The real Casanova

Why is the word „Casanova,“ which literally means „new home“ in Italian, associated with lust and physical love? It’s because a man who lived in the 1700s named Giacamo Casanova wrote a nearly 4,000-page memoir that’s famous worldwide for its descriptions of his many sexual encounters. In 2010, France’s national library bought the original manuscript – which was written in French – for around €5 million. 

The highlight reel of Casanova’s life includes much more than seducing nuns and noblewomen, though. He planned the only successful escape from a Venetian prison, pitched an idea to the King of France that at one point accounted for 4% of the country’s income, befriended Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire, and more.  

In this month’s Learning Nugget, learn the difference between a Casanova and the Casanova. 

Born to actors, raised by a priest

Casanova was born to two stage performers in Venice, Italy, in 1725. His father died when he was young, and his mother left him with his grandmother to pursue her acting career.  

By age nine he was sent out of Venice and ended up living with a priest. He entered university at age 12, was eventually pushed into theology, and was taking steps to become a priest himself. That path took him to Rome and Constantinople. During his travels, he engaged in numerous affairs with women and men. 


A stroke of luck

Casanova returned to Venice at age 20 with almost no money and a reputation for immorality. This changed one night when he witnessed a Venetian senator named Don Matteo having a stroke. Casanova quickly got a doctor, but when the doctor’s treatment made Don Matteo worse, Casanova devised his own plan of care and saved the senator’s life. 

The senator became Casanova’s patron. With Don Matteo’s funding and name supporting him, Casanova became a fixture in Venetian high society, where he enjoyed the best of everything, gambled, and had plenty more sexual liaisons.


Escape from Il Piombi

Eventually, Casanova’s deeds became too much for the Venetian Inquisition, which arrested him and put him in a prison called Il Piombi that was over the Doge’s (Venice’s ruler’s) palace. 

No one had ever escaped from the prison until Casanova teamed up with an imprisoned priest. They both made holes in rotten wood in their cells and escaped together one night by climbing out onto the palace’s roof. They found and changed into fine clothes and in the early morning convinced a guard they’d been locked in after an event the night before. 

After being set free, they left Venice as fast as they could. 


Lotteries, duels, and a lonely end

Casanova wrote an account of escaping Il Piombi that became very popular and won him admirers throughout Europe.   

As he traveled across the continent, his charm and fame helped him rub elbows with nobles. Perhaps his biggest triumph was suggesting a lottery system to France’s king that became a huge success and extremely profitable for the crown. 

It also benefited Casanova, who earned a fortune from businesses related to the lottery. He used his money to travel more, spending almost everything on his vices while gaining a reputation for being unruly. He even dueled a count over a woman in Warsaw. 

By age 60, though, Casanova’s funds, luck, and sex appeal were all spent. The only work he could find was being a librarian for a count at a remote castle in Bohemia (today in Czechia). 

He grew so depressed there that a doctor recommended he write a memoir of his life to keep his mind on happier times. The doctor’s order turned into Histoire de ma vie (Story of My Life) – the book full of sex and adventure that cemented Casanova’s name into the world’s collective memory. 

Now that you know more about the real person, maybe you’ll think twice before calling someone a Casanova in the future. 



literally – buchstäblich, wörtlich 

in Italian – auf italienisch

associated with – assioziiert mit 

description of – Beschreibung von

encounters – Treffen, Begegnungen

seduce – verführen 

nun – Nonne 

noblewomen – Adlige 

escape from – fliehen aus 

Venetian – venezianisch (Adj. von Venedig) 

pitch an idea to s.o. – jemandem eine Idee vorbringen 

account for 4% – 4% ausmachen

raised by – erzogen von 

pursue – verfolgen 

eventually – schließlich

path – Weg 

engage – einlassen 

stroke of luck – Glücksfall 

at age – im Alter von 

immorality – Unmoral, Unsittlichkeit 

witness – etw. bezeugen, miterleben

stroke – Herzinfarkt

devise – entwickeln, ausarbeiten  

patron – Förderer, Schutzpatron 

fixture – Inventar, fester Bestandteil 

gamble – zocken, spielen 

deed – Tat, Werk 

arrest – verhaften

team up – sich zusammenschließen

rotten wood – morsches Holz 

convince – überzeugen 

guard – Aufseher

set free – frei kommen

account – Bericht, Darstellung 

Rub elbows/shoulders with – mit einflussreichen Leuten in Kontakt kommen

nobles – Adelige 

earned a fortune – ein Vermögen verdienen 

spend on vices – für lasterhaftes Leben Geld ausgeben 

unruly – aufsässig, widerspenstig 

duel – sich duellieren 

funds – Mittel, Gelder 

be all spent – alles ausgegeben

order – Auftrag

liberian – Bibliothekar

memory – Gedächtnis

Excite Your Senses

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

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