Helena Phillips-Robins

Helena Phillips-Robins

Visiting Assistant Professor, Italian


  • Ph.D., Italian Studies, Cambridge, 2017
  • M.Phil, European Literature and Culture, Cambridge, 2013
  • B.A. (Hons), Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge, 2012

Research areas

  • Medieval Italian literature and culture
  • Dante
  • Theology and religious practices
  • Visual and musical cultures
  • Women’s history and writing
  • History of emotions

About Helena Phillips-Robins

I specialize in medieval Italian literature and culture, working at the intersection of Literary Studies, Theology, and Music. I am particularly interested in the relation between literary, visual, and musical cultures, and the ways in which texts and images can be designed to act as agents of ethical and spiritual change.

My monograph Liturgical Song and Practice in Dante’s Commedia (University of Notre Dame Press, 2021) explores ways in which Dante presents liturgy as enabling humans to encounter God. I draw on largely untapped thirteenth-century sources to reconstruct how the songs and prayers performed in the Commedia were experienced and used in late medieval Tuscany. I argue that Dante calls not only for readers’ interpretative response to the Commedia but also for their performative and spiritual activity. I have also published on manuscript illumination, the reception of Dante in visual art, and the history of emotions. My current book project – Practices of Weeping: The Transformative Functions of Late Medieval Italian Poetry – examines the mimetic, penitential and transformative functions of weeping in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Italian poetry.

Selected Publications


Liturgical Song and Practice in Dante’s Commedia, William and Katherine Devers Series in Dante and Medieval Italian Literature (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2021)


‘Mediating Christ in Paradiso and in MS Vat.lat.4776’, Italian Studies, 77 (2022), 157-66

‘Theology through Images: Viewing and Devotion in the Yates Thompson Commedia’, Dante Studies, 138 (2020), 128-51

‘Singing for Dante in Purgatorio 30-31’, Bibliotheca Dantesca, 1 (2018), 127-45

‘‘Cantavan tutti insieme ad una voce’: Singing and Community in the Commedia’, Italian Studies, 71 (2016), 4-20

Book chapters

‘Voicing lament: Poet and reader as mourners in Dante’s Commedia’, in Dwelling on Grief: Narratives of Mourning Across Time and Forms, ed. by Simona Corso, Florian Mussgnug and Jennifer Rushworth, Transcript series (Cambridge: Legenda, 2022), pp. 35-46