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three pairs of lovers with space



Giacomo Girolamo Casanova (2 April 1725 – 4 June 1798) was a Venetian adventurer and writer best-known for his amorous exploits recounted in his memoir, History of my Life until the year 1797.

Presented here is Casanova’s account of his dalliance with an ostensible castrato (a boy castrated so that he could sing and act as a female on the stage, sometimes in the 18th century leading to stardom), whose real gender he was uncertain of, and “her” pre-pubescent sisters.

The translation from the original French is by Willard R. Trask in Giacomo Casanova Chevalier de Seingalt. History of My Life. Volumes I and II (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966).


Volume II


On 25th February 1744, the eighteen-year-old Casanova, describing himself inaccurately as Cardinal Acquaviva’s secretary arrived in the port of Ancona in the Papal States. Putting up at the best inn there, that evening he met Sancho Pico, a Castilian and Proveditor of a Spanish army.

Ancona 18th
                                                                     Ancona in the 18th century

“Follow me to the next room. You will have the pleasure of hearing some good music. The first actress is lodging there,” [said Don Sancho]

The word “actress” arouses my curiosity, and I follow him. I see a woman rather well on in years eating supper at a table with two girls and two handsome youths. I look in vain for the actress. Don Sancho introduces her to me in the person of one of the youths, who was ravishingly handsome and could not have been more than sixteen or seventeen years old. I think at once that he is the castrato who had played the part of first actress at the theater in Ancona,[1] which was subject to the same regulations as the theaters in Rome. The mother introduces her other son, a good-looking boy too, but not a castrato, whose name was Petronio and who appeared as prima ballerina, and her two daughters, the elder of whom, named Cecilia, was studying music and was twelve years old; the other, who was a dancer, was eleven and named Marina; they were both pretty. The family came from Bologna and made a living by its talents. Affability and lightheartedness made up for their poverty.

When Bellino (for such was the name of the castrato who was first actress) rose from table he yielded to Don Sancho’s urging and sat down at the harpsichord and accompanied himself in an air which he sang with the voice of an angel and enchanting fioriture. The Spaniard listened with his eyes closed and seemed to be in ecstasy. For my part, far from keeping my eyes closed, I was admiring Bellino’s which, black as carbuncles, sparkled with a fire which burned my soul.[2] This anomalous being had some of Donna Lucrezia’s features and certain gestures reminiscent of the Marchesa G. The face seemed to me feminine. And the masculine attire did not prevent my seeing a certain fullness of bosom, which put it into my head that despite the billing, this must be a girl. In this conviction, I made no resistance to the desires which he aroused in me.

After two pleasant hours Don Sancho saw me to my room and told me that he was leaving early in the morning for Sinigaglia[3] with the Abate[4] Vilmarcati, and would return the following day in time for supper. Wishing him a good journey, I said that I should meet him on the road, since I wished to sup at Sinigaglia that day. I was stopping in Ancona only for a day, to present my bill of exchange to the banker and get another for Bologna.

I went to bed full of the impression which Bellino had made on me and sorry to leave without having given him proof of the justice I did him in not being hoodwinked by his disguise. But the next morning I had no more than opened my door when he appears before me and offers me his brother to serve me instead of a hired manservant. I agree, he comes at once, and I send him to bring coffee for the whole family. I make Bellino sit down on my bed, intending to treat him as a girl; but his two sisters come running to me and thwart my plan. I could not but delight in the charming picture I had before my eyes: gaiety, of three different kinds, unadorned beauty, familiarity without presumption, the verve of the theater, a pretty playfulness, little Bolognese grimaces with which I was not yet familiar and which I found most charming. The two little girls were perfect living rosebuds, and more than worthy of being preferred to Bellino if I had not taken it into my head that Bellino was a girl too. Despite their extreme youth the sign of their precocious puberty was visible on their white bosoms.

