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Don Juan - The Man - The Legend - The Myth

People | June 11, 2018

Byron as Don Juan, with Haidee, 1831

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “He’s a typical Don Juan”. For centuries, some men have been labeled as smooth-talking, woman chasing, bad and almost dangerous -for-women-to-fall-for types of guys, as a Don Juan. While some men like the idea that they’re somewhat of a Don Juan…others try to steer clear of that reputation. In fact, a non-clinical term, Don Juanism is used to describe a man who desires to have multiple sexual conquests with women. Even today, women will warn their girlfriends about avoiding this type of guy at all cost.

Was this the type of man Lord Byron, most famous for his epic work, Don Juan, had in mind or was it meant to be satirical?

The legend purports the idea that, Don Juan is a famous aficionado and rogue of love who has claimed to have had over a thousand sexual encounters with women who fell for his romantic and charming ways. 

Lord Byron in Albanian dress

The famous writer/poet of the legendary poem, Don Juan, is George Gordon Byron. He was born on January 22, 1788 in Dover, England with a birth defect, a club foot. George’s father, Captain “Mad Jack” Byron is said to only have married his mother, Catherine Gordon solely for her income and nobility. George’s father died in 1791 leaving a lot of debt. The birth defect didn’t deter George from playing as a normal child. His love for reading and poetry kept him busy and although his teachers called him a genius, he schoolwork was less than perfect.

Byron inherited the title of Lord and the estate when his granduncle died in 1798. Lord Byron attended Trinity College in Cambridge where he learned the difference between romanticism and reality. Although Byron was more of a lover than a fighter, he was also known for his involvement with politics.

An avid reader and writer, it wasn’t until 1807 when Byron published his first works. A book of poetry called Hours of Idleness. In the beginning, he hoped for forgiveness from the public for not being more useful to the world by being gainfully employed. The book, however, was met with strong criticism by the Edinburgh Review.

Tirso de Molina, a Spanish writer in 1630

Lord Byron had a gift that would later be realized by the public. His gift of satire and a wit of sarcasm brought him into the spotlight away from the other major English romantics of his time.

Lord Byron published the first section (the true name of the sections in Spanish is “cantos”) of many in a long satirical poem called Don Juan. This poem was published in 17 Cantos. The poem would take on different meanings over the years and last long after his death, April 19, 1824. He died from a fever at Missolonghi, Greece, where he had traveled to support the Greek struggle for independence from Turkey. The people of Britain grieved upon hearing of his death and his body was brought back to England and laid to rest at his home of his ancestors in Nottinghamshire.

Although Lord Byron was also known for his rather public romantic affairs, he is probably best known for his work, Don Juan, he was not the original composer of such works. The first account of this type Don Juan poetry came from Tirso de Molina, a Spanish writer in 1630, long before Lord Byron was born. He wrote El Burlador de Sevilla, translated as The Trickster of Seville. Because the character was described as strong and handsome and also had a common last name, Tenorio, people believed this poem was about a real man who had lots of steamy love affairs.

"Don Juan" John Barrymore 1926

Supporting this theory of Don Juan being a pseudo name for a real womanizer, some writers wanted to liken the character to real people such as, Jacobo de Grattis, also known as Caballero de Gracia who was an aristocrat from Modena, Italy. Jacobo became famous as a somewhat playboy and who later was overridden with guilt about his out of wedlock pleasures, decided to become a priest.

Another theory was the first written works by José Zorrilla, a Spanish writer from the 19th century. There are those that figure his work was derived from parts of the amorous urgings of Conde de Villamediana, a lover of King Philip IV of Spain’s wife.

Movies depicting the story of the infamous Don Juan began in 1926. The movie was called simply, Don Juan and was directed by Alan Crosland. This film was inspired by Lord Byron’s 1821 famous poem. The movie stars John Barrymore as the romance-seeking, charming ladies’ man. It’s also known to have the most kisses in the history of film where Barrymore is seen kissing his conquests 127 times.

The latest movie depicting the sexual adventures of Don Juan is Don Juan DeMarco, starring Johnny Depp as John Arnold DeMarco who takes on the idea that he is, in fact, the real Don Juan, the greatest lover in the world. An American romantic comedy-drama, the film was released April 7, 1995 and although the film’s budget was $25 million, it brought in $68,792,531 to the Box office.

So, whether myth or legend, the stories of Don Juan and his romantic exploits live on today.

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Marion Wijnberg

Writer

Marion lives in Ohio and has two grown children and one grandson. As well as loving the time she gets to spend with them, she also enjoys rescuing animals. Marion currently has 2 cats and a dog. She also loves to travel, read, play tennis and go horseback riding."