letter or a long-lost text. Examples include Dictys of Crete's Journal of the Trojan war and Antonius Diogenes' novel The incredible things beyond Thule (and there are many more). These are the libraries of the imagination, and they are fascinating not least because the ways in which an author conjures a text into reality can tell us much about ancient textual culture and what texts - as objects - mean to readers. I examined some of these aspects of pseudo-documentary fiction in my first monograph, Reading fiction with Lucian: fakes, freaks and hyperreality (Cambridge University Press, 2014), and am currently co-editing, with Claire Rachel Jackson (Cambridge) and Helena Schmedt (Frankfurt), a volume of essays on Antonius Diogenes' novel.  

2) The ancient scientific imagination. This is my current research project, for which I was awarded a Marie Curie research fellowship at AIAS (Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Denmark) from 2014-6. It will form one of the hubs within the Department's new Research Centre for Ancient Knowledge in Culture. I have recently completed a monograph Selenography: the Moon between ancient science and fiction, which explores astronomy as an aesthetic resource in ancient literature, focussing especially on the Moon as a point of intersection between the imaginary and the known. I am also developing a study of Plutarch's On the face of the Moon with translation, notes and essays.

3) Wonder-culture. This term denotes 'fiction' beyond the literary text. I am interested in exploring the broader landscape of imaginative experience, including religious culture, spectacle, and the roles of art, architecture and technology in shaping imaginative experience - and how literature, which is itself a constituent of this lanscape, interacts with these neighbours. My research here will be collaborative with Dr. Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis (KCL/Oxford). An organised panel at ICAN V in Houston, Texas (October 2015), entitled 'Wunderkultur, fiction and the landscape of the imagination' initiated our exploration of these ideas.

Research supervision

I am open to discussing research proposals on any subject which relates to my own research expertise. I am especially happy to consider working with candidates with interests in ancient fiction and imaginative thought, and in the literature of the imperial period.

Other information

I live near Exeter city centre with my husband and our little dog Sweep.



My teaching tends to focus on ancient Greek language, and on the prose fictions of the Greek and Roman world. 

Modules taught


I joined the University of Exeter in 2007, having previously taught at the Universities of Liverpool and Swansea. I was born and grew up in Dublin, Ireland, and completed my BA and PhD in Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. I am married to another Dubliner and have a much-loved dachshund called Sweep.