14 carrying coffee 1750 d2

The coffee came, brought by Petronio, who served us and took some to his mother, who never left her own room. Petronio was a true Giton,[5] and a professional at that. This is not unusual in outlandish Italy, where intolerance in this matter is not unreasonable, as it is in England, nor ferocious, as it is in Spain. I gave him a zecchino to pay for the coffee and made him a present of the eighteen paoli[6] in change, which he accepted with such a mark of his gratitude as clearly revealed his tastes. It was a kiss from half-open lips, which he planted on mine in the belief that I was a devotee of the pretty practice. I had no difficulty in setting him right, but I saw no sign that he felt humiliated. When I told him to order dinner for six, he answered that he would order it only for four since he had to keep his dear mother company, who ate in bed.

Two minutes later the innkeeper came up and said that the people I was having to dinner each ate at least enough for two, so he would serve me only if I paid six paoli apiece. I agreed. Thinking it proper to say good day to the obliging mother, I go to her room and congratulate her on her charming family. She thanks me for the eighteen paoli I had given her dear son and proceeds to confide her poverty-stricken circumstances to me.

“The impresario Rocco Argenti,” she tells me, “is a hardhearted monster who has given me only fifty Roman scudi for the whole Carnival. We have spent it all, and can only get back to Bologna on foot and begging for alms on the road.”

I gave her a doblon de a ocho,[7] at which she wept for joy. I promise her another if she will tell me a secret.

“Admit,” I say, “that Bellino is a girl.”

“You may be sure he is not; but he does look it. So much so, indeed, that he had to submit to being examined.”

“By whom?”

“By the very reverend confessor of Monsignor the Bishop. ”

“I will not believe a word of it until I have examined him myself.”

“Very well; but in conscience I can have nothing to do with it for, God forgive me, I do not know what your intentions are.”

I go to my room, I send Petronio out to buy a bottle of Cyprus wine, he gives me seven zecchini in change from a doblon I had given him, and I divide it among Bellino, Cecilia, and Marina; then I ask the two girls to leave me alone with their brother.

15 sitting in inn 1750 d1

“My dear Bellino,” I say, “I am sure that you are not of my sex.”

“I am of your sex, but a castrato; I have been examined.”

“Let me examine you too, and here is a doblon for you.”

“No, for it is clear that you are in love with me, and religion forbids me to let you.”

“You were not so scrupulous with the Bishop’s confessor.”

“He was old, and all he did was take a hasty look at my unfortunate condition.”

I put out my hand, he pushes it away and rises. This obstinacy angers me, for I had already spent fifteen or sixteen zecchini to satisfy my curiosity. I sit down to dinner in the sulks, but the appetite of the three pretty creatures restores my good humor and I make up my mind to obtain a return for the money I had spent from the two younger sisters.

With the three of us sitting before the fire eating chestnuts, I begin distributing kisses; and Bellino, on his side, shows no want of compliance. I touch and then kiss the budding breasts of Cecilia and Marina; and Bellino, with a smile, does nothing to stop my hand from slipping behind his shirt ruffle and laying hold of a breast which leaves me in no possible doubt.

“This breast,” I said, “proclaims you a girl, and you cannot deny it.”

“All we castrati have the same deformity.”

“So I am aware. But I know enough about it to tell the one kind from the other.[8] This alabaster breast, my dear Bellino, is the charming breast of a girl of seventeen.”

Completely on fire, and seeing that he offered no resistance to my hand, which was delighting in possessing such a breast, I make to approach it with my panting lips, which were pale from the intensity of my ardour; but the impostor, as if he had only that moment become aware of the forbidden pleasure I was enjoying, rises and walks off. I am left raging, yet unable to blame him, for I should first have had to blame myself. Needing to recover my calm, I asked Cecilia, who was his pupil, to sing me some Neapolitan songs; then I went out to see the Ragusan Bucchetti, who gave me a bill of sight on Bologna in exchange for the one I presented to him. Back at the inn, I went to bed after eating a dish of macaroni in the company of the girls. I told Petronio to have a post chaise ready for me at daybreak, as I wished to leave.

Just as I was going to shut my door, I see Cecilia, wearing little more than a shift, coming to tell me that Bellino would consider it a favor if I would take him with me as far as Rimini, where he was engaged to sing in an opera which was to be produced after Easter.

