Webster’s Dictionary defines the noun “Casanova” as “Lover, especially a man
who is a promiscuous and unscrupulous lover.” The word was first used in this
fashion in 1852, but its inspiration can be traced back to the previous century
and the life of Giacomo Casanova.
Famous for loving and leaving members of the opposite sex, the legends of
Casanova have endured thanks to his 12-volume account of his exploits titled
Story of My Life. Clocking in at a total of 3,500 pages, it provides a great
deal of insight into both the author and the social customs and norms of 18th
century Europe. In 2010, the complete manuscript was purchased by the National
Library of France for a hefty 7 million euros.
In addition to his exploits as a womanizer, Casanova also had a lifelong
romance with gambling. We’ll discuss both in this biography, as well as
providing overall details about his life.
Casanova and Women
Casanova loved women. In his own words, “Feeling that I was born for the sex
opposite of mine, I have always loved it and done all that I could to make
myself loved by it.”
While most contemporaries would have been satisfied with sleeping with a
woman any way they could, Casanova took his romantic conquests to new heights.
He preferred relationships that mimicked a play, with himself cast as the
dashing hero. These often took the following form:
Casanova would become acquainted with a women suffering through an
unhappy relationship with another man.
Whether through his wits, intelligence, connections, or physical
prowess, Casanova would assist the woman in her predicament.
Once the problem was solved, the emotionally vulnerable woman would be
grateful. In turn, Casanova would seduce her and initiate a passionate
Once the relationship had run its course, he would attempt to match the
woman with a suitable replacement and then move on.
While he was attracted to intelligent and wealthy women, Casanova also has a
fetish for young girls. In fact, he would be considered a pedophile by modern
standards. His memoirs talk of purchasing a 13-year-old Russian sex slave, as
well as engaging in carnal activities with the nine-year-old daughter of a
The Life of Casanova
Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was born in 1725 to well-known Venetian performers
Zanetta Farussi and Gaetano Casanova. The eldest of six children, he became the
man of the house at the age of eight when his father died from an infected
abscess of the ear. This was short-lived however, as his mother’s frequent
travels led him to be raised by his grandmother. He was later sent to a boarding
house before winding up-at his own request-in the home of a priest named Abbe
Casanova spent many of his teen years in the Gozzi household, and the
priest’s younger sister introduced him to the pleasures of the flesh by fondling
him at the age of 11. One year later, he enrolled at the University of Padua and
eventually obtained a degree in law.
Nearing the end of his teen years, Casanova developed a love for gambling,
and his mounting debts resulted in him being called back to Venice to live with
his grandmother. He began a law practice during this period, while also studying
to become a clergyman. Not long after, he officially lost his virginity to a
pair of sisters (one 16 and the other 14).
His tried to become a professional gambler, but he once again found himself
in debt. An acquaintance secured him a job as a violinist, and he later became
the personal legal assistant of a noble after saving the man’s life. This much
older patron, Alvise Malipiero, schooled Casanova in the ways of society and the
arts, at least until the young man became rivals for the affections of an
Casanova was never shy about flaunting conventions of the day, and he soon
drew the attention of the authorities. Between engaging in duels, gambling, and
seducing various women, it wasn’t long before he was arrested and sentenced to
five years in solitary confinement. Luckily, he and another prisoner managed to
escape, and Casanova fled to Paris.
This marked a long period of adventure and exploration, as Casanova journeyed
from one end of Europe to the other, rubbing elbows with kings, popes, and
celebrities of the day. He continued to make his living primarily as a gambler,
and his list of female conquests grew by leaps and bounds.
In the 1770s, Casanova was finally allowed to return home to Venice. He
worked as a spy for the authorities, but his adventurous lifestyle had taken a
toll on both his appearance and personal finances. He published an
Italian-Tuscan translation of the Iliad, but it did little to improve his
Following the death of his mother, Casanova began a relationship with a
seamstress. He was eventually expelled from Venice again in 1783, following the
publication of a satire poking fun at the noble class.
He settled in Vienna for a few years, obtaining a job with the Venetian
ambassador. However, when his employer died in 1785, he once again went looking
for work. He found it in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) at the Castle of Dux,
where he gained a position as the librarian for Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein.
Casanova’s health was failing, and he found himself unpopular with most of
the inhabitants of the castle. Therefore, he decided to turn his energy towards
writing down his life’s story, an effort that resulted in the 12-volume Story of
The famous lover and adventurer passed away on June 4th, 1798, at the age of
73. His final recorded words were,
“I have lived as a philosopher, and I die as
While he might otherwise have faded into obscurity over the
centuries, his autobiography ensured a certain level of immortality.
Casanova the Gambler
As he spent time moving through the high society of 18th century Europe,
Casanova played numerous games of chance. Anyone who’s glanced at his memoirs
should know that he had a passion for gambling, and these pursuits included the
following: faro, whist, quinze, biribi, primero, piquet, lotteries, and basset.
While he would’ve no doubt been smitten with poker, it should be noted that
today’s most popular card game didn’t debut in its current form until the
century following his death.
At the age of 20, he chose to pursue the life of a professional gambler.
According to his memoirs,
“I had to earn my living in one way or another, and I
decided on the profession of a gamester.”
During this time, he sought out the teachings of both professional gamblers
and cheats, as both could be found in casinos and upscale gatherings of the
time. As Casanova wrote, he was “instructed in those wise maxims without which
games of chance ruin those who participate in them.”
