You can find out the answer to this and many other questions in Lisetta Lovett’s new book Casanova’s Guide to Medicine.
Lovett notes that Casanova’s interest in medicine and cataloguing of his and others’ illnesses offer a fairly broad glimpse into eighteenth century afflictions, beliefs, and treatments. Giacomo Casanova’s History of My Life presents a vast social history of the era’s European practices, from carriages and gondolas to gloves and slippers, convents to inns to prisons. Lovett quotes liberally from the memoirs, particularly the English translations by Machen and Trask. Casanova feels very present in this chronicle as his words set the scene for the exploration of an ailment or cure. Employing the detective skills of a medical historian, Lovett also devotes Chapter 13 to an overview of medical beliefs from the ancient Greeks through the 1700s, as well as end notes providing explanations of specific diseases, all to help the lay reader better understand the complaints and cures behind Casanova’s stories. Casanova’s Guide to Medicine can be read as either a companion or an introduction to the History of My Life.
This detective work results in a comprehensive look at various illnesses and treatments, from commonplace forms of indigestion and fever, to mysterious maladies like the vapors and nervous disorders, which became fashionable among the leisure classes. Lovett spends considerable time explicating venereal diseases, while she also discusses instances of eighteenth century sexual taboos such as masturbation, homosexuality, incest, and pedophilia, presenting an objective analysis of social context while avoiding moral judgments. Twenty-first century readers can benefit from this fuller context and deepened understanding. Besides just physical ailments, Lovett also addresses addictions to alcohol and gambling as well as mental disorders such as melancholy and suicide through Casanova’s own experiences or his comments about others. Social context is key in Lovett’s text: she provides clear, pertinent, and succinct overviews of the era’s prevailing practices and beliefs, even such events as dueling as it related to injuries Casanova incurred.
Lovett depicts Casanova with a clear-eyed vision of this complex historical character. While she admires his protective care for women, for example, she also notes his bouts of anger or melancholy and his savvy use of the cabbala when it benefitted him. Casanova’s Guide to Medicine offers an informative and enjoyable view into both the eighteenth century as well as the life of one of its great writers and adventurers. History students, Casanova admirers, medical professionals, or anyone with a curiosity about such complaints as the pox, Green sickness, apoplexy, and the Bolognese Itch will spend diverting hours with this book.