Giovanni Jacopo (or Giacomo) Casanova de Seingalt, known simply as Casanova (kah-sah-NAW-vah), has not suffered an injustice because the world makes his name synonymous with “libertine”; in fact, it is largely because of his own efforts that he has acquired this reputation. His Mémoires present him as the flamboyant “natural man,” bound by no laws but the law of his own nature. Although this autobiography is somewhat colored, even the most cursory survey of his career shows him to be the amoral adventurer par excellence.
Born in Venice on April 2, 1725, in his youth he was expelled from a Venetian seminary for immoral conduct, but his mother saved him from jail by securing for him the protection of the influential Cardinal Claudio Acquaviva. Casanova soon began his adventures: He traveled about Europe and the Near East for years, living variously as preacher, businessman, alchemist, musician, diplomat, and journalist. Imprisoned in Venice in 1755 for spying, he made a marvelous escape, which he reports in his Mémoires, in a section translated by Arthur Machen as Casanova’s Escape from the Leads (1925). He went to Paris, where he was made head of the national lotteries. He gained a reputation as a financial wizard and moved in the best society.
Never the man to stay contented in a secure position, he resumed his travels in 1759. He visited the Netherlands, Germany, Savoy, Switzerland (where he met...
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