Scientific study finds NO evidence of Cassanova having gonorrhoea

Did Casanova really have gonorrhoea? Scientific study finds NO evidence of him having ‘the clap’ as researchers claim he either hid the STI or lied to boost his image as a prominent lover

  • Giacomo Casanova lived in the 1700s and claimed to have slept with 122 women  
  • He wrote in his memoirs about his ongoing struggle with the disease 
  • Researchers have been unable to find any evidence he had the condition 
  • Scientists found evidence of treatments for the condition known as ‘the clap’ 
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Giacomo Casanova claimed to have had sex with so many women his name became shorthand for promiscuity.

But he may have been lying, scientists say, because they can find no proof he ever had gonorrhoea.

The Italian adventurer wrote in his memoirs about his ongoing suffering with the sexually transmitted infection.

And researchers said if he had slept with 122 women, as he claimed, he would have been very likely to have caught it.

When they tested for bacteria in the handwritten pages of his memoir, however, they could find no traces of the STI. 

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Giacomo Casanova (pictured) wrote in his memoirs about his ongoing suffering with the sexually transmitted infection. And researchers said if he had slept with 122 women, as he claimed, he would have been very likely to have caught it

Scientists from Politecnico di Milano in Italy tried to separate proteins based on their weight using a technique called electrophoresis, which involves passing a small electrical current through a specialist gel. 

Chemical tests conducted by Pier Giorgio Righetti, a global leader in this field, and his team looked for races of gonorrhoea bacteria on the pages of Casanova’s original manuscript.

But they could find no evidence of the disease, only the medication he may have used to treat it, The Times reports.

Venice-born Casanova, who lived in the 1700s, said he had suffered with the illness at least four times.

Gleb Zilberstein has examined the claims some 230 years after the book was written between 1789 and 1798.

He said Casanova was ‘either very well cured or he was a healthy man and an imaginative librarian.’

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The tests did, however, find traces of a chemical called mercury sulphide, a poisonous compound which was used to try and control – but not cure – gonorrhoea at the time.

And Mr Zilberstein suggests this chemical may have destroyed Casanova’s mental health.

He said: ‘Mercury compounds can lead to mental disorders. In the last years of his life, Casanova was contemplating suicide.

‘Probably the cause was a mental disorder due to the use of drugs based on mercury.’

Scientists used chemical tests on the pages of Casanova’s original manuscript to try and find traces of gonorrhoea bacteria.  But they could find no evidence of the disease, only the medication he may have used to treat it


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.

More than two centuries after Casanova’s death, his name is still a synonym for every playboy philanderer. 

He was the eldest of six children to a woman who was widowed in her mid-20s and struggled to cope with her expanding family. 

Much of what we know about Casanova comes from his memoir, Histoire De Ma Vie (pictured)

He was sent on his ninth birthday to the city of Padua and never lived wit his mother again. 

It is said his abandonment issues stemmed from this and laid the foundations for his womanising ways. 

He was subsequently left broken-hearted by his first love, a nun known only as M.M., as Casanova named her in Histoire De Ma Vie, the memoir he wrote during his poverty-stricken old age.

Casanova fell deeply in love with M. M and became her devoted slave for two years. 

She, on the other hand, always put the needs of he other lover, French Ambassador François de Bernis, before his.

She would even coax Casanova into putting on a display of sexual fireworks for the benefit of the voyeur. 

Desperate for love, yet unable to accept it when it was presented to him on a plate, he proved a soft touch to manipulative women. Money poured through his generous fingers into their open palms.

Trapped by poverty, he spent his last 13 years working as a librarian in a remote corner of Bohemia.

He had lost everything through his craving for women’s approval: his money, his independence, his freedom to roam and even his looks.

Gonorrhoea, which can cause life-threatening blood infections if left untreated, has been recorded in people since as far back as the 12th Century.

Treatments were rudimentary and probably ineffective – such as using heavy metals – until the 1900s when antibiotics were invented.

Although Mr Zilberstein said he doesn’t know whether or not to believe Casanova’s claims of dozens of sexual partners, he said it would have been likely he caught gonorrhoea if he did.

The paper, published in the journal Electrophoresis, added: ‘When Casanova visited Madrid, it was stated that even nuns in convents were affected by this venereal disease.’


Discovery of the infection and its cause

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection that has been known to mankind since medieval times. It was referred to as the ‘clap’ before the actual cause was discovered.

The exact time when gonorrhea started cannot be ascertained. Earliest records of the disease are found from 1161 when the English parliament enacted a law to ensure that the spread of the infection is decreased and curbed. 

This shows the magnitude of the public health problem this infection had posed then. However, even then the cause of the infection was unknown.

This was followed by a similar law in 1256 in France during the reign of Louis IX. 

The symptoms of the infection were observed when the crusaders lay siege of Acre. 

After the Pope Boniface secularised the practice of medicine, the doctors began to treat common men as well as prostitutes for this infection.

In 1879 Neisser discovered the gonococcus or Neisseria gonorrhoeae and it was soon proven to be the causative agent of gonorrhoea. 

He demonstrated its presence consistently in patients with symptoms. 

In addition, when discharge and cultures of gonococci was introduced into the urethra of healthy men, it caused the disease.

The Clap 

Gonorrhoea was referred to as the clap, and still is colloquially.  

According to some historians the name came about because the infected person would experience a clapping sensation that appeared suddenly when urinating. 

Others say that the name originated because in order to remove the pus-like discharge from the penis, the penis had to be clapped on both sides. 

Still others believe that the name comes from French brothels, which were known as les clapiers, and men who visited these brothels invariably ended up with the infection.

History of treatments 

The earliest treatment of gonorrhea was with the use of mercury. Earliest findings from English warship ‘Mary Rose’ show that several special surgical tools were used to inject mercury via the urinary opening.

In the 19th century, gonorrhea was treated with the help of silver nitrate. 

Silver nitrate was soon discontinued and instead protargol was used which was a type of colloidal silver sold by Bayer from the year 1887.

Around 1859 another treatment was popular. These were cubebs, an Indonesian variety of pepper of which the dried powdered unripe fruit was used, and balsam of copaiba (or copaiva), which was extracted from a South American tree. 

The indication of their effectiveness was cessation of the discharge.

In the 1890s the first vaccine prepared from killed gonococci taken from Neisser’s laboratory. This vaccine was introduced in 1909.

Before antibiotics came into being metals were tried against the infection this included arsenic, antimony, bismuth, gold etc.

The use of other drugs for treatment continued right until the 1940s till antibiotics – notably Penicillin – came into use. Other antibiotics that arose during this time were the sulphur compounds or Sulphanilamide, Sulfapyridine and sulfathiazol.

Penicillins continued to be mainstay of therapy until 1970’s. In 1980 the first gonococcus isolates were identified that were resistant to penicillin. In 1983 a local epidemic caused by a penicillin resistant strain occurred in North Carolina. Patients were successfully treated with spectinomycin.

Source: Dr Ananya Mandal, News Medical

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