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Giovanni Giacomo Casanova

Casanova, Giovanni Giacomo, Chevalier de Seingalt (1725-1798), Italian adventurer, born in Venice. His parents, who were actors, intended him for the priesthood, but when he was 16 years old, he was expelled from a seminary for misconduct. Thereafter, Casanova was in turn a secretary, soldier in the Venetian army, preacher, alchemist, gambler, violinist, lottery director, and spy. In addition, he was constantly involved in political and sexual intrigue. In 1755 the Venetian authorities imprisoned him for impiety and practising magic, but he made a sensational escape the following year.

Casanova travelled throughout Europe, winning the confidence or friendship of many important people and gaining a reputation for his wit and charm with women. He was a favourite in the court of Louis XV, king of France, and was a lover of the Marquise de Pompadour. In 1785 Casanova retired to the castle of a friend to write his memoirs, which were published posthumously (12 vols., abridged version 1826-1838; unabridged ed. 1960). The work recounts his adventures and love affairs and has historical value too, with fascinating accounts of the colourful characters and manners of the day.