Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Translatio Studiorum

  • Simona CohenEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_1134-1


Translatio studiorum, literally the transfer of learning, refers to the transmission of knowledge from one place to another, one period to another, or/and from one intellectual context to another. It may also include the transfer of ideas and concepts from one medium to another, through material culture and the arts. Latin translations and commentaries from medieval Arabic became important mediators of Classical western knowledge, although some Renaissance humanists advocated the philosophical primacy of Greek, the language of scientific and philosophical classical scholarship. During the fifteenth century, Greek originals were rediscovered and revived and, by the mid sixteenth century, both Greek and Latin texts were translated into native vernaculars and printed, thus reaching a larger public. Some recent scholars have claimed that the fundamental concern of translatio studiorum with literary legacy has detracted from the contribution of material and artistic mediators. Furthermore, literature on translatio studiorum has generally promoted the assumption that human learning and cultural heritage originated in Greece and spread to the West, thereby ignoring mutual influences and interactions between the cultures and learning of East and West.


Sixteenth Century Latin Translation Latin Text Greek Original Word Translation 
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Translatio studiorum literally means the transfer of learning or studies. It refers to the transmission of knowledge from one geographical place to another, from one period to another, or/and from one intellectual context to another. The concept implicitly conveys that the transmission of learning also carried with it the cultural ideals and values of intellectual heritage. The term has generally been described as a continuous transposition of texts and their rewriting, translations, and interpretations, but the limits of this definition have recently been debated. Translatio studiorum may also include the transfer of ideas and concepts from one medium to another, transfer by means other than texts, through material culture and the arts.

In classical Latin, translatio meant both translation and transfer. Later the Latin term translatio designated transmission, and traductio referred to what we call translation. The words translation in French and traslazione in Italian had a spatial sense, meaning the movement or displacement of a figure or object.

The concept is closely linked to translatio imperii (transfer of rule), a historical term originating in the Middle Ages, which described the movement of imperial dominance as a linear succession of transfers (Knauth, 2007). This idea of historical linearity was opposed by Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304–74), who is considered the initiator of the fourteenth century Renaissance or so-called proto-renaissance, and by his humanist followers who perceived a new relationship to antiquity based on renovation or renaissance.

Latin translations played a fundamental role in the transfer of learning and the philosophical acculturation of Europe. During the Middle Ages and the early modern period, there was a general debate about the philosophical potential of Latin in its relationship to contemporary vernaculars and ancient languages, especially to Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic (De Libera, 1997). Some Renaissance humanists advocated the philosophical primacy of Greek as opposed to scholastic Latin. Due to translinguistic and transcultural experiments in translations, primarily from Arabic and Hebrew, medieval Latin had developed a lexicon suited to philosophical discourse. Neo-Latin translations were produced in the fields of medicine, astrology-astronomy, and natural history (Giglioni, 2015). Classical sources of scientific and philosophical scholarship were in Greek but, since a few Renaissance literati could read them, Latin translations and commentaries from the Arabic became important mediators of ancient knowledge. Humanists produced Latin versions of the writings of Aristotle and Plato (4th c. BC), Archimedes (3rd c. BC), Dioscorides ((1st c.), Ptolemy (2nd c.), Galen (2nd c.), and others. The first complete Latin translation of Plato, by Marsilo Ficino (1433–99), was dedicated to the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, who had supplied him with the Greek manuscripts and was patron of Ficino’s Accademia Platonica. The translation of 1468/9 was published in 1484. Ficino also translated Hellenistic documents of the so-called Corpus Hermeticus, attributed to the mythical, primeval sage Hermes Trismegistus, and writings of Neoplatonists, including Plotinus. From the mid-fifteenth century Greek originals were rediscovered and revived along with Greek scholarship (Worth-Stylianou, 1999). The work of Manuel Chrysoloras (ca.1350–1415), who came from Constantinople to teach Greek in Florence at the invitation of the humanist and historian Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406) was continued by Greek émigrés such as Cardinal Bessarion (1395–1472) and John Argyropoulos (1415–87) following the Fall of Constantinople in1453. Prominent humanists, like Leonardo Bruni (1370–1444), Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94), and Angelo Poliziano (1454–94), translated works from Greek. Towards the mid-sixteenth century, Greek and Latin texts were translated into native vernaculars, primarily in Italy and France, in order to reach a broader public. There was much opposition to literal, word for word translation during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although Ciceronian Latin was considered the ideal model, rigid imitatio was increasingly criticized. Salutati wrote “I must imitate antiquity not simply to reproduce it, but in order to produce something new.” In the sixteenth century, the eminent Dutch theologian and classical scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) ridiculed as “apes” those humanists whose imitations of Cicero were superficial.

The traditional perception of the Renaissance, as a period of “rebirth” and innovation, characterized by the departure from medieval cultural legacy, originated with Petrarch and subsequent Italian theorists, and was promoted by the cultural historian Jacob Burkhardt (1818–97). Modern scholars, however, have recognized that humanism owed a considerable debt to medieval learning and translations of Greek and Arabic scientific and philosophical texts – the medieval Latin translatio studiorum. The eminent Andalusian philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd, 1126–1198) wrote commentaries and emendations of Aristotle, which were the foundation of the Aristotelian revival in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and promoted Aristotelian studies in the West and in the Islamic world until the late Renaissance. Thus access to the writings of Aristotle and other classical authors came in part from Arabic translations and commentaries. One of the main centers of Averroistic-Aristotelian academic studies in Italy was established at the University of Padua. Separate editions of Aristotle and Averroes were published in nearby Venice in the 1470s, but the first humanist edition of Aristotle-Averroes combined dates from 1497, followed by sixteenth century editions. Early patrons of the return to the Arabic authors, included the future cardinal Domenico Grimani (1461–1523) and Pico della Mirandola. The philosophical curriculum taught in Italian universities and promoted by humanists was reflected in contemporary paintings, such as The Three Philosophers by Giorgione (1509, Vienna), where a Jewish patriarch and Moslem sage symbolically represent the legacy of a Christian theologian, and The School of Athens (Vatican fresco, 1509–11), by Raphael, who painted Averroes among the Greek scholars. These stand in contrast to earlier fourteenth and fifteenth century paintings of The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas, such as that by Benozzo Gozzoli (ca.1470–75, Louvre), where Averroes was shown trampled underfoot, illustrating the rejection of Arabic inheritance.

The Arabo-Judeo-Latin lineage was the basis for the Aristotelian corpus up to the mid-sixteenth century. The break came with the Venetian edition published by Thomas Junta in 1562 where the source was no longer Arabo-Latin, but Greek.

The concept of translatio studii has been fundamentally concerned with the translating, commenting, interpreting, and rewriting of texts. This concentration on literary studies has detracted from the contribution of material, and artistic mediators in cultural transmission, as some scholars have recently demonstrated (Flood, 2009).

From historical and geographical viewpoints, literature on Translatio studiorum has promoted the assumption that human learning and cultural heritage originated in Greece and spread to the West. Mutual influences between East and West and their continuous interactions in the transmission of culture and learning have largely been excluded from this discussion, due to the compartmentalization of scholarly research according to preconceived cultural, historical, and/or religious boundaries. One of the most widely diffused and translated literary compositions, illustrating east–west Translatio studiorum, is the collection of Indian animal fables called the Panchatantra (ca.3rd c.). The original Sanskrit version is lost, but the text and illustrations were transmitted, through revisions and translations, from India and Indonesia, through Islamic Asia, to medieval and Renaissance Europe, transcending religious, sociopolitical, cultural, and linguistic boundaries.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Art HistoryTel-Aviv UniversityTel-AvivIsrael