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Giacomo Casanova, the Great Lover

Giacomo Casanova was a prolific Italian seducer of women who wrote a 12-volume, 3,800- page autobiography that is regarded as one of the most authentic sources of the customs and norms of 18th century European social life. He claimed that he slept with at least 136 women and some men, including aristocrats, servants, prostitutes and courtesans. Today, he is only remembered because his name is an established word in the English language, defined in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as "a man who is a promiscuous and unscrupulous lover". As a reward for his promiscuity, Casanova contracted an incredible number of venereal diseases. He eventually lost his mind to, and died of, syphilis at the age of 73.

He associated with European royalty, popes, cardinals, and artists and writers such as Voltaire, Goethe and Mozart. Over his lifetime Casanova was a lawyer, clergyman, military officer, violinist, con man, gambler, pimp, businessman, diplomat, spy, politician, medic, mathematician, social philosopher, cabalist, playwright, and writer. He wrote 42 books, numerous plays, poetry, philosophical and mathematical treatises, operetta librettos, and explained the intricate rules of making calendars, applying canon law and solving geometric problems. Scholars have documented Casanova’s claims about his sexual exploits with letters from his lovers, friends and enemies and files from the 18th century Venetian Inquisitors who both spied on Casanova and employed him as a spy.

Early Life
Casanova was born in Venice in 1725 to traveling comedy actress Zanetta Farussi. He wrote in his memoirs that his parents completely neglected him and eventually, “They got rid of me." His biological father was not Zanetta’s husband Gaetano Casanova. His grandmother, Marzia Baldissera, cared for him while his mother toured Europe. His legal father died when he was eight. At age 9, he was sent to a boarding school that he hated. He was allowed to leave the school and live with his priest, Abbé Gozzi, who taught him reading, writing and how to play the violin. When he was 11, Gozzi's younger sister Bettina, who was several years older than Casanova, sexually stimulated him, but he said that he did not penetrate her.

At 12, he went to the University of Padua and learned how to gamble. At 17 he was graduated with a law degree and returned to practice law for the church in Venice. There he was tutored by 76-year-old Venetian senator Alvise Malipiero. Malipiero kicked him out of his house when he caught Casanova making love to Malipiero’s lover, actress Teresa Imer. At that time, he was also making love to two sisters, 14-year old Nanetta and 16-year old Maria Savorgnan; he continued to have threesomes with them for several years afterwards.

Next he worked as a scribe with Cardinal Acquaviva in Rome. He was put in jail after being caught having sex with a boy, and was warned for having sex with his priest’s housekeeper. He also had children with a married woman of 29 and a 14-year-old singer. Cardinal Acquaviva fired Casanova from his legal job at the church, so he joined the army of the Republic of Venice for a short time. At the age of 21, he became a violinist in the San Samuele theater but quit soon afterwards. He then lived from city to city and supported himself with his gambling and the sponsorship of rich men and women,.

At age 28 he returned to Venice where inquisition records show seductions, fights, and public arguments. At age 30, he was arrested and imprisoned without a trial for his knowledge of cabalism and Freemasonry and his library of forbidden books. He and a priest who had been jailed for slandering the church, escaped together by using a spike to punch a hole in the ceiling. They crawled through the hole, broke open a dormer window, used bed sheets to lower themselves to a room twenty-five feet below where they changed clothes, passed into a long corridor and down stairs and talked a guard into letting them out.

How He Made a Fortune in Paris
At age 32, he reached Paris where he was welcomed by Louis XV and his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Casanova persuaded the monarch to establish a national lottery that gave them lots of money. Casanova used his share to pursue more women and acquire more venereal diseases. In 1754 France became involved in the Seven Years' War against Prussia, Britain and their German Allies. Casanova was hired by France to sell state bonds in Amsterdam, the financial center of Europe. He made a lot of money that he used to start a company that made silk clothes, but the company went bankrupt because he spent almost all his time making love to his female workers. To avoid his many debts, he had to leave rapidly for Cologne, then Stuttgart and Switzerland. At age 35, he was spending so much time seducing different women that he had little time for anything else and was again arrested for not paying his debts.

