The politics of medieval European translation

Authored by: Emma Campbell

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Politics

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138657564
eBook ISBN: 9781315621289
Adobe ISBN:


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In the Middle Ages (a period that, in Europe, roughly spans the fifth to the fifteenth century), the relationship between politics and translation was as significant as it is today, though the precise nature of this relationship needs to be appreciated in its historical and geographical contexts. One of the most obvious ways in which these terms are connected in medieval European thinking is encapsulated by the Latin concept of translatio imperii et studii: the transferral of power and learning from Greece to Rome, and thence to Europe. From this perspective, translation is an ideological phenomenon shoring up royal legitimacy and underwriting the transfer of intellectual and cultural power from the ancient world. Yet, while the concept of translatio imperii et studii describes an important trajectory of political transmission, it offers an overly simplistic way of thinking the connection between politics and translation for the medieval period. Translation in the Middle Ages also underwrites less linear, less historically straightforward forms of exchange that shaped medieval cultural and political systems and that passed through languages other than Greek and Latin (Arabic and Hebrew being just two, especially significant examples).

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