Giacomo Casanova

The name "Casanova" has long since come to conjure up the romantic image of the prototypical libertine and seducer, thanks to the success of Giacomo Casanova's posthumously published 12-volume autobiography, Histoire de ma vie, which chronicled with vivid detail--as well as some exaggeration--his many sexual and romantic exploits in 18th-century Europe. Born in Venice in 1725 to actor parents, Casanova was expelled from a seminary for scandalous conduct and embarked on a varied career, including a stint working for a cardinal in Rome, as a violinist, and as a magician, while traveling all around the continent. Fleeing from creditors, he changed his name to Chevalier de Seingalt, under which he published a number of literary works, most importantly his autobiography. Casanova's celebration of pleasure seeking and much-professed love of women--he maintained that a woman's conversation was at least as captivating as her body--made him the leading champion of a movement towards sexual freedom, and the model for the famous Don Juan of literature. After working as a diplomat in Berlin, Russia, and Poland and a spy for the Venetian inquisitors, Casanova spent the final years of his life working on his autobiography in the library of a Bohemian count. He died in 1798.