Casanova was a secret medical expert who often helped women with their health problems
Giacomo Casanova, the most famous womaniser in history, was a secret medical expert who often helped 18th-century women with their health problems, a new study of his promiscuous memoirs suggests.
The writings of the Venetian adventurer who claimed to have slept with more than 130 lovers have long been devoured for their accounts of his sexual conquests.
But now a fresh analysis of his memoirs reveals the world’s most famous lover to be a failed doctor whose observations now provide unique insights into 18th-century healthcare in Europe, the Times reports.
Casanova’s Story of My Life, written in the 1790s, provides descriptions of illnesses, injuries and treatments he encountered in travels across Europe, with cases ranging from duelling injuries to smallpox and plague.
Giacomo Casanova, the most famous womaniser in history, was a secret medical expert who often helped 18th-century women with their health problems, a new study suggests
Lisetta Lovett, a medical historian and psychiatrist, said that Casanova maintained a interest in medicine all his life and continued to read medical textbooks even after his ambition to study the subject was scotched by his mother.
The author of Casanova’s Guide to Medicine told the newspaper that women including friends sought his advice and practical help in dealing with problems from pimples to unwanted pregnancies.
Ms Lovett said Casanova was often kind, citing one instance where he convinced a French duchess to accept his skincare advice, including cutting out certain food and drink, by falsely claiming it was rooted in the Jewish mystical tradition of kabbalah.
More controversially, the Italian libertine persuaded Giustiniana Wynne, an unmarried woman pregnant by a lover, that his recommended abortion treatment should be applied during intercourse with him.
The writings of the Venetian adventurer, who claimed to have slept with more than 130 lovers, have long been devoured for their accounts of his sexual conquests. Pictured, David Tennant playing the libertine for a BBC1 drama in 2005
His ‘treatment’ failed and she gave birth in a convent. However, Ms Lovett argues that people from history should not be judged by today’s standards.
Casanova also educated women about contraception, showing one young lady he had not yet slept with ‘a packet of fine English letters’ and explaining their use, provoking ‘a burst of laughter’.
Although he believed that popular though discredited, treatments such as bleeding and mercury could be effective in certain circumstances, Casanova also recognised dangers in their use as cure-alls.
Ms Lovett believes that Casanova suffered from clinical depression in his later life and spent at least 10 hours a day writing his memoirs to distract himself from ‘black melancholy’.
‘He was a toweringly intelligent man – something that people are not really aware of these days because he has been eclipsed by the stereotypes around his sexual interests,’ she told the Times.
‘Eighteenth-century medical practice is considered a niche area and might appear rather dry but the stories Casanova relates are so funny or so tragic, I thought this would be a very good way of seducing somebody into reading about it.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT CASANOVA?
Much of what we know about Casanova comes from his memoir, Histoire De Ma Vie (pictured)
Born in Venice in 1725 and dismissed as a sickly imbecile during the first eight years of his life.
He defied his parents’ lack of expectation in him and rose to become an intellectual man.
Destined in his youth for a high-flown career in the church, Casanova gave it up to become a soldier, a gambler, an adventurer, a businessman, an author and a con-man – and most of all to pursue the fair sex.
He had lost his virginity at the age of 16 in the arms of two sisters who, far from being reluctant to be seduced, threw themselves at him.
At just under 6ft tall, he is believed to have been an attractive man, with swarthy skin and a mane of dark curls.
In bed, he made sure the women he made love to enjoyed themselves as much as he did, claiming that their pleasure made up four-fifths of his own.