Thursday, November 19, 2009

Marriage, Imprisonment, and Homecoming for Leo Africanus

Hasan suddenly finds himself married again at the beginning of the end of his tale. To his surprise and eventual delight, the woman arranged for him by Pope Leo is Granadan. Maddalena is beautiful, intelligent, and has suffered much at the hands of Catholicism during her time raised at a nunnery. Her escape by appealing to Cardinal Julius on his visit there lead to the spread of rumors and the Pope, convinced by the tales due to the Cardinal's lascivious style, turned her over to Hasan to cover up the deed. As Hasan cultivates a loving new family, however, the Pope dies only to be replaced by the Dutchman Adrian, the conservative, puritanic opposite of his predecessor who sets out on a crusade against art and ostentation in Rome. Anti-Adrian activists find Hasan an icon of their resistance for he refuses to shave his beard despite the Pope's mandate that all men be clean-shaven. Eventually he is caught with an opposition pamphlet (which were always being given to him) and he finds himself a prisoner once more, the day just after his decision to join his friend Abbas in Naples. Luckily for Hasan, the Pope is poisoned and replaced by Julius, renamed Pope Clement. Immediately he is needed as counsel regarding the heightening threat of Charles V ever-expanding empire, the growing numbers of Huguenots. Charged with fostering negotiations with France and the Ottoman Turks, he comes in contact with Harun, a representative for the Turks. Despite his efforts, the deaths of the French king and the Italian defender standing between the Huguenots and Rome lead to disaster. Luther's fanatics reach Rome, pillaging and setting it on fire. Trapped in the armory, Hasan finds salvation for his family through Hans, a former student, who gets him to Naples where 'Abbad welcomes them and makes plans for them to finally return home to Tunis.

One of the things I found interesting was how important it was for Hasan to keep his beard, even when it meant risking his own and his family's security. He asks, "Would anyone believe me if I were to say that I was ready to die for my beard that year? And not only for my beard, because all the battles were confused in my mind, as is the Pope's: the beard of the clergy, the naked breasts on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the statue of Moses..." (315). Although it was accepted in his country not to have one, especially foreigners, it was humiliating to shave one after having it for many years. That something that is merely fashion to us should have such deep significance for Hasan is fascinating. That he should cling with more determination than before is not unimaginable, because as he says, he is surrounded by affronting images to his moral/religious sensibilities, and shaving his beard would seem to be the last straw.

One of the questions in class has been, what are the advantages and disadvantages of reading about history from a first-person account? Do you think that this cultural detail about the significance of the beard is something that we would understand better if we learned about it another way? Is knowing these details important?


  1. As a psychology major as well as sociology, I study memory and cognition. People remember and understand concepts better and faster when they are connected to an elaborated memory or detail. When reading a textbook, all facts are emphasized rather equally and it is difficult to encode these facts into your head. With a fictional account of history, there might be more details, like a description of a beard; but these details are connectors, in a way, to thoughts that will aid in long term memory storage and retrieval at later times.

  2. I also thought the part about the beard was interesting, I thought there might be some type of religious connection, why else would Hasan be so adamant about keeping it? I looked it up, and Islam condones beards. If a Muslim man does not have a beard he is disregarding Allah's wishes. Those who do not have beards will go where other men (non-Muslims) without beards go when they die, according to the Qur'an.