“Go and tell him, my little angel, that I am ready to do him the favor if he will first do me that of showing me, in your presence, whether he is a girl or a boy.”

She goes, and comes back to tell me he is already in bed, but that if I would put off my departure for only one day he promised to satisfy my curiosity.

12 girl carrying candle 1750 d4

“Tell me the truth and I will give you six zecchini.”

“I cannot earn them, for I have never seen him naked and so cannot be sure of my own knowledge; but he is certainly a boy, otherwise he would not have been allowed to sing in this city.”

“Very well. I will not leave until day after tomorrow, if you will spend the night with me.”

“So you love me?”

“Very much; but you must be kind to me.”

“That I will, because I love you too. I’ll go and let my mother know.”

“You have surely had a lover.”


She came back in high spirits, saying that her mother thought me a man of honor. She fastened my door and fell into my arms with all the abandon of love. I found that she might be a virgin; but as I was not in love with her I did not catechize her. Love is the divine sauce which makes that morsel delicious. Cecilia was charming, but I had not had time to desire her; hence I could not say to her, “You have made me happy”; it was she who said it to me; but I did not feel much flattered. However, I was willing to believe her, she was tender, I was tender, I fell asleep in her arms, and when I woke, after giving her love’s morning salutation, I presented her with three doblones, which could not but please her better than vows of eternal constancy. Ridiculous vows, which no man can make to the most beautiful of women. Cecilia left to carry her wealth to her mother, who wept for joy as she renewed her trust in Divine Providence.

I sent for the innkeeper and ordered him to prepare a supper for five regardless of expense. I was sure that the noble Don Sancho, who was to be back toward evening, would not refuse me the honor of supping with me. I ate no dinner; but the Bolognese family did not feel that any such abstinence was necessary to give them an appetite for supper. When I sent for Bellino and demanded that he keep his promise, he replied with a smile that the day was not over yet and that he was sure he would travel to Rimini with me. I asked him if he would like to take a walk with me, and he went to dress.

Just then in comes Marina, looking sulky, and says that she does not know how she had deserved the proof of my disfavor I was about to give her.

“Cecilia spent the night with you, you go off tomorrow with Bellino, I am the only unlucky one of us.”

12 girl in inn 1750 d3

“Do you want money?”

“No, I love you.”

“You are too young.”

“Age has nothing to do with it. I am better developed than my sister.”

“Then perhaps you have had a lover.”

“Certainly not.”

“So much the better. We’ll find out this evening.”

“Then I’ll tell my mother to have some sheets ready for tomorrow, otherwise the maid would guess what happened.”

I found these comedies in the highest degree entertaining. Coming to the port with Bellino, I bought a small barrel of oysters at the Venetian arsenal as a treat for Don Sancho, and after arranging to have them delivered to the inn, I took Bellino out to the roads with me and went on board a Venetian ship of the line which had just finished its quarantine. Finding no one I knew in it, I went on board a Turkish vessel which was making ready to sail for Alexandria.

Scarcely aboard, the first person I see is the beautiful Greek girl whom I had left in the lazaretto at Ancona seven months earlier. She was beside the old captain.

[… Casanova contrives to get the latter to go off just long enough for the Greek to throw herself in his arms. He “plucked the fruit” and “set myself to rights without his seeing my disordered state.”]

What amused me in this really serious situation was to see Bellino struck motionless by surprise and shaking with fear.

[…] In the felucca,[9] when Beilino had recovered from his fright, he said that I had shown him a prodigy which he could not believe he had really seen but which gave him a strange idea of my character; as for the Greek girl’s, he was completely at a loss, unless I were to tell him that all women from her country were of the same nature. Bellino said that they must be unhappy.

Then you must believe,” said I, “that coquettes are happy?”

“I don’t want either kind. I want a woman to yield to love sincerely, and to surrender after she has struggled with herself; I don’t want her to give in to the first sensation a man who attracts her arouses in her and abandon herself to him like a bitch whose only law is instinct. Admit that this Greek girl certainly showed you that you were attractive to her, but at the same time gave you unequivocal proof of her animality and of an effrontery which exposed her to the shame of being refused, for she could not know that she had attracted you as much as you attracted her. She is very pretty, and it all went well; but I was terrified.”

