Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was born inVenice in 1725 to actress Zanetta Farussi, wife of actor
and dancer Gaetano Giuseppe Casanova. Giacomo was the first of six children, being followedbyFrancesco Giuseppe(1727–1803),Giovanni Battista (1730–1795), Faustina Maddalena
(1731–1736), Maria Maddalena Antonia Stella (1732–1800), and Gaetano Alvise (1734–1783).
At the time of Casanov's birth, the Republic of Venicethrived as the pleasure capital of Europe,
ruled by political and religious conservatives who tolerated social vices and encouraged tourism.It was a required stop on theGrand Tour , traveled by young men coming of age, especiallyEnglishmen. The famed Carnival, gambling houses, and beautifulcourtesanswere powerful
drawing cards. This was the milieu that bred Casanova and made him its most famous andrepresentative citizen.
Casanova was cared for by his grandmother Marzia Baldissera while his mother toured aboutEurope in the theater. His father died when he was eight. As a child, Casanova sufferednosebleeds, and his grandmother sought help from a witch: “Leaving the gondola, we enter ahovel, where we find an old woman sitting on a pallet, with a black cat in her arms and five or sixothers around her.”
Though the unguent applied was ineffective, Casanova was fascinated bythe incantation.
Perhaps to remedy the nosebleeds (a physician blamed the density of Venice’sair), Casanova, on his ninth birthday, was sent to a boarding house on the mainland in Padua.
For Casanova, the neglect by his parents was a bitter memory. “So they got rid of me,” heproclaimed.
Conditions at the boarding house were appalling so he appealed to be placed under the care of Abbé Gozzi, his primary instructor, who tutored him in academic subjects as well as the violin.Casanova moved in with the priest and his family and lived there through most of his teenageyears.
It was also in the Gozzi household that Casanova first came into contact with theopposite sex, when Gozzi’s younger sister Bettina fondled him at the age of eleven. Bettina was“pretty, lighthearted, and a great reader of romances. … The girl pleased me at once, though Ihad no idea why. It was she who little by little kindled in my heart the first sparks of a feelingwhich later became my ruling passion.”
Although she subsequently married, Casanovamaintained a life-long attachment to Bettina and the Gozzi family.
Early on, Casanova demonstrated a quick wit, an intense appetite for knowledge, and aperpetually inquisitive mind. He entered the University of Padua at twelve and graduated at
seventeen, in 1742, with a degree in law (“for which I felt an unconquerable aversion”).
It washis guardian’s hope that he would become an ecclesiastical lawyer.
Casanova had also studiedmoral philosophy, chemistry, and mathematics, and was keenly interested in medicine. (“I should