At age 38, he went to England to establish a state lottery and was able to obtain an audience with King George III, but he failed to get any money. Since he could not speak English, he placed an advertisement in a newspaper for “sharing an apartment with the right person”. From several responses, he chose "Mistress Pauline", moved into her apartment and became very sick from his many venereal diseases. After being turned down by a beautiful prostitute who lived in Soho, he decided to kill himself and went to Westminster Bridge wearing a huge overcoat with pockets full of lead shot. He was suffering from depression probably caused by his many troubles with the law and his huge collection of venereal diseases. As he was about to jump into the water below, a friend passed by and invited him for a meal of roast beef.

Soon afterwards he committed the most vile act of his life: he impregnated his 20-year-old daughter and thus had a son who was also his grandson. He wrote in his autobiography that he did this because her husband was impotent. He said that he had no idea how many children he had fathered during his lifetime.

He then went to Belgium, and traveled over Europe to sell his lottery scheme to other governments. He was as dishonest in stealing money from men and women as he was with emptying his prostate. Frederick the Great of Germany turned down his requests for money as did Catherine the Great of Russia. At age 41, he had to leave Paris in a great hurry because of a pistol duel with Colonel Franciszek Branicki over an Italian actress. Both suffered wounds in the duel. He continued traveling all over Europe and trying to steal money for his lottery. At age 42 he returned to Paris but had to leave because he stole money from the Marquise d'Urfé, one of the richest women in the world. He then went to Spain where a jealous husband tried to kill him.

Return to Venice
He wanted to go back to Italy, but he couldn't because he was a still a wanted man after his escape from prison 18 years earlier. No problem. He contacted the Venetian inquisitors and told them he would spy for them. He was rewarded with a letter guaranteeing him that he would not be arrested and he returned to Venice in September 1774. He supported himself by spying for the Inquisitors on people who were heretics or immoral.

At age 54, he was no longer the handsome seducer of women and men. He had little money and few friends. While living with an uneducated seamstress, Francesca, he wrote a story insulting the Venetian nobility. The nobility got their revenge by having the Inquisitors force him to leave Venice, and he returned to Paris.

The Beginning of the End
At age 60 he got a job as librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein, in the Castle of Dux, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). At this time, his lifestyle increased his risk for blood vessel damage and a heart attack. He was overweight, did not exercise, and ate fat and sugar-rich food at the royal table every day. He also was most likely to have suffered the many rewards of promiscuity: urinating several times a night, burning on urination, discomfort when his bladder was full, muscle aches and pains and so forth. All of his lifestyle behaviors put him at high risk for damaged blood vessels that cause heart attacks and impotence. Since his bed-hopping days were over, he considered suicide, but decided that he must live on to tell the world of his many conquests, so he wrote his 12-volume autobiography. He died in 1798 at age 73. His last words were, "I have lived as a philosopher and I die as a Christian". He was no longer promiscuous because his slovenly lifestyle had damaged his blood vessels to make him impotent. Impotence usually precedes heart attacks as both conditions often have the same causes.

Casanova on Seduction
Casanova spent his life looking for attractive women who were depressed because of mean or jealous husbands or lovers. He would shower these women with compliments, love and attention, and never took his eyes off of them when he was with them. He offered complete devotion while he was with them. His conquests were usually insecure or emotionally vulnerable women. They would be grateful for his complete attention to them. He would seduce them. When a woman would succumb to him and show him love, he would become bored, tell her that he was unworthy of her, and arrange for her marriage or pairing with a worthy man. Then he would leave for his next affair. He wrote, "There is no honest woman with an uncorrupted heart whom a man is not sure of conquering by dint of gratitude.” He claimed to never use alcohol or violence in seduction.

What You Should Learn from Casanova
There is no such thing as safe promiscuous sex.

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova
April 2, 1725 – June 4, 1798

January 4th, 2015
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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