You have all heard about Casanova, who is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a man who is a promiscuous and unscrupulous lover.” Near the end of his life in the 1790s, Casanova wrote a 12-volume, 3,800-page autobiography claiming that he slept with at least 136 women and some men, including nobility, servants, and prostitutes. These claims were documented by records from the 18th century Venetian inquisition. He would look for insecure and miserable women, give them total attention, shower them with compliments and tell them how beautiful they were, and when he got them to fall in love with him, he would leave them.
He was also a fraud who sold false investments, a thief, a spy for the inquisition, and even a cleric for the church. His deceitful behavior was his response to being an unwanted illegitimate child, the result of an affair his actress mother had while cheating on her husband. As a reward for his promiscuity, Casanova contracted many venereal diseases including syphilis, which caused mental and physical deterioration and eventually death at age 73. His last words were, “I have lived as a philosopher, and I die as a Christian,” showing that he died totally unaware of the pain his obnoxious behavior caused to most of the people who had to deal with him. He claimed that when he cheated and stole money from innocent people, he made them smarter so they wouldn’t be so stupid to be cheated out of their possessions again. As for the many women’s hearts he broke, he claimed that they were also deceiving him.
A Lifetime of Dishonor
Casanova’s mother did not want him so he was raised by his grandmother. At age nine, he was sent to a boarding school that he hated, and so he was allowed to live with his priest, Abbé Gozzi, who taught him how to read, write and play the violin. At 12, he went to the University of Padua and spent most of his time gambling. At 17 he was graduated with a law degree and practiced as a church lawyer and was tutored by a 76-year-old Venetian senator, Alvise Malipiero. Malipiero kicked him out of his house when he caught him making love to Malipiero’s lover, actress Teresa Imer. He was also making love to two sisters, 14-year-old Nanetta and 16-year-old Maria Savorgnan, and he was put in prison for not paying his gambling debts. He then worked as a writer for 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 fathered children with a 29-year-old married woman and a 14-year-old singer. Cardinal Acquaviva fired Casanova, 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 being supported by 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 and used bed sheets to lower themselves to a room twenty-five feet below. There they changed clothes, passed through a long corridor and down stairs and talked a guard into letting them out.
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. 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 venereal diseases. As he was about to jump into the water, a friend passed by and invited him for a meal of roast beef.
He impregnated his own 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 also said that he had no idea how many children he had fathered during his lifetime.
He traveled throughout Europe to sell his lottery scheme to other governments. 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 were wounded in the duel. He continued traveling all over Europe and trying to steal money for his lotteries. 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 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 he suspected of being heretic 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.
End to a Life of Conquests
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). He was fat, did not exercise, and ate fatty and sugar-rich foods 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 probable late-in-life dementia. His memoirs describe four attacks of gonorrhea, five of chancroid, one of syphilis and one of herpes (Br J Vener Dis, 1971;47:295-306). All of his lifestyle behaviors put him at high risk for forming plaques in the arteries that bring blood to the brain, heart and genitals. He was no longer promiscuous because his lifestyle probably had caused plaques to form in, and block, his genital blood vessels to make him impotent and the arteries leading to his heart to increase his risk for heart damage. 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 famous 12-volume autobiography. He died in 1798 at age 73, presumably from heart failure.
Casanova on Seduction
In his autobiography, Casanova wrote in great detail about his life spent looking for attractive women who were insecure 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 said that he had never used alcohol or violence to seduce any woman.