Leo Africanus

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  1. Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf
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  4. Leo Africanus

They soon developed a 'marginal' way of life, far away from the control of any central authority, which they actually scorned. Thanks to their skills, culture and capital they became a serious threat to local merchants and artisans. In many ways, they played the role of a Moroccan middle class; an unusual one though, as they were kept at the outskirts of society. Businessman: While several biographers have said that Leo was a merchant, and traveled for those reasons, it seems very unlikely that Leo had anything to do with business.

Mohammed Hajji, his Moroccan biographer asserts that while he may have traveled with merchant caravans, his purpose was never business related.


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As evidence of this, he points to Leo's complete lack of business interest, reflected in his inability to identify a 'business opportunity", even when it is handed over to him:. Had he been a real business man he may have found a way to convert these goods into more easily transported valuables!

Following the path of Leo Africanus to Timbuktu, a traveler encounters modern nomads.

Hospitality Leo's opinions on a certain tribe or place are a function of the way in which he was received by the people he met there. Hence one of his first observations always pertains to the ways in which people receive their guests. For example: "The Black people are agreeable and trustworthy.

Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf

They treat visitors very well. On the other hand, if he was mistreated during his visit, he usually tends to be quite critical of his hosts: "they are the most miserly of men, and many of them have refused to give shelter to a stranger, even for politeness or for the love of God" Diplomat On several occasions, Leo was part of an ambassadorial delegation, on behalf of the King of Fes.

Leo accompanied him on his travels through the region north of Marrakesch : "we were traveling to bring peace to that region" Indeed, this Cherif was one of two sons of Muhammed as-Sa'di, who spearheaded the struggle against the Portugese in Southern Morocco. In the latter had sent his two sons to Fes, to ask for the right to build an army. They succeeded and worked on their father's behalf until his death in By , they had conquered most of Western Morocco, which they split evenly- one ruling from Marrakesch and the other from Taroudant.

Their increasing power became an obvious threat for the Wattaside ruler in Fes- erupting in an armed conflict in By , Muhammad al Mahdi overcame both the Fes ruler and his rival brother, and became the first Saadian sultan of Marrakesch. For more on this, take the Atlas Trip. It is unclear which of the brothers Leo accompanied, but he must have held an important position in this delegation, as he witnessed many of the crucial conversations between the Cherif and the townspeople they visited.

Education Leo studied in Fes, most probably with professors affiliated to the Quaraouine mosque. Leo had much affection for this 'alma mater', and he refers to it with pride and nostalgia, befriending other Fes scholars he met during his travels: "Among these villagers there are many scholars and judges.

I met several of them who had studied in Fes; they were wonderful hosts and insisted on traveling with me" However, he also mentions that the overall quality of education in Morocco has declined since the great intellectual times of the 13th and 14th centuries: "Today there is but little income to feed the professors- some of whom earn less than ducats. This may be one of the reasons why Fes' intellectual level has declined" Once his formal studies were over, Leo continued his education through exchanges with other intellectuals and wise men. Egypt: Leo traveled to Egypt on two occasions, and gives a detailed description of Cairo.

Europe The numerous comparisons Leo makes between Italy and Morocco attest to his knowledge of the West. Leo must have traveled about Italy as he referred to monuments not only in Rome and the Roman countryside, but in Bologna and even outside Italy - whether he personally travelled, or was attentive to tales from people who had been outside Italy is not clear: "They are the silversmiths and mint the city's coins: from one ounce of silver they make small coins which look like the Hungarian hellers, though they are square shaped" In many ways, Leo seems to consider Fes as his second home- and he never ceases to praise the city's people and places.

The minute description he gave of Fes' neighborhoods, population and administration show how well he knew the city, and his words constitute one of the only testimonies of city life in 15th century Morocco. Louis Massignon, one of his French biographers writes: "Fes, Leo's second home town, is remarkably well described.

