Synopses & Reviews
An engrossing study of Leo Africanus and his famous book, which introduced Africa to European readers Al-Hasan al-Wazzan--born in Granada to a Muslim family that in 1492 went to Morocco, where he traveled extensively on behalf of the sultan of Fez--is known to historians as Leo Africanus, author of the first geography of Africa to be published in Europe (in 1550). He had been captured by Christian pirates in the Mediterranean and imprisoned by the pope, then released, baptized, and allowed a European life of scholarship as the Christian writer Giovanni Leone. In this fascinating new book, the distinguished historian Natalie Zemon Davis offers a virtuoso study of the fragmentary, partial, and often contradictory traces that al-Hasan al-Wazzan left behind him, and a superb interpretation of his extraordinary life and work. Davis describes all the sectors of her hero's life in rich detail, scrutinizing the evidence of al-Hasan's movement between cultural worlds; the Islamic and Arab traditions, genres, and ideas available to him; and his adventures with Christians and Jews in a European community of learned men and powerful church leaders. In depicting the life of this adventurous border-crosser, Davis suggests the many ways cultural barriers are negotiated and diverging traditions are fused.
"Davis (The Return of Martin Guerre) performs a sterling service in disentangling the twisted threads of al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Wazzan's fascinating life. Better known in the West as Leo Africanus, he was one of the Renaissance's greatest geographers and the author of a Europe-wide bestseller, The Description of Africa (1550). Born a Muslim in Granada in 1492, al-Hasan al-Wazzan traveled widely as an ambassador and merchant throughout Africa, a continent then a mystery to Europeans, but was captured by Spanish pirates in 1518, presented to Pope Leo X and ostensibly converted to Christianity while explaining Islam to his bewildered audience. Al-Hasan al-Wazzan had the (mis)fortune to live in 'interesting times': the Ottomans were on the march, the Habsburgs were on the rise and the Protestants were alarming the pope, yet al-Hasan al-Wazzan managed to flit among a myriad of worlds (including, Davis speculates, taking a formerly Jewish wife). Eventually, he returned to a North Africa riven by turmoil and slaughter, and disappeared from our view. He rose above hard-drawn lines and presented 'himself simply as an independent polymath,' says Davis, and his life provides a lesson in the 'possibility of communication and curiosity in a world divided by violence.' 16 pages of b&w illus., 2 maps." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] fascinating tale of a man forced . . . to live between incompatible worlds. Highly recommended." --Library Journal Al-Hasan al-Wazzan--born in Granada to a Muslim family that in 1492 went to Morocco--became famous as the great Renaissance writer Leo Africanus, author of the first geography of Africa to be published in Europe (in 1550). He had been captured by Christian pirates in the Mediterranean and imprisoned by the pope; when he was released and baptized, he lived a European life of scholarship as the Christian writer Giovanni Leone; by 1527, it is likely that he returned to North Africa and to the language, culture, and faith in which he had been raised. Natalie Zemon Davis offers a virtuoso study of the fragmentary, partial, and often contradictory traces that al-Hasan al-Wazzan left behind him, and a superb interpretation of his extraordinary life and work.
About the Author
Natalie Zemon Davis
is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emerita at Princeton University. Her books include Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision
and Woman on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives
. She lives in Toronto, Canada.