| ERANOS-JUNG LECTURES 2024 | Between Christian Europe and the Islamic World. Hassan al-Wazzân (Leo Africanus) and the First Description of Africa


Between Christian Europe and the Islamic World. Hassan al-Wazzân (Leo Africanus) and the First Description of Africa

Conferenza: Between Christian Europe and the Islamic World. Hassan al-Wazzân (Leo Africanus) and the First Description of Africa

Lecturer: Massimo Danzi (Université de Genève)

Date: Friday, March 15, 2024, 6:30 p.m.

Place: Monte Verità (Ascona), Auditorium

Cycle: Eranos-Jung Lectures 2024 - The Great Worksites of Contemporaneity. Looks at the Knots of the Present

Language: Italian

Moderator: Fabio Merlini (Eranos Foundation, Ascona / SUFFP, Lugano)

Followed by discussion with the audience and aperitif

The video recording of the lecture is viewable on the official YouTube channel of the Eranos Foundation.

Lecture presentation

The figure of Hassan al-Wazzân, a Muslim from Granada, is known to the general public through French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf's 1986 novel. Repatriated to Fes, Morocco, at the time of the Catholic "reconquista" that ended eight centuries of Islamic presence in Spain in 1492, Hassan received a high-level education that led him to study Koranic theology, classical, and Semitic languages (Arabic and Hebrew). From Fes, either in the retinue of his uncle or on behalf of the Sultan, he visited North and sub-Saharan Africa extensively and repeatedly as far as Cairo, giving of this then little-known continent the first autopsy description after centuries of only literary knowledge. In 1518, returning from Cairo to Fez, Hassan was captured at sea by Christian privateers and taken to Rome, where he was offered as a gift to the pontiff, who was then Leo X of the Florentine Medici family. The pope soon notices Hassan's intellectual stature, has him baptized with his name, and Hassan thus becomes, in the West, "John Leo de Medici," later called the African. In his decade in Rome (1518-1527) he would compose various texts, including the first Description of Africa, which is preserved in a unique early 16th-century Italian manuscript. A few months ago, Andrea Donnini published the entire witness to Africa in a critical annotated edition (Rome, 2023, 3 volumes), thus offering the first snapshot of this then abundantly unknown continent, and the opportunity is good to reveal a foundational text of the modern conception of Africa and to measure its political and cultural significance against the backdrop of the great geographical discoveries of the Renaissance and the ever-vivid confrontation between the West and Islam.

Lecturer' Bio-bibliography

Massimo Danzi studied at the University of Pavia, with specializations at the Freie Universität in Berlin and at the Italian Institute for Historical Studies in Naples, obtaining his Ph.D. from the University of Geneva in 1989, with a thesis in Italian philology on the Lombard poet Matteo Bandello. In 1992-1993, he was a fellow of the Harvard University Center for the Italian Renaissance Studies. Returning to Switzerland, he was appointed first maître de recherche et d'enseignement and then professor of Italian literature at the University of Geneva. He was a member of the National Scientific Council for the VI Centenary of the Birth of Leon Battista Alberti (2004) and sits on the international scientific committees of several journals. Since 2018, he has chaired the Fondation Barbier-Mueller pour l'étude de la littérature de la Renaissance in Geneva and directs the journal of Renaissance studies Italique. His research has favored topics on the border between textual philology and social and cultural history. He has been interested in Petrarch and the poetry of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, in moral and behavioral literature, with a focus on "economic literature" (dealing with "family" economy and household management). Of the architect Leon Battista Alberti, he has studied Latin and vernacular works and has been interested in Renaissance art and book collecting and the intellectual networks on which it rested in the Europe of the great patrician and aristocratic families. His curiosities include the medico-thermal literature that, from the 13th century onward, accompanied the practice of "medicated waters" in Europe, in a very modern dialogue between medical science and literature. He published the annotated critical edition of Matteo Bandello's rhymes (1989), Poeti del Cinquecento (in collaboration with G. Gorni and S. Longhi, 2001). He reconstructed the library of Venetian humanist Pietro Bembo in La Biblioteca del cardinal Pietro Bembo (2005) and brought together part of his studies in the volume "Ingenio ludere". Scritti di letteratura sul Quattrocento e sul Cinquecento (2022). For Edizioni della Scuola Normale, he also edited the edition of Giovanni Parenti's Poeti latini del Cinquecento (2 vols., 2021). In the medical and cosmographical fields, he has given the essay Per una storia della letteratura medico-termale tra Medioevo e Rinascimento (2022) and is finishing the edition of De Germaniae et Helvetiae thermis by Conrad Gessner of Zurich (1553). He has organized or co-organized conferences on Il Poeta e il suo publico. Lettura e commento dei testi lirici nel Cinquecento (Geneva, 2007), on bucolic literature: "Poesia en travesti". Spazio, cifre e statuto del codice bucolico tra Boccaccio e Marino (Geneva, 2018) and on Poesia dialettale del Rinascimento nell’Italia del Nord (Geneva, 2020). Or in the contemporary field, on Giorgio Orelli (Giorgio Orelli e il "lavoro" sulla parola, Bellinzona, 2013) and Enrico Filippini (Enrico Filippini a trent’anni dalla morte. Scrittura, giornalismo e politica editoriale nell’Italia del secondo Novecento, Milan, 2019). In the modern and contemporary fields, he has written on Tassoni, Alfieri, Leopardi, Ungaretti, Gadda, Giuseppe Zoppi, Alda Merini, Giorgio Orelli, and Enrico Filippini.


The Foundation wanted to question some leading figures in today's cultural world, asking them to present the projects and issues on which they are working. The idea is to bring into dialogue at a distance qualified gazes on the nodes of our present, to highlight their risks, opportunities, and prospects. Not, of course, to listen to the last word on what is happening today, but rather to enter their laboratories of thought and try to focus on a kind of ongoing geography of the present time: to orient ourselves, to find ourselves, to map out possible virtuous paths-despite the disorientation and uncertainty that characterizes us, in an age that is very rich in technological resources, but very poor in future perspectives. Rather than inviting them to reflect on a guiding theme, as is the Eranos-Jung Lectures usual practice, we wanted to offer the lecturers the chance to present to the audience the issues they are working on, to see how the gaze on an object is constructed, through what sensibility, what concerns, what desire for understanding, and what method. And, of course, what passion. It will be a journey that will allow us to visit some “great worksites of contemporaneity” dedicated to different thematic areas: i.e., the state of health of our democracies; the fate of the “book” object and interiority in the time of endless distraction and social media; the reality of the metaverse, the overcoming of the human, and the resources of mysticism; the sonic perceptive in a society that continually solicits the sense of hearing; the solitude of the artist in the glittering world of the commodification of creativity; the drifts of the divine; and the meaning of making culture. In essence: a journey outside and inside ourselves.

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