Translatio Studii et Imperii

CategoryKey Term
Featured In

Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309);
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Translatio studii et imperii is a Latin term that emerges frequently in the analysis of medieval literary works, where translatio is defined as translation or transferal, studii as knowledge and culture, and imperii as political power and legitimacy. Hence, translatio studii et imperii traces the spatial and chronological movement of knowledge and culture, as well as political power and legitimacy from one civilization to another. In the Medieval ages, politics and transmission were intimately connected as it was perceived that political and cultural legitimacy were inherited from classical antiquity and bequeathed to modern-day medieval Europe (Schwartz), thus revealing the significance of translatio studii et imperii in claiming literary authority.

The Bayeux Tapestry, depicting events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century.

The classical parallelism between translatio studii and translatio imperii is exemplified by the thematic coupling of artes ac arma (arms and arts) and chevalerie et clergie (chivalry and scholarship) in medieval texts (Knauth). The prologue of Chrétien’s Cligès is one of the most cited examples that pays tribute to historical and spatial succession, where the prominence of power and knowledge is reflected in the lines “In Greece/ Knighthood and learning ranked/ Above all other things” (Cligès, 2). The reference to the particular geographical region indicates the esteem conferred upon cultural heritage hailing from Greece. Weight is placed upon succession, whether it is “Arthur’s lineage”, or the lineage of knighthood and learning having been “passed from Greece to Rome,/ And has reappeared, now,/ In France” (Cligès, 2). The mapping of space across Greece, Rome and France displays a historical continuity and legitimacy that lends itself to evolving literary traditions passed down over time from one civilization to another.

Chrétien’s Cligès, among a repertoire of other texts, also reflect political continuity by incorporating the unifying feature of the Arthurian court. In Cligès, Arthur serves not as a protagonist, but as the figurehead of the Arthurian Court, where the romance narrates the quests undertaken by Arthur’s knights. The Arthurian legend, weaved into stories from Celtic folklore, to Breton literature, Chrétien’s works and eventually across the greater Europe, underlies the geographical and geopolitical movement of literary material that is rooted in certain linguistic, cultural and literary codes, and concepts related to knighthood, chivalry and courtly love (Rikhardsdottir, 141). At the same time, each new work that draws upon the tradition simultaneously adds to it, and reconfigures the landscape of Arthurian literature. Given the shift from one form of writing to another, Translatio as a concept also moves beyond geographical and cultural transferal to encompass a linguistic movement from the classical languages of Greek and Latin to vernacular (Rikhardsdottir, 141).

The idea of literary evolution is reflected in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where the poet draws upon French romance tradition by using rhyming couplets, but also deviates by incorporating the old English verse form of alliteration (Schwartz). Thematically, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight subverts the trope of courtly love through the rejection of earthly pleasures represented by the temptress, for spiritual love devoted to Virgin Mary. Similar to Cligès, translatio studii et imperii is also echoed in the references to historical and cultural heritage in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’s prologue and ending – while the past is remembered through the founding of Britain, and the legacy of Brutus and Troy, the future is reshaped as the very chronicle of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is memorialized in the symbol of the green sash.


Rikhardsdottir, S. (2017). Chronology, Anachronism and Translatio imperii. Handbook of Arthurian Romance, 135–150.

Knauth, K. Translatio Studii and Cross-cultural Movements or Weltverkehr. Comparative Literature: Sharing Knowledges for Preserving Cultural Diversity, vol 2.

Schwartz, D. (2002). Translatio Studii Et Imperii. California Polytechnic State University.

Raffel, Burton, trans. (1997) Chrétien de Troyes: Cligès. Yale University Press. ISBN: 978-0300070217.

Armitage, Simon, trans. (2009) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN: 978-0393334159.


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