Friday, November 13, 2009

Luxury, Exile, Slavery...and Freedom?

At the beginning of our reading for this week, Hasan is living in luxury in Fez, but before long his life begins to unravel as his wife Fatima dies along with the child she was going to bear, he is accused for being responsible for putting Zarwali in a perilous situation that lead to his murder by sending him into exile, and then sent into exile himself. The grand departure he makes from Fez only turns to despair when a great storm robs him of all his riches on the trip to return Hiba to her tribe. Though she was able to secure him more than 1,000 dinars, he found depression in Timbuktu, which was soon destroyed by fire. Hasan manages to get to Cairo, but the city is plagued by disease. With the happy responsibility of guarding the home of a generous stranger, he finds himself a new wife. On the way to Mecca, however, he is robbed again of all he managed to recover for himself when he is captured and enslaved by an Italian pirate Bovadiglia, who was charged with tracking down a respectable, Arabic-speaking gentleman to aid the Pope.

It was very interesting to me how the relationship between Pope Leo X and Hasan developed, as well as Hasan's reaction to his enslavement. The Pope immediately takes a liking to Hasan. He is given anything he requests. The door to his room is eventually unlocked, and while taking classes and teaching classes for the Pope, he is eventually "freed." But, how free is he? He resists responding to the Luther-supporting Hans (a student) out of respect for his "protector." Does he forget how he came to be there? His curiosity for learning seemed to make him submissive to his situation. Not once does the reader get the impression that this was some sort of injustice!

How are we to understand this? The most troubling thing for Hasan is when his name is changed to Leo Africanus and the lack of regular prayer to guide men's daily lives. His identity seems to be at risk and he makes his new name sound more Arabic. I am surprised that he does not feel more passionate about the luxury and corruption Christianity.


  1. What I meant to add, was how strongly affectionate the Pope and Hasan came to feel about each other. Hasan is even brought to tears when the Pope hands him the text in Arabic. The scene wants to suggest that personal relationships can transcend religious differences and even power-relations. But how is that possible when the text he gave Hasan is Christian beliefs in Arabic to convert Muslims to Christianity. To whom, then, will Hasan pledge his allegiance? To his people or to his adoptive father the Pope?

  2. I find your ideas on Hasan's changes in this section, certainly the change in name and prayer is odd, but particularly the change in idea from the man who was sent into exile for criticizing his leaders to now someone who will refuse to even discuss different ideas out of "respect" certainly is odd how someone can fundamentally change their outlook on life as a whole...

  3. I agree with both of you in this respect, it is strange that someone would change their identity. However, there are sources that say Leo Africanus did not really convert to Christianity, he stayed a Muslim. I think if this is the case, the relationship between the Pope and Hasan is one of respect. They respect each other's religion and then accept each other and understand.