Kinga Eminowicz Galica
At the time of the birth of Jan Potocki to one of the most influential aristocratic families of Poland, the province of Podolia, where he spent his earliest childhood, was a land of a rich mixture of traditions. Here the historical kingdom of Poland met with the Ottoman Empire and presented a unique mosaic of cultures where Poles, Ruthenians, Jews, Muslims, and Gypsies lived together. Potocki was educated in Lausanne, traveled tirelessly, and learned various languages, but wrote only in French, the common language of the aristocracy of his time.
After his schooling he joined the Knights of Malta in 1779, fought with pirate ships in the Mediterranean, and witnessed the slave trade. His career as a soldier quickly gave way to the concerns of an assiduous and irreverent mind. He was a true polyhistor, interested in mathematics, history, geography, anthropology, and linguistics. His astonishing breadth of knowledge produced works on the principles of chronology for the times prior to the olympiads, a description of a new machine to coin money, and an archeological atlas of European Russia. Among his scientific works, many are devoted to the study of exotic peoples and cultures (histories of Sarmatia and the peoples of Russia). He was particularly attracted by Islam, perhaps a reminiscence of his native Podolia impregnated by the Orient, where bilingual Koran books were circulated for the benefit of Polish Muslims. A passionate traveler, in addition to most European countries he reached such distant lands as Mongolia, Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco. Between 1785 and 1787 he lived in Paris, coming under the influence of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. He frequented Madame Helvétius and Count Volney, whose work he greatly admired, and was hailed by the Jacobins as “citizen Count.”
Returning to Poland in 1787, he became convinced of the Prussian danger for his native Poland in the face of the revolt against the Stathouder in the