I could have calmed Bellino and put an end to his perfectly sound argument by telling him the whole story; but that would not have served my purpose. If he was a girl, it was to my advantage to convince him that I attached little importance to the great affair and that it was not worth employing trickery to prevent it from following its course unimpeded.

We returned to the inn, and toward nightfall we saw Don Sancho enter the courtyard in his carriage. I went to meet him and asked him to excuse me for having assumed that he would do me the honor of supping with Bellino and myself. Acknowledging with dignity and politeness the favor which I had been so kind as to do him, he accepted.

The choice and well-prepared dishes, the good Spanish wines, the excellent oysters, and still more the high spirits and the voices of Bellino and Cecilia, who performed duets and seguidillas[10] for us, gave the Spaniard five hours of paradise. Leaving us at midnight, he said he would only go to bed easy if I would promise to sup with him in his room the next evening, in the same company. This meant that I must put off my departure for another day. I surprised him by accepting.

I then urged Bellino to keep his promise to me; but he answered that Marina had something to say to me and that we should have plenty of time to be together the next day, and so left me. I remained alone with Marina, who happily locked my door.

More well developed, though younger, than Cecilia, the girl felt she owed it to herself to convince me that she deserved to be preferred to her sister. I could well believe it, merely from seeing the fire in her eyes. Fearing that she would be slighted by a man who might have been exhausted by the previous night, she poured out all the amorous ideas which occupied her soul; she told me in detail all that she knew how to do, she set forth all her theories, and gave me a full account of all the occasions she had had to become a past mistress in the mysteries of love, together with her notion of love’s pleasures and the means she had employed to obtain a taste of them. I finally made out that she was afraid that, not finding her a virgin, I would reproach her. Her anxiety pleased me, and I amused myself by assuring her that virginity in girls seemed to me only childish imagination, since nature had not even given most of them the tokens of it. I ridiculed those who only too often made the mistake of chiding them on the subject.

Giacomo Casanova. Childhood 113.37
         The young Casanova depicted in the film Giacomo Casanova: Childhood and Innocence (1969)

I saw that my doctrine pleased her and that she came into my arms full of confidence. And in fact she proved herself superior to her sister in every way, and she was exultant when I told her so; but when she wanted to fill my cup by assuring me she would stay awake the whole night with me, I persuaded her not to, arguing that we would be the losers by it, since if we granted nature the sweet respite of sleep she would show her gratitude by the increased energy of her fire when we woke.

So, having enjoyed ourselves sufficiently and slept well, we renewed the celebration in the morning; and Marina left me well satisfied when she saw the three doblones which she happily carried to her mother, who was insatiable in contracting ever greater obligations to Divine Providence.

I went out to get money from Bucchetti, since I did not know what might happen to me on my journey before I reached Bologna. I had enjoyed myself, but I had spent too much. I still had to consider Bellino, who, if he was a girl, must not find me less generous than his sisters had done. Whether he was must inevitably come out during the course of the day; and I thought I was certain of it.

Those who say that life is only a combination of misfortunes mean that life itself is a misfortune. If it is a misfortune, then death is a happiness. Such people did not write in good health, with their purses stuffed with money, and contentment in their souls from having held Cecilias and Marinas in their arms and being sure that there were more of them to come. Such men are a race of pessimists[11] (forgive me, my dear French language!) which can have existed only among ragged philosophers and rascally or atrabilious theologians. If pleasure exists, and we can only enjoy it in life, then life is a happiness. There are misfortunes, of course, as I should be the first to know. But the very existence of these misfortunes proves that the sum of good is greater. I am infinitely happy when I am in a dark room and see the light coming through a window which opens on a vast horizon.

Spanish noble eating dinner in inn 1750 d1

At suppertime I waited on Don Sancho, whom I found alone and in a very decent room. His table was laid with silver dishes and his servants were in livery. Bellino, whether from whim or as a ruse, enters dressed as a girl, followed by his two very pretty sisters but whom he totally eclipsed, and at that moment I became so sure of his sex that I would have staked my life against a paolo. It was impossible to imagine a prettier girl.

