The Real Casanova: Legendary Lover Or Predatory Pedophile?

By | September 6, 2022

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Illustration of Casanova with one of his conquests. (Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty Images)

The sexual adventures of 18th-century Italian playboy Giacomo Casanova are legendary. He was such a renowned artist of seduction that his name has become synonymous with philandering. Despite his reputation as a suave ladies man, however, a look at his exploits through a modern lens reveals a man so obsessed with sex that he wasn't above rape and pedophilia.

Giacomo Casanova

Casanova led just as exciting a life outside the bedroom, acting at various times as a diplomat, businessman, pimp, lawyer, clergyman, author, mathematician, spy, foodie, violinist, con man, criminal, and politician. He also wrote numerous plays, essays, novels, and letters. One of his novels, Icosameron, is one of the earliest examples of the science-fiction genre.

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Drawing by his brother, Francesco. (State Historical Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

Casanova's Memoirs

Casanova even penned his own memoir, Histoire de ma vie, from which his modern reputation is mostly derived, but it is also this autobiography that gives us pause today. His own recollections of his exploits read more like manipulation and coercion than skilled seduction, as he sought out lonely single or unhappily married women, earned their trust, had his way with them, and discarded them. His conquests included servants, noblewomen, wives of his closest friends, prostitutes, and random strangers, many of whom seem clearly not to be willing participants. In one 1745 incident, he and seven friends kidnapped a woman from a carnival and gang raped her repeatedly as a "fine joke." He also fathered an unknown number of children that will likely never be definitely tallied because each time a woman claimed he impregnated her, he simply denied it ... when he didn't get off on it.