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Thursday, June 4, 1998 Published at 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK


Casanova: Latin lover of life

Even in death the world's most infamous womaniser can still reel them in. Fans of Giacomo Casanova have come together in the Czech Republic to mark the 200th anniversary of the renowned lover's death.

The small Czech town of Duchcov is holding a series of cultural and social events devoted to Casanova, who spent the last 13 years of his life at the Duchcov Castle. And his homeland of Italy is also hosting exhibitions about the sexual adventurer.

But Casanova's life was not all about bodice-ripping and pleasure-seeking, reports BBC correspondent Edmund Butler.

Casanova toured the cities of Europe and seemed to be able to turn his hand to anything. He introduced the National Lottery to France, he knew Mozart and Voltaire and persuaded the Empress of Russia to introduce a new calendar. He even wrote one of the world's first science fiction novels.

The Latin lover was also a soldier in the Venetian army, a preacher, an alchemist, a gambler, a violinist, and a spy. He translated Homer's Iliad into Italian, too.

According to the Italian writer and broadcaster, Carlo Di Blasio, it is for this extraordinary range of activity that he really deserves a reputation.

"He was an ecclesiastic, a writer, a soldier, a spy, a diplomatist," says di Blasio. "He is chiefly remembered as the king of Italian adventurers because it's so easy to strike the popular imagination with stories of so many women and intrigues, but he was an eccentric. His mind was colourful and he was very brilliant."

Memoirs of a paramour

The myth of the world's greatest lover comes largely from Casanova's own pen - a 12-volume autobiography documents his seductions in extensive detail.

As a teenager, he describes how he was expelled from a Catholic seminary school for scandalous conduct. And over the next few decades, he lists scores of amorous exploits with duchesses, courtesans and even a nun.

"It is precisely by virtue of my coarse tastes that I am happier than other men, since I am convinced that my tastes make me capable of more pleasure," he wrote.

Donald Sutherland plays Casanova in the 1974 film by Federico Fellini(0'23")
His image as romantic, epicure and above all the sexual adventurer was portrayed by the actor Donald Sutherland in the 1970s film "Casanova". But how much truth lay behind his stories?

"One is always suspicious of kiss-and-tell [personal revelations]," says Ted Emery, a leading Casanova expert at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

"But yes, Casanova's essential veracity has been well established. He talks of a hundred love affairs but he's also a great lover for the way he loved which was extraordinary in the 18th century.

"He was a man who loved with total commitment and total sincerity however temporarily. And at the end of his life, there were found a number of letters from his former lovers and even though he loved them and inevitably left them, they remained very much in love with him."

Dramatic adventures

Among his more daring exploits was an elaborate escape from the Doge's prison in Venice, known as "the Leads", after he was condemned for atheism.

He lived his last years as an exile in Bohemia working as a librarian for Count Walstein at Duchcov Castle. Having squandered all he owned and run out of sexual steam, he relived his colourful life through his memoirs and died at the age of 73.

Casanova was buried in the graveyard of Duchcov church in 1798, but his body was later exhumed and reburied in an unknown location.

Two centuries on, his legacy is hotly debated. Some say he was nothing more than a swindler and a parasite. Others see a more sympathetic side to the man; that he should be remembered as a great chronicler of his age.

"What's important is not how he lived but how he wrote about it," says Mr Emery. "What's important is the autobiography which is certainly one of the frankest and most engaging ever written. And I think that is how he should be remembered."

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