Skip

Certainly not Hugh Hefner
March 29, 2012 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Who Was Casanova? "Today, Casanova is so surrounded by myth that many people almost believe he was a fictional character. (Perhaps it’s hard to take seriously a man who has been portrayed by Tony Curtis, Donald Sutherland, Heath Ledger and even Vincent Price, in a Bob Hope comedy, Casanova’s Big Night [and many more].)"
In fact, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova lived from 1725 to 1798, and was a far more intellectual figure than the gadabout playboy portrayed on film. He was a true Enlightenment polymath, whose many achievements would put the likes of Hugh Hefner to shame. He hobnobbed with Voltaire, Catherine the Great, Benjamin Franklin and probably Mozart; survived as a gambler, an astrologer and spy; translated The Iliad into his Venetian dialect; and wrote a science fiction novel, a proto-feminist pamphlet and a range of mathematical treatises. He was also one of history’s great travelers, crisscrossing Europe from Madrid to Moscow. And yet he wrote his legendary memoir, the innocuously named Story of My Life, in his penniless old age, while working as a librarian (of all things!) at the obscure Castle Dux, in the mountains of Bohemia in the modern-day Czech Republic.
Here is a more detailed biographic article.
posted by Kirth Gerson (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
The autobiography
posted by Trurl at 6:49 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The French government promptly declared its intention to obtain the legendary pages, although it took some two and a half years before an anonymous benefactor stepped forward to purchase them for la patrie.

"Who will unrid us of this non-troublesome document"?
posted by DU at 6:51 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Tennant also played him in a BBC series.
posted by Brockles at 6:52 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


He was certainly gifted with great intelligence and charm, but apart from the fact that he was, first and foremost, an inveterate liar, some parts of his autobiography make somewhat uncomfortable reading today. There's a casual anti-Semitism, which was of course par for the course for his time, but also that he does not appear to have had many qualms to use force, blackmail or other forms of coercion to get his way with women, of which a significant number were quite underage.
Brilliant? Yes. A proto-feminist? Not by a long shot.
posted by Skeptic at 6:59 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of all the novels I've read featuring Casanova as a character, my favourite has to be Scherzo by Jim William-- castrati, sex and erudite jokes in one sparkling package.

Casanova also appears in Andrea di Robilant's nonfictional-yet-compelling A Venetian Affair. There he's shown in a much less flattering light.

I highly recommend both.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:10 AM on March 29, 2012


of which a significant number were quite underage.

Underage by what metric? You can't backdate current legislation, though.
posted by Brockles at 7:10 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


A proto-feminist? Not by a long shot.

Did someone say he was? Is there a reason for making sure nobody thinks he was?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:10 AM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


.... and was a far more intellectual figure than the gadabout playboy portrayed on film.

This is how I want at least one of the sentences in my obituary to end.
posted by three blind mice at 7:12 AM on March 29, 2012 [18 favorites]


In Casanova's era the age if consent was much lower than it is nowadays. People married younger, much closer to actual puberty than now.
It's not necesarily a Good Thing that people married so young, but maybe as a society we now prolong the wait for marriage and adulthood too long.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:15 AM on March 29, 2012


Underage by what metric? You can't backdate current legislation, though.

Underage by most metrics. There's also the less-than-wholesome Lucrezia-Leonilda mother-and-daughter threesome, in which the daughter is actually also his daughter, and in which he may have fathered his own grandson...
posted by Skeptic at 7:17 AM on March 29, 2012


wrote a science fiction novel

The Icosameron is not bad at all, featuring a trip to an Eden-like world in the interior of the Earth inhabited by a race of small humanoids with built-in sun visors who subsist by breast-feeding each other (as I recall).
posted by Segundus at 7:18 AM on March 29, 2012


The original Casanova is Granmaster Caz from the Cold Crush Brothers. Big Bank Hank stole his verse, the c-a-s-a-n-o-v-a and the rest is f-l-y in Rapper's Delight. The sugar hill gang now owe him 1.2 billion dollars.
posted by LouieLoco at 7:45 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did someone say he was? Is there a reason for making sure nobody thinks he was?

Um, well, the OP's quote includes "wrote a science fiction novel, a proto-feminist pamphlet and a range of mathematical treatises"

So the answer to your questions is "Sort of" and "Yes," in that order.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:14 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to ruin the central thesis, and recognizing that the film about his life was essentially paid-for propaganda, but Hef has a pretty amazing bit of polymath going himself - besides running a magazine that was not just cheesecake but loaded with those famous "articles" we're always buying it for, he also started the Playboy After Dark television show, which still amazes me that it had such a range of guests; the Playboy clubs were an entirely new field to go into for, say, a magazine publisher (and he had a lot of say in their design and construction, along with pulling out of one when the local government refused to let him integrate the staff), not to mention his cinema collection and hosting of movies nearly nightly... and so on.

I'm just saying, poor comparison target.
posted by jscott at 8:15 AM on March 29, 2012


David Tennant also played him in a BBC series.

*sighs dreamily* And thank goodness he did, too.

What?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think putting nekkid ladies on paper, TV and even in person! really makes one a polymath.
posted by DU at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2012


Speaking of nekkid ladies on paper, when Johns Hopkins University Press published Trask's difinitve unabridged translation of Casanova's memoirs in paperback they designed the books so that the spines, when all shelved together, displayed what might be described as an Early-Modern pin-up. It remains to this day one of my favorite pieces of book design.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:22 AM on March 29, 2012


Kenneth Rexroth discusses Casanova's memoirs in Classics Revisited.
posted by Bureau of Public Secrets at 11:46 AM on March 29, 2012


I don't think putting nekkid ladies on paper, TV and even in person! really makes one a polymath.

Playboy After Dark had, I believe, zero nekkid ladies. It really was the show for the person who reads Playboy for the articles. And Playboy actually has always featured a great deal of excellent writing--fiction and journalism. I don't know if I'd want to defend the Hefner as Renaissance Man line, but one should give the devil his due.
posted by yoink at 12:12 PM on March 29, 2012


David Tennant also played him in a BBC series.

*sighs dreamily* And thank goodness he did, too.

What?


That was a hugely entertaining series.
posted by Summer at 2:01 AM on March 30, 2012


« Older Downton Arby's   |   The worst linux PC ever Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post