Now, Leo Africanus may not be the story of the “average man” or the “man on the street.” He certainly is an exceptional figure whose travels, if matched, can almost certainly not be bettered by any other figure in history (Marco Polo, the commonly thought of traveler, merely visited strange lands, Leo Africanus lived in them, and with the people of them). However, this is not an example of the “great man” that was discussed earlier when we talked about Genghis Khan and the Mongols. Leo Africanus is a relatively average man in terms of societal standing, which we can see from the relatively average circumstances of his birth. Certainly this average situation seems better off when one considers slaves and the super-poor, yet those groups were not at the time considered part of society. To retroject a term onto the time period, his upbringing was comparable to that of gentlemen of later English society. From here he is able to visit and understand various cultures and religions and ways of thinking. Yet none of this is from the point of view of the great rulers.
So why is it valuable that we study him?
I believe that we study someone like Leo Africanus first of all because of the variety of cultures and worlds he is able to provide insight on. We can see what life was like in Italy with the Pope, in Muslim held Spain, in North Africa, etc all trough the eyes of one observer and one participant, removing one variable that is often seen in contemporary accounts. Also, through the study of a relatively average person, we can see a more accurate and vivid account of what life was like at the time, as well as a different view of rulers than what is often seen in official accounts sanctioned by those rulers. It is of course important to study the great and powerful, the poor and discounted, as well as those that occupy the middle ground between the two. Leo Africanus has important things to share with us that we can learn from. Studying the average allows us to see a different part of history, and to better understand what we had already heard from other sources.