“Are you convinced,” I asked Don Sancho, “that Bellino is not a girl?”

“Girl or boy, what does it matter? I think he is a very handsome castrato; and I have seen others as good-looking as he.”

“But are you sure of it?”

Valgame Dios![12] I am not interested in making sure.”

Respecting the Spaniard for possessing a wisdom which I lacked, I made no answer; but at table I could not take my eyes from this being whom my depraved nature impelled me to love and to believe a member of the sex to which it was necessary to my purposes that he should belong.

Don Sancho’s supper was exquisite and, as was to be expected, better than mine, for otherwise he would have considered himself dishonored. He gave us white truffles, several kinds of shellfish, the best fish from the Adriatic, still champagne, Peralta, sherry, and Pedro Ximenes.[13] After supper Bellino sang in a fashion to make us lose the little reason the excellent wines had left us. His gestures, the way he moved his eyes, his gait, his bearing, his manner, his face, his voice, and above all my instinct, which I concluded could not make me feel its power for a castrato, all combined to confirm me in my idea. Yet I still needed to make certain from the testimony of my own eyes.

After duly thanking the noble Castilian, we wished him a good sleep and went to my room, where Bellino must either keep his promise to me or earn my contempt and resign himself to seeing me set off alone at dawn.

I take his hand and I make him sit down beside me before the fire, and I ask his two young sisters to leave us alone. They go at once.

“This business,” I said, “will not take long if you are of my sex, and if you are of the other you will have only to spend the night with me. I will give you a hundred zecchini in the morning and we will leave together.”

“You will leave alone, and you will be generous enough to forgive my weakness if I cannot keep my promise to you. I am a castrato, and I cannot bring myself either to let you see my shame or to expose myself to the loathsome consequences which convincing you of it may have.”

“It will have none, for as soon as I have seen, or touched, I will myself beg you to go to bed in your own room; we will leave tomorrow the best of friends and there will be no more of this matter between us.”

“No, my mind is made up: I cannot satisfy your curiosity.”

At these words I am out of all patience, but I control myself and try gently to advance my hand to the place where I should find if I was right or wrong; but he uses his to stop mine from pursuing the investigation I was set on making.

“Take your hand away, my dear Bellino.”

Casanova. My Life I 169r
Original version in Casanova's handwriting of the text on the left (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

“No, absolutely not! For I see you are in a state which horrifies me. I knew it, and I shall never consent to such infamies. I will go and send my sisters to you.”

I hold him back, and pretend to regain my calm; but suddenly, thinking I could take him unawares, I stretch out my arm to the bottom of his back, and my quick hand would have learned the truth from that direction if he had not parried the thrust by rising and blocking my hand, by which I was still holding on, with his, which he had been keeping over what he called his shame. It was at this moment that I saw he was a man, and believed that I saw it against his will. Astonished, angered, mortified, disgusted, I let him leave. I saw that Bellino was in truth a man; but a man to be scorned both for his degradation and for the shameful calm I observed in him at a moment when I ought not to have seen the most patent evidence of his insensibility.

A little later his sisters appeared, but I asked them to leave since I needed sleep. I told them to inform Bellino that he would leave with me and that he would no longer find me in the least curious. I fastened my door and went to bed, but very much dissatisfied, for despite the fact that what I had seen should have disillusioned me, I felt that it had not. But what more did I want? Alas! I thought about it and I could not imagine.

Next morning, after eating an excellent soup, I set off with him, and with my heart torn by the tears of his sisters and of their mother, who, mumbling paternosters and telling her beads, kept repeating “Dio provvedera[14] over and over.

Belief in Eternal Providence on the part of most of those who live by practices forbidden by laws or religion is neither absurd nor feigned nor the fruit of hypocrisy; it is true, real, and, such as it is, pious, for its source is unimpeachable.     Whatever ways it takes, it is always Providence which acts, and those who worship it regardless of everything else can only be good souls though guilty of sinning.

Pulchra Laverna
Da mihi fallere; da justo, sanctoque videri;
Noctem peccatis, et fraudibus objice nubem!

