Upon our arrival in Venice, Raffaela and I passed through the walkway seen above while looking for our hotel, which wasn’t the one noted in the photo. However, having been called the name of that auberge on different occasions, I instantly wondered what Venezia had to do with the notorious ladies’ man and did some research, finding out that Casanova was born and lived for many years in this ancient seaport, back in the eighteenth century.
This illustrious individual prided himself as being a master in the art of love, who, along with Don Juan, shared the title of being history’s greatest womanizer, and whose name became synonymous with the term “seduction.” The man’s exploits were notorious, as he himself recorded most of his adventures in a book of autobiographical memoirs, called Histoire de ma Vie, or Story of My Life, written by G. Girolamo Casanova.
The author and renegade first became intrigued with sexual gratification, his life-long avocation and greatest obsession, at the age of eleven, while he was boarding with a cleric who was his mentor. The abbot’s younger sister, however, was the one who grabbed young Girolamo by the horn, in a matter of speaking, and kindled his fixation by providing him with his first orgasm, which would vehemently burn within him until his death at seventy-three years old. He was a very astute and educated young seeker of fortune, who graduated the University of Padua at seventeen with a law degree, having studied moral philosophy, chemistry and mathematics as well; and the young adventurer also had a keen interest in medicine, with which he dabbled as a self-proclaimed healer from time to time. Casanova was an artist in his own right, having gained favor by patrons throughout his lifetime for their support and protection, while all the time playing the charlatan, mystic, alchemist and gangster of love.
During his initial stint in clerical law as an abbé after graduation, our hero found his first supporter: a Venetian senator who took the inexperienced Girolamo under his wing, after which the latter moved inside of his patron’s palace while learning the social graces, especially discovering the delicacies of lust and debauchery. Casanova’s hunger for beautiful women got him thrown out of his benefactor’s home, when the senator caught him dallying with a love interest of the elder statesman.
His exploitations next landed him in a self-alleged ménage à trois with a pair of steamy, young sisters from a wealthy patrician family with whom he befriended. It was from those trysts that his growing fuse for fornication had been ignited, and the resulting explosion set the stage for a lifetime of sexual addiction and manipulation.
Professional gambling at times was his forte but mostly was the cause for his misfortune and debt, for which he found himself in the hoosegow on many occasions as a result. Casanova, an ecclesiastic at the very beginnings of his career, worked his way up to being a scribe for a high-ranking cardinal who became his next patron and protector; although, arrogance got the former dismissed from this lofty position, and he was thrown out the seminary. On one outstanding occasion during an audience with the Pope, the young cleric insisted on a dispensation to read the “Forbidden Books,” and he had the audacity to ask for an abstention from eating fish on Fridays, as it inflamed his sinuses. A high-profile scandal placed the blame on Casanova’s sexual indiscretions, for which he was ultimately let go by the Church.
After realizing that his ecclesiastical career was on the rocks, Girolamo became an officer and a dandy, buying a commission to serve the Republic of Venice, seeking his fame and fortune while wearing the most refined, military apparel for dazzling the ladies, which included a long sword at his side, a handsome cane in hand, and wearing a hat similar to Raffaela’s black-velvet, trimmed chapeau that she bought from the vendor in Giardini ex Reali, with a fake ponytail hanging from inside the back of it.
Casanova quickly sold his commission, nonetheless, as he thought it had become too unrewarding and boring. He was a hard-core schemer, and a violinist for a while during which he claimed to have acquired all of the habits of his degraded, fellow musicians. According to his memoirs, the conniver had found a new patron by saving the life of a Venetian nobleman/senator who had suffered a stroke. By using his practical knowledge of medicine, and for his presumed possession of occult esoterica and healing powers, Girolamo’s new supporter, along with the senator’s two male companions, invited our young charlatan into their household, which changed our hero’s luck and higher standing.
Casanova had now acquired the security of patronage for life, and lived in his benefactor’s palace for the next few years, dressing like a nobleman and living the high life, spending most of his time gambling and honing his skills for pursuing his amorous adventures. His escapades began to turn sour, as a practical joke had backfired while attempting revenge on an enemy, when he reportedly dug up a freshly buried corpse and presented it to his adversary, who immediately went into shock and paralysis from this diabolical deed and never recovered. The last straw for ruining his reputation and causing his flight from the city resulted from a young girl’s unfounded claim, which accused Casanova of raping her. He fled Venice for the mainland before he was formally acquitted of the charges, due to lack of evidence.
In Parma, where Girolamo had now become settled, he met a woman, Henriette, with whom he had fallen in love for the first time in his life. As quoted from his book, Casanova admitted, “The joy which flooded my soul was far greater when I conversed with her during the day than when I held her in my arms at night.” Of all the women who had passed through his life, she might have been the only one to captivate his heart. However, his volatile and insensitive nature, along with his incessant extravagance and precarious finances, persuaded his lover to leave him, upon which she slipped five hundred francs into his coat pocket as payment for his services.
Broke and downtrodden again, the gangster of love left for Venice and hit a lucky streak while gambling, making a small fortune with which he set out on a grand tour of Paris for two years, where he hobnobbed with the rich and famous, and had gotten into several sensational, sexual exploits; some of which had been described as “imitating operatic plots.” He joined the Freemasons for their uncensored, mystical knowledge and valuable contacts, went on and traveled to Germany, then Austria, before returning home and becoming the prime target of an investigation by the Venetian authorities and the Inquisition for his wicked behavior, reported blasphemies, seductions, fights, and public controversies; with an unholy practice of the occult. His patron, the senator whose life he had once saved, tried to convince Casanova to leave Venice immediately, or face dire consequences.
Not being one for listening to the advice of his benefactor, the vagabond stayed and was arrested on the following day. He was tried and convicted of being a magician, and for “public outrages against the Holy Church” while practicing black magic, for which Girolamo was sentenced to five years in the Piombi, a so-called impenetrable prison across the enclosed Bridge of Sighs, which connected the Venetian leader’s palace in Saint Mark’s Plaza to the stockades. He was locked in solitary confinement, in a cell with no windows under the leaden plates that covered the space directly above the cell’s wooden ceiling; and he lived with very little light and extreme heat, generated from the summer sun’s beating down on the prison’s heavy-metal roof. The worst part of the ordeal, according to our infamous jailbird, was the excruciating torture inflicted by “millions of fleas.” After almost a half-year, his patron, now a count, intervened on his behalf; and Casanova was transferred to a cell, offering more humane conditions with a series of cell mates, given warm bedding, more lighting, and a monthly stipend for books and better food.
To be continued…