Skip to main content

Long reads shortened

From gloomy little boy to world-famous womaniser

A scene from Casanova (2005): a “flamboyant showboater”

Giacomo Casanova “practised many trades”, says Judith Thurman in The New Yorker. He translated the Iliad into Italian, grappled with problems in classical geometry and traded bons mots with Voltaire. But the 18th-century rogue is most known for his conquests in the boudoir, “not to mention those in carriages, in bathhouses, or behind park shrubbery”. He once met a doctor, in a port he had previously visited, “who thanked him effusively for making his fortune – by sending him 50 patients with the clap”.

Casanova was born in Venice in 1725, and grew up a gloomy little boy who suffered from terrible nosebleeds. He soon transformed into a “flamboyant showboater”. He once persuaded a superstitious (and enormously wealthy) widow “that he could arrange for her rebirth as her own son”. How? “Casanova’s mystically enabled sperm would impregnate her with a male foetus endowed with her soul. A casket of jewels was involved, along with a comely young accomplice posing as a naked water nymph. When his ardour flagged, the nymph’s task was to rekindle it.”

But age isn’t kind “to those who live by their charms”. At 60, a destitute Casanova was forced to accept a modest sinecure as the librarian of a castle in the modern-day Czech Republic. “He had lost his teeth, and his faithful steed no longer reared at his command.” The servants tormented him. “So did a lifetime of venereal infections, which was probably what did him in.”