December 30, 2000
Today's two subjects were not the type to let grass grow under their feet. Two minutes is just barely time enough for a brief resume of their careers; expect to hear more of the juicy details at some later time. My rather battered set of the Encyclopedia Britannica only mentions, under "C", that the gentleman from Venice and the gentleman from Palermo "met" one another in Aix-en-Provence in 1769. If ever there was a time to be the storied fly on the wall, it would have been when these two colorful polymaths (a ten dollar word meaning knows-lots-of-stuff) sat down to share a bottle.
Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was the older man. He was born in Venice in 1725 to a pair of actors, Gaetano and Zanetta, who often left him with his maternal grandmother as they toured Europe. He was a studious boy and contemplated a life in the church. More worldly temptations won out. Booted out of the seminary of St. Cyprian for "scandalous conduct", he went on to become secretary to a cardinal (of all things), violinist, escape artist (the doge's prison), Parisian lottery director, medical expert, Freemason, playwright, diplomat and, always, man of the ladies and the scam.
His Sicilian counterpart (they both made a career out of both enforced and voluntary exile) was born Giuseppe Balsamo in 1743 to poor parents and after bailing out of a monastery school where he did manage to soak up a few of the elements of chemistry and physic, he continued his education in the streets of Palermo, learning the art of the scam and rapidly surpassing his educators. Soon he was expanding his range, heading off to Greece, Egypt, Persia, Arabia, and Rhodes, along the way marrying the noble but impoverished Roman beauty Lorenza Feliciana, picking up the jargon of the alchemist, assuming the title of count and renaming himself Cagliostro. Adept, like Casanova, at the art of networking he also found it extremely useful to become a Freemason.
After their encounter in France both men would soon wander off once again. Casanova traveled up and down the Italian peninsula, then on to Germany, Austria, the Low Countries, and France, pursuing careers as historian-satirist, gambler, diplomat, spy, translator, impresario, and seducer (all but the latter only semi-successfully). In 1786 he accepted a position as librarian to Count Waldstein, a fellow Freemason, and relocated to a castle in Dux, in today's Czech Republic. There he became the butt of mean-spirited pranks by the count's servants, continued writing (with a break for a trip to Prague, where he met and perhaps worked with Mozart - who better to advise on Don Giovanni - and died in 1798, most likely of boredom. Cagliostro meanwhile made the circuit of European cities as well, posing as a faith healer, alchemist, fortune teller, and medium. Avant-garde Parisians flocked to his seances in the mid-1780s. Life was very, very good. Until he became mixed up with Marie Antoinette's diamond necklace (but that's another story, as Alexandre Dumas would say). Rome was next. Soon, denounced to the Inquisition as a heretic, conjuror, and Freemason, he was arrested and condemned to death, as was his wife, always a resourceful partner in his schemes. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment in the fortress of San Leo in the Apennines, where he died in 1795. The court gave Lorenza the old "get thee to a nunnery" speech. She may almost have envied the Count.
For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor
© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte
URL OF THE WEEK
Who were Armand de Sillègue d'Athos d'Autevielle, Isaac de Portau, and Henri d'Aramitz (don't try to pronounce them in the presence of a true Parisian unless you too are one) and what did they have to do with D'Artagnan and with Marie Antoinette's Diamonds? You probably know the three men better as Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, - the Three Musketeers. A number of Dumas film adaptations of their stories have featured the diamond incident as well. A visit to FireBlade Coffeehouse
will dispay links to Dumas' works and try to untangle a few mysteries along the way. How much of the material is based on history? Who really was inside that iron mask? How many novels featured the four king's musketeers? FireBlade will help untangle some of these, or at least provide further speculation. There's also a chat group if you want to ask other questions about Dumas. You'll even find a piece on Cardinal Richelieu (the real one, not the NRA spokesman) and his effect on French history. So charge up your charger, buckle your swash, (swash your buckle, if you prefer) and hit Adventure's High Road. As we say -
The Game's Afoot ! ! !
© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte