Professor Lucci Presents His „Casanova: Enlightenment Philosopher“
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Professor Diego Lucci sent students, colleagues and guests back to the 18th century to relive the story of Casanova and to perceive him in a different way – as a philosopher. Panitza Library hosted the presentation of the book „Casanova: Enlightenment Philosopher”, which was edited by Diego Lucci, Ivo Cerman and Susan Reynolds, and published in September 2016, by the Oxford Voltaire Foundation.
The ground floor of the library was full with enthusiasts eager to find out more about the notorious lover and to see beyond thе stereotype people hold of him.
Lucci began the presentation by describing the book and outlining the main concepts. He explained that it is built upon manuscripts, historical writings and other works of Casanova which are analyzed through the lens of moral philosophy. Through this book, Casanova is actually portrayed as an Enlightenment observer.
The work consists of three parts – an overview section of Casanova’s philosophy, a national contexts section and case studies section. It focuses on topics ranging from religion, through suicide, to dreams, all compiled in eight chapters.
Lucci addressed the false image that society and historians have built for Casanova and noted that his name is still a symbol for a seducer of women. Lucci’s explanations were supported by movie references, short clips and intriguing rumors.
Then he introduced Casanova as a man by describing his biography and how his life and experiences affected his beliefs and morality.
Born in Venice, the center of the European culture, theater, music and arts according to historians, he grew up in an artistic environment as a son of two actors. He was accepted into the University of Padua at the age of 12 and graduated with a law degree at the age of 17. But his true passions were philosophy and mathematics, and though an atheist, he was influenced by catholic dogmas.
Casanova decided to become a priest and then join the military in Corfu. However, due to personal problems his initial plans were unsuccessful and he soon became a professional gambler. Around the age of 21, he became even more prominent as a ‘professional’ lover. This well-known fact, twisted during the years, created his fame as an uncaring womanizer.
Diego Lucci clarified that Casanova had a genuine interest in the women he got involved with, but his infatuations did not last long.
In 1750 Casanova set off on a Grand Tour and joined the society of Freemasonry. When he returned to Venice, he was charged for immoral conduct and blasphemy, and imprisoned in the “Leads” prison, which he escaped in 1756. The next years of his life were marked by exile – he traveled through Europe and worked as a French spy. In 1760 he began calling himself Chevalier de Seingalt, after being expelled from Polland and France, because of his gambling.
When he was 38-year-old, he fell in love with an 18-year-old French courtesan named Marieanne Genevieve de Charpillon. They soon got married, which had tragic effects on this health and wealth, as professor Lucci said in a joking manner.
Casanova also worked as a spy for the Venetian government and was consequently pardoned and readmitted to his motherland. But he was no longer young, energetic and rich. In 1783 he was expelled again from Venice for writing a satire ridiculing the Venetian patricians. He spent his final years in Prague, where he worked as a librarian. He died in 1798.
Then Lucci focused on Casanova’s manuscripts. His most famous work is his memoir and autobiography – “Histoire de ma vie,” which was written in French and which Lucci discussed in more detail.
Lucci also introduced Casanova as a philosopher. Almost contrary to what most people believe, Casanova was an anti-hedonist. He was one of the most pessimistic philosophers and he thought that the quest for pleasure does not lead to happiness. In his writings, Casanova used a melancholic tone and sounded almost disappointed with life. Regarding his religious views, he believed in the afterlife and in the existence of a Supreme Being, who is both a creator and a judge. In his opinion, life is a God-given trial, a continual struggle between human reason and nature. But still the afterlife was a “reasonable hope” for him, as Lucci defined it. Casanova also endorsed the separation of church and state. He was interested in the role of society, in the orthodox ideas, and opposed the clergy.
His moral philosophy was influenced by Voltaire and Aristotle and he claimed that people act morally out of fear of punishment
in the afterlife. He clarified key terms of the philosophy of the Enlightenment in various Socratic dialogues. Casanova also had an interest in the origins, the meaning and the interpretation of dreams. His reflections on suicide, abortion and moral permissibility were very ambiguous. These topics were thoroughly discussed in the Enlightenment culture.
“Casanova is known for the supremacy of emotions over reason. If he was driven by reason, he probably would not have been famous,” shared Prof. Lucci.
Essentially, the book focuses on the overlooked side of Giacomo Casanova and leaves his reputation as a Don Juan in the background. His mindset is appreciated from a philosophical and moral perspective.
“I think that Professor Lucci’s sophistication and cleverness stood out not only through his book, but through his presentation as well,” said Alexandrina Ivanova, a first-year student, “In addition to that he devoted enough time and effort to completely clarify the main focus points of the book.”
Lucci donated a copy of the book to Panitza Library so that anyone interested can read it and see beyond the common perception of Casanova.