The word “seducer” has a rather bad ring to it these days, when seduction is generally considered a euphemism for “bent over and involuntarily buggered”, not necessarily in any sexual sense. Bernie Madoff comes to mind, but really, in spite of all those pilfered billions, where it matters most, Bernie Madoff is small fry. Compared with today’s birthday boy, he pales into obscurity. Bamboozling people out of their pensions, defrauding banks – how vulgar!

Today’s birthday boy, had he been around to witness it, would have have laughed old Bernie out of Wall Street.

Today is the birthday of Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt, the man whose very name has become a byword all by dint of a very dirty and not undeserved reputation. “He’s such a Casanova”. “Discount Casanova”. All of them have slipped into general usage as one and two-word descriptions of slimy disco balls so slick they slide up walls.

Which does the original no favors. Because dear old Giacomo packed such an extraordinary amount of life into 73 years that you begin to wonder what sort of writer cooked up this kind of diabolical plot.

Con man, spy, huckster, compulsive gambler, dueller, actor, musician, physician, clergyman, philosopher, nobleman, librarian – he was, at various points in his life, all of these things. At a time in history when it was still possible to reinvent yourself from scratch, he mastered all the differing roles in his life with aplomb, finesse and loads and loads of – style, quite often financed with someone else’s money.

But his main frame of reference, and one he encouraged and enhanced all his life, was as a world-class seducer of women. They fell, like so many drugged fruit flies, victim to the kind of charm that would have been lethal, if only it could have been bottled.

In today’s world of sex-as-commodity, where sexualised images are everywhere you look and there’s no end to self-proclaimed experts on “sexy”, seduction has sort of fallen by the wayside. It implies that you have been had – literally and figuratively. Which is a shame, because this real life Don Juan – and even that title is rather misleading for reasons I shall explain in a bit – knew a thing or two about those ladies he loved – and he loved, by his own account and the accounts of most of his contemporaries – hundreds, if not thousands of not at all unwilling females.

I used to joke that any guy who liked historical costume had to also like extended foreplay. The crinolines and petticoats, the powdered wigs and flowered phrases that consisted civilized concourse 250 years ago were all just the starting point. These were the obstacles a seducer had to work around. Think of the stiff conventionality of a movie such as “Dangerous Liaisons”. There is John Malkovich, so cold we could call him Monsieur Frigidaire, except they hadn’t been invented yet. That was the sort of convention Casanova was up against and had to play to. But Casanova had an edge on Malkovich’s Vicomte de Valmont. It was the same edge he held over that fictional construct of Lorenzo di Ponti’s Don Giovanni, and Byrons’s later Don Juan.

For neither Don Giovanni, Don Juan or the Vicomte de Valmont really, truly loved women. Women as a gender, woman as a concept, that great soft and rounded creation no man can create – or exist – without. All of these esteemed gentlemen knew how to use the fair sex, they knew how to play into their insecurities and vanities, but they most emphatically did not love Woman. They all railed against feminine wiles and female treachery, they all struggled against their own desire and need, but they did not love Woman.

Casanova, for all his stupendous life, did. Woman as a concept, women in general, women in particular, he loved it all and he loved them all in all their moods and follies and from the tops of their violet-scented perukes to the tips of their rosy silk-clad toes, even as he exploited them for his own nefarious ends. He knew that in order to seduce a woman, you had to make her believe to the marrow of her bones that she was, for the duration at least, the most fascinating, scintillating creature ever to walk the earth.

He knew, too, that seduction is not merely sex, and that looks mean less than you think. Flattery will get you part of the way, but only part of it. Flattery and significant looks, a sense of humor, but not too much, and some very good pheromones will get you – everywhere, horizontal, vertical or on Louis XV armchairs. He gave himself totally, in the space of a few days, what most men were content to dole out with teaspoons or eyedroppers over a lifetime.

In other words, he left them happy, and knowing that it would never happen again.

That, dear reader, is a man. And what a man!

As for you, Giacomo, I salute your ghost as much as I adore your spirit of adventure and possibilities. I admire a man who was honest enough to say that a man who never spoke a bad word about women had never bothered to understand them. For in order to understand them, you have to be made to suffer at their hands. Then, and only then, can you truly love women.

Pay attention, guys. Some day, you will thank me for that information. But don’t thank me.

Thank Giacomom Girolamo Casanova.

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