Early Modern Dialogue with Islam

Description

An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam: Antonio de Sosa’s Topography of Algiers (1612) makes available in translation a riveting sixteenth-century chronicle of European and North African cultural contacts that is virtually unknown to English-speaking readers. The Topography was written by a Portuguese cleric, Doctor Antonio de Sosa, who was captured by Algerian corsairs in 1577 and held as a Barbary slave for over four years while awaiting ransom. Sosa's work is a fascinating description of a city at the crossroads of civilizations, with a sophisticated multilingual population of Turks, Arabs, Moriscos, Berbers, Jews, Christian captives, and converts to Islam from across the world.

In the Topography of Algiers, Sosa meticulously describes the inhabitants' daily lives; their fashions, pastimes, feasts, and funerals; their government; the landmarks of the city itself; and much more. Readers will be struck by the vibrancy of his narrative, rendered into English with crisp accuracy by Diana de Armas Wilson. The Topography is a treasure trove of amazing customs, startling behavior, and historical anecdotes that will enthrall readers. The extensive introduction by María Antonia Garcés is a superb archival study of the Mediterranean world described by the Topography, as well as an exposé of the adventurous, even scandalous, life of its author. The introduction also discusses the fraudulent publication of Sosa’s Topography under another man’s name.

Sosa's chronicle stands out for its complexity, vitality, and the sharpness of the author's ethnographic vision. No other account of captivity in this period offers such a detailed and dynamic tableau of Algerian society at the end of the sixteenth century.