The account is all the more valuable as it shows a Moroccan city that has barely changed since the XVIth century, the only one that has survived among all Moorish towns, in Morocco or Southern Spain" -- "Fes, seconde patrie de Leon l'Africain, est analysee de facon remarquablement complete.

Cette description nous est d'autant plus precieuse qu'elle montre cristallisee sous sa forme actuelle des le XVI eme siecle une cite marocaine, la seule qui ait subsiste avec son complet developpement d'entre les cites maures du moyen age, andalous ou maghrebin. Granada: Leo thought of Granada as his true homeland and place of origin: "I stayed with a rich man from Granada.. Italy Leo's presence in Italy greatly influenced his narrative perspective and the tone with which he describes North Africa.

For example, he seems to have integrated much of the "progressive" ideology of the renaissance, sometimes criticizing Moroccans for being too backward: "If this mountain was in Italy it would be mined for an extra 25 thousand ducats. But these uneducated simpletons do not know the value of this mineral" Legitimacy: There is much speculation on the value of Leo's narrative perspective.

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Can we trust a man who is not really Moroccan as he is Andalusian and questionably Muslim as he did convert to give us a fair account of Morocco. Leo answers this question: "I realize that it is questionable of him to reveal the negative qualities of Africains. Africa was my wet nurse, I grew up there and spent the longest and most beautiful part of my life.


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  6. But I must be a historian, and am thus obligated to speak the truth with no reserve. Lions: Lions must have been a serious threat in Leo's days as he makes a point of mentioning them wherever they can be found. This obsession seems to be more than a personal fascination as Leo recalls pilgrimages made by thousands of people to the tomb of the holy patron of Lions. As a child Leo accompanied his father on a yearly pilgrimage to this tomb, to implore further protection from the wild beasts: "They say that this saint performed many miracles against lions and that he was a great seer Thjs man's fame draws many people to his town.

    People of Fes go to his tomb every year, after the Muslim Easter. Men, women and children travel there, in such numbers that their procession resembles a marching army. Each brings his tent, animals and other items. My father used to bring me with him.

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    When I was older I also went occasionally to fulfill oaths I had made when threatened by lions" Maristane: A maristane is both a hospital and an insane asylum. Contemporary full overlapping vellum, spine with handwritten title. Republ, , no 22; Steiner Verz.

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    Afrique Arabie, San Reno, no ; Els. The Elzeviers have published this Republic only once. It is the reprint of a work published by Ioan. He wrote his great work on Africa in , originally in Italian, kept in manuscript as "Descrittione dell'Africa"; that manuscript is dated Rome, March 10th, it was not published then as Gruys erroneously states. It was only in that Ramusio was fortunate enough to obtain a copy of that manuscript and incorporated that in his collection of travel accounts "Delle Navigationi e Viaggi" Venice, , with the title "Della descrittione dell'Africa et delle cose notabili che iui sono".

    It has been found rather recently that Ramusio has embellished the original manuscript to make it more fashionable for the Christian European public. A few years later the work was published in French translation by Jean Temporal from Lyon as "Historiale description de l'Afrique, tierce partie du monde". Latius in and republished in The Elzevier Republic from was a reprint of this Antwerpen-edition of , without even mentioning Florian's name, and omitting Florian's original dedication from that edition. Florian's translation is not without faults he sometimes omitted whole passages of cardinal importance and inferior to Temporal's Fench translation.

    Despite those shortcomings, Florian's version remained the standard work in a time when classical Latin was the vernacular tongue of the learne world see for commentary on the old editions, and their reliability. Although called "A Description of Africa", it is in reality merely a description of those parts of Africa lying north of the equator, that were personally known to Leo or to his informants.

    Leo Africanus

    The work is divided into nine Books. Book I provides in almost pages 3 a general introduction of Africa. Book III is in this edition divided between the first pp - and the second part pp - and is about the Kingdom of Fez.