OVERRIDE

Trickster Travels

A Sixteenth-Century Muslim Between Worlds

Natalie Zemon Davis

Hill and Wang

The man whom historians know as Leo Africanus, author of the first geography of Africa, was born al-Hasan al-Wazzan to a Muslim family that in 1492 moved from Granada to Morocco. In this book, Natalie Zemon Davis offers a study of the fragmentary (and often contradictory) traces that this celebrated figure left behind him, and an interpretation of his extraordinary life and work.
 
As a young man, al-Hasan traveled extensively on behalf of the sultan of Fez, until he was captured in 1518 by Christian pirates in the Mediterranean and imprisoned by Pope Leo X, then released when he converted to Christianity. For the next decade he lived in Italy as the Christian scholar Giovanni Leono: it was then that he wrote his famous Description of Africa. After the sack of Rome in 1527, it is likely that he returned to North Africa. In her characteristically accessible and engaging way, Davis describes each sector of this dramatic life in detail, scrutinizing the evidence of al-Hasan's movement between cultural worlds, the Islamic and Arab traditions and ideas available to him, and his adventures with Christians and Jews in a European community of learned men and powerful church leaders.
 
Drawing on all his manuscripts—including ones previously unknown—Davis explores the places and people al-Hasan encountered and the books that shaped his work. We see him studying law and theology in a Fez madrasa; talking with nomads and merchants; reciting poetry; teaching Arabic to a cardinal in Rome; creating an Arabic-Hebrew-Latin dictionary with a scholarly Jew in Bologna. And we see him emerge as an author, using Arabic genres but writing in Italian and Latin for European readers. Davis's work suggests that the experiences and writing of this adventurous border-crosser bear witness to the possibilities for connection, exchange, and even intimacy among peoples living in a divided world, and to the many ways that they negotiate cultural barriers and fuse divergent traditions.

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TRICKSTER TRAVELS (Chapter 1)

Living in the Land of Islam

SITTING IN A ROMAN PRISON in 925/1519, a Muslim captive decided to write his three-part name in Arabic on a manuscript he had borrowed from the Vatican Library: al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Wazzan (figure 1). So we learn that his father was Muhammad and his grandfather Ahmad al-Wazzan. "Al-Fasi," he continued, showing his origins in the Arabic fashion, "from Fez," though elsewhere he inserted "al-Gharnati" to make clear he had been born in Granada and then brought up in Fez.1

Would that al-Hasan al-Wazzan had been as forthcoming

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REVIEWS

Praise for Trickster Travels

"Brings the sixteenth-century Mediterranean to life with freshness, vividness, and telling detail." --Clifford Geertz, The New York Review of Books

"A beautifully written and thoughtful book that shows off some of the sophisticated tools for reading and parsing evidence that historians have been developing in recent years." --Peter N. Miller, The New Republic
 
"Trickster Travels is a masterpiece of the historian's craft and craftiness. A brilliant storyteller, Natalie Zemon Davis reconstructs the life of Al-Hasan al-Wazzan, the great Renaissance geographer known to the West as Leo Africanus. And what a life it was: exile from Muslim Spain in the wake of the Catholic conquest; restless travels in Africa in the service of the sultan of Fez; capture by pirates and imprisonment in Rome; conversion to Christianity and release from prison; an outpouring of remarkable books, introducing Africa and Islam to European intellectuals; and finally a return to North Africa and to the language, culture and faith in which he had been raised. Davis' great gift lies not only in her tenacious ability to follow this twisting path but also in her scholarly determination to tease out its rich implications. This is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand what it means to live between two violently warring worlds." --Stephen Greenblatt

Reviews from Goodreads

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Natalie Zemon Davis

  • 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.
  • Natalie Zemon Davis Ingrid von Kruse
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    Trickster Travels

    A Sixteenth-Century Muslim Between Worlds

    Natalie Zemon Davis

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    Hill and Wang

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