was Leo's Arabic Name, and what does it mean?
Hassan ibn Mohammed el Wazzan. His first name was Hassan, his
father's name must have been Mohammed and the family ancestors
must have been 'weighers' at some time- official weighers of
gold, a high position in the Sultan's court. You shouldn't mistake
this for the town of Ouezzane- as those originary from the town
are called Ouazzani.
do we know about his family?
Without doubt Leo was from a prestigious family, as both
his uncle and father worked for the Sultan of Fes. But their
prestige was not equal to that of the greatest Andalusian families,
whose presence was recorded in Fes. I have seen no mention of
the Wazzani's name in Fassi records.
it unusual for such a young man to take on such important missions
on account of the Fassi crown?
must remember the important positions held by Leo's uncle and
father, and the opportunities they had given Leo to work for
the Sultan and be noticed by him. Surely, when his uncle died,
Leo must have been called upon to replace him. You must also
remember that these were troubled times for the Wattaside court
[the ruling dynasty in Fes at the time]
their authority was being challenged by the Portuguese on the
coast, and by the Saadians in the South [By the end of Leo's
life, the Saadian dynasty would have taken over, transferring
the main seat of power from Fes to Marrakech].
Leo a merchant? One sort of gets this impression, reading his
comments on the price and quantity of goods across Morocco?
not! Leo did not have the right merchant 'savviness' Don't you
recall the time when he was held hostage in a village, not allowed
to leave until he had judged each and every quarrel. Upon his
departure, they all paid him 'in kind'- with chickens, barley,
goats etc... Had he been a good merchant he would have stayed
a few extra days to sell these bulky goods. Instead he kept
the light merchandise and gave the rest to his host!
Leo ever marry?
unlikely. He would not have had the possibility, as he was too
young. Once in Italy, his doubtful religious affiliations would
have made it difficult for him to find a wife there. Regardless,
there are no families in Moroccan who claim to descend from
Leo truly convert to Catholicism?
and No. Yes, we have the written proof of his conversion. No
in so far as this conversion was simply a matter of convenience,
not a matter of faith. Leo remained a true Muslim.
Leo return to Tunis, or did he die in Italy?
I don't think Leo ever made it back to Tunis, though he
probably intended to. Had he crossed over, local writers would
have surely mentioned the arrival of such a great personage.
I personally think he drowned on his way over.
was once told that the people of Tunis believe his tomb to be
in their main cemetery. The tombstone is said to carry the words:
Hassan el Roumi. Have you ever heard of this?
No, but this is an unlikely epitaph, as Leo would never
have been referred to as a "Roumi". Indeed that appellation
is reserved for people whose native tongue is not Arabic.
are the main "Leo scholars" in the Arab World?
There is Mohammed Hajoui, the first Moroccan to write Leo's
biography. There is Said Hajji, an old cousin of mine. He wrote
a few articles in the 1930s. Also, Louis Massignon's thesis
is in Rabat. He was a great man. There really aren't that many,
and some are not very serious. I once participated in an international
forum on Arab geographers in Riad (Saudi Arabia) where they
asked me to hurry through my translation to present it then.
I refused but they found a Syrian scholar to do the job in three
did you write this biography?
work is mostly based on Leo's actual words. As I translated
his text, I carefully noted all biographical indications. I
also read the works of the people cited above, and others you
can see in my Bibliography.
your Biography you mention Leo as a student of the Quaraouine
(mosque and great center of learning in Fes). Though Leo describes
his studies in Fes, he does not mention this. What makes you
think he studied there?
Leo makes references to events, books, people, general things
that would have only been known to a student of the Quaraouine.
Moreover, during his voyages he often stayed with Qadis, or
doctors of the law, a privilege that would have only been awarded
to a Qadi himself.
Who was Mohammed Hajoui, the author of Leo's first biography
[He pulls out his Dictionary of Famous Moroccan People]
Mohammed Hajoui was the son of a tremendously prestigious Faqi,
the equivalent of the Minister of Justice. Mohammed himself
held important functions, and was governor of Oujda for seventeen
years. During the Protectorate, he took the wrong side ( the
French side!), though he remained Governor after Independence
in 1956. He was nearly murdered, outside a mosque. In his old
age, he returned to Fes, his birthplace.
Leo Africanus in that dictionary?
[He takes a few moments, searching both for "Africanus"
and "Hassan El Wazzan]. No. [Uncomfortable silence]