Over time, however, the famous lover found that he did not have the necessary
temperament to be a professional gambler. Sometimes his losses resulted in
thunderous tirades, while other times it ended in a duel. As he once stated,
had neither prudence enough to leave off when fortune was adverse, nor
sufficient control over myself when I had won.”
While Casanova often suffered through cold streaks (especially while playing
faro), he always managed to land on his feet thanks to a combination of luck and
charm. The latter often resulted in assistance from various lovers, such as the
time a penniless Casanova was bailed out by a noble paramour, “I played on the
martingale, but with such bad luck that I soon left without a sequin. I was
obliged to tell [the lady] of my losses, and it was at her request that I sold
all her diamonds, losing what I got for them. I still gamed, but for small
stakes, waiting for the slow return of good luck.”
In the 1760s, Casanova started a French lottery with the support of King
Louis XV. The goal was to raise enough money (20 million francs) for a military
school and prevent the nation’s monarch from having to raise taxes. As an added
bonus, both Casanova and King Louis planned to fill their personal coffers with
some of the excess profits.
According to his memoirs, it was a rousing success, “The total receipts [from
the first day of the nation’s lottery] amounted to two million, and the
administration made a profit of 600,000 francs, of which Paris alone had
contributed 100,000 francs. This was well enough for a first attempt.”
And so it went. Whether he was flush with money or just barely scraping by,
the legendary figure kept up his love affair with gambling until the end of his
Casanova on the Screen
For those who desire to see a visual depiction of Casanova’s life instead of
just reading about it, you’ll be happy to hear that a number of stories have
been brought to both the big and small screens. This section discusses both,
including casting details and basic plotlines.
Please note, however, that you won’t find a great deal of time devoted to
Casanova’s life as a gambler. Since he’s synonymous with romance and seduction,
these are the subjects that are focused on.
A silent Hungarian film starring future horror icon
Bela Lugosi in the title role.
The Loves of Casanova (1927)
This is categorized as a silent French
historical drama, although many who worked on the project were Russian
immigrants who’d fled the events of the Russian Revolution. As with most
films on this list, the movie provides an overview of the life of Casanova.
Ivan Mozzhukhin stars in the title role.
The Mysterious Rider (1948)
This Italian film places Casanova is the
role of a heroic adventurer. Directed by Riccardo Freda, it stars Vittorio
Gassman in his first role as a leading man.
The Last Rose from Casanova (1966)
A Czech film starring Felix Le
Breux in the title role. An older Casanova is spending the final years of
his life writing his memoirs, but he’s not too decrepit to accept a wager
that involves the love of a younger woman.
Giacomo Casanova: Childhood and Adolescence (1969)
An Italian comedy
that depicts the libertine (Leonard Whiting) as a young noble studying to
become a priest. However, when he falls in love with a countess, he decides
to abandon his religious pursuits and seek a life of pleasure.
A BBC serial somewhat drawn from Casanova’s Story of
My Life. Frank Finlay had the leading role, for which he received a Best
Actor nomination at the 1972 BAFTA awards.
Fellini’s Casanova (1976)
This highly symbolic Italian film was
directed by Federico Fellini and went on to win the Academy Award for Best
Costume Design. Many of the situations are taken from the subject’s original
works, including orgies, women dressed as nuns, and even stranger fare.
Donald Sutherland plays the lead.
That Night in Varennes (1982)
A French drama based on the novel by
Catherine Rihoit, it tells the story of a chance meeting in a coach between
Casanova (Marcello Mastroianni), Thomas Paine, Restif de la Bretonne, and
Sophie de la Borde.
This made-for-television American film offers a
watered-down version of Casanova’s life. Richard Chamberlain stars in the
title role, while Faye Dunaway heads up the supporting cast.
The Return of Casanova (1992)
A French comedy starring Alain Delon as
the title character. Middle-aged and broke, Casanova attempts to return to
Venice, receive a pardon, and seduce a much younger woman.
This American romance stars Heath Ledger as the famous
lothario, although it’s only loosely based on his life. The strong
supporting cast includes Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, and Oliver Platt.
This 3-episode BBC television serial tells the life
story of Casanova, with Peter O’Toole and David Tennant playing older and
younger versions of the character, respectively.
The Story of My Death (2013)
Directed by Albert Serra and originally
released in France, this bizarre, low-budget film stars Vicenc Altaio as a
past-his-prime Casanova who journeys to Transylvania and makes the
acquaintance of Count Dracula (Eliseu Huertas).
Casanova Variations (2014)
Starring John Malkovich and featuring a
cast filled with trained opera singers, this lavish production tells several
lewd stories from the life of Casanova. The actor also appears as himself,
interacting with both a “fan” and producer in-between the events on the
Zoroastro, lo Casanova (2016)
An Italian concert film that combines
the tragic lyrics of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Zoroastre with the Italian
translation and writings of Giacomo Casanova. Directed by Gianni Di Capua
and starring Galatea Ranzi as the world-famous lover.
Giacomo Casanova would have been considered an exceptional man in any age. He
produced over 20 works of literature in his time, as well as working as a spy,
politician, military officer, lawyer, and clergyman. His autobiography remains a
vivid snapshot of the times, and his famed love of women was rivaled only by his
seeming obsession with gambling.
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