Last time I was in Venice, I stopped by the lovely bookstore Acqua Alta, the one with a gondola inside and a staircase made of books out back. (I posted on this a while ago.) The owner, a smiley wild-haired guy who always wants to sell me about about a Venetian cat-fish, saw me looking at books about Casanova. “Do you have a Casanova condom?” he asked me.
“Uh, no,” I stumbled. “Wouldn’t it be really old?”
“Go over to that shelf. You’ll find them there,” he said.
Sure enough, there was a little pile of these:
You can see by the date on the blue side that they’re a bit old, after all, though not as old as Casanova. I’m curious about the markings on the red side of the package. Maybe these are recommended for various usages and combinations? No wonder they named them after Casanova. I heard some entrepreneur marketed them around town and they went pretty fast. Wild-haired smiley guy kept a stash of them. The website stamped on the package seems to be defunct.
If you want a little history on the condom, here’s the sidebar in my book Seductive Venice with a condensed report about its beginnings and how Casanova really did fit into their history.
“It is Love who invented these little jackets, but he had to ally himself with Precaution; and it seems to me that the alliance must have been displeasing to him, for it belongs only to the dark realm of Policy,” (7:12) stated M.M., probably Marina Morosini, a Venetian nun who snuck out of her convent for a tryst with Casanova.
Condom usage is first recorded in print in 1564 as protection against “The French Disease,” and the earliest condom fragments were discovered in England’s Dudley Castle loo, probably used by soldiers. Casanova’s memoirs are another of the earliest recorded documents mentioning condom use, along with writers the Marquis de Sade and James Boswell, a 1655 play entitled L’Escole de Filles, and the 1665 poem “A Panegyric upon Cundom.” Just like his contemporaries, Casanova first used the “English raincoat” for protection against syphilis, but later he mentioned employing them for contraception with his mistress Marina. States Ian Kelly, Casanova biographer, “Casanova was at the beginnings of the sea-change in condom use from being a pure prophylactic to the symbol of sexual liberation it is today” (qtd. in Dammann). He also gets the credit for being the first to test a condom for quality, blowing them up like balloons to entertain the ladies.
Gabriello Fallopio is generally credited with inventing the condom, which he tested on eleven hundred men, none who contracted syphilis. The condoms of Casanova’s day were generally made from linen, sheep’s intestine, or sometimes animal bladder soaked in various concoctions. Many of them could be washed and reused. Casanova described tying one on with a ribbon, the usual method for keeping it in place: “a little jacket of very fine transparent skin, eight inches long and closed at one end, and which by way of a pouch string at its open end had a narrow pink ribbon” (7:11).
No one is quite sure where the term “condom” comes from; it could be from the Latin “condus” meaning “receptacle,” or it could be named for the British doctor Colonel Quondam or Condom. Though condoms were for sale at the barbershop, pub, apothecary, theaters, and marketplaces, they certainly weren’t popular with everyone. English Parliament tried to make them illegal in 1708, some doctors said they still didn’t provide enough protection against syphilis, and religious leaders denounced them as immoral to use as contraceptives. None of that stopped Casanova, however. He employed them in his affair with Marina, who kept a supply of them brought to her by her French lover. Casanova composed a verse when he accidently discovered them in her drawer and wrote, “Yet if you are determined to bar your door, speak; I am ready, I will have myself gelded” (4:68). She never did get pregnant.