(“Fair Laverna, let me deceive, let me appear just and good; cover my sins with darkness and my stealth with a cloud.”)[15]

Such was the Latin which Roman thieves talked to their goddess in Horace’s day, who, so a Jesuit told me, would not have known his language if he had said justo sanctoque.[16] There were ignorant men among the Jesuits too. Thieves laugh at grammar.

So now I was traveling with Bellino, who, believing that he had disillusioned me, might well hope that I would no longer be curious about him. But a quarter of an hour had not passed before he found that he was mistaken. I could not look into his eyes and not burn with love. I told him that since his eyes were a woman’s and not a man’s, I needed to convince myself by touch that what I had seen when he had run away was not a monstrous clitoris.

“It may be that,” I said, “and I feel that I shall have no difficulty in forgiving you for such a defect, which in any case is merely a trifle; but if it is not a clitoris, I need to convince myself of it, which is a very easy matter. I no longer want to see; all I ask is to touch, and you may be sure that as soon as I am certain I will become as gentle as a dove, for once I discover that you are a man, I cannot possibly continue to love you. That is an abomination for which—God be praised!—I feel no inclination in myself. Your magnetism and, what is more, your breasts, which you abandoned to my eyes and my hands expecting that they would convince me I was mistaken, instead of doing so gave me an invincible impression which makes me still believe that you are a girl. Your build, your legs, your knees, your thighs, your hips, your buttocks are a perfect replica of the Anadyomene,[17] which I have seen a hundred times. If after all that it is true that you are simply a castrato, permit me to believe that, knowing you look exactly like a girl, you hatched the cruel scheme of making me fall in love and then driving me mad by refusing me the proof which alone can restore me to sanity. An excellent physician, you have learned in the most diabolical of schools that the one way to make it impossible for a young man to be cured of an amorous passion to which he has succumbed is to aggravate it; but, my dear Bellino, you must admit that you cannot practice this tyranny unless you hate the person upon whom it is to produce such an effect; and, that being the case, I should use what reason I have left to hate you in the same measure, whether you are a girl or a boy. You must also be aware that your obstinate refusal to give me the certainty which I ask of you forces me to despise you as a castrato. The importance you attribute to the matter is childish and malicious. If you have human feelings, you cannot persist in your refusal, which, as the logical consequence of my reasoning, reduces me to the painful necessity of doubt. Such being my state of mind, you must finally realize that I cannot but resolve to use force, for if you are my enemy I must treat you as such without further scruples.”

Ludovisi Throne. Aphrodire rising from the sea ca. 460
The "Ludovisi Throne", ca. 460 BC, perhaps the depiction Casannova had in mind of the Anadyomene (Aphrodite rising from the sea)

At the end of this too threatening harangue, to which he listened without once interrupting me, he answered only in the following few words:

“Consider that you are not my master, that I am in your hands on the strength of the promise which you sent me by Cecilia, and that you will be guilty of murder if you use force on me. Tell the postilion to stop; I will get out, and I will complain of your conduct to no one.”

After this short answer, he melted into tears which reduced my poor soul to utter desolation. I almost believed that I was wrong—I say “almost,” for if I had been sure of it I would have begged him to forgive me. I was unwilling to set myself up as the judge of my own cause. I withdrew into the bleakest possible silence, and found the strength of mind not to speak another word until halfway through the third post, which ended at Sinigaglia, where I intended to sup and spend the night. Before we reached there, things had to he settled. I thought there was still hope that I could make him see reason.

“We could,” I said, “have parted at Rimini good friends, and that would have been the case if you had felt any friendship for me. At the price of a compliance which would have led to nothing, you could have cured me of my passion.”

“It would not have cured you,” answered Bellino, firmly, but with a sweetness which surprised me, “for you are in love with me whether I am a girl or a boy, and when you found that I am a boy, you would have continued to love me, and my refusals would have made you even more furious. Finding me still inexorably determined, you would have run into excesses which would later have made you shed useless tears.”

“So you say, and think you are proving that your obstinacy is reasonable; but I have every right to contradict you. Convince me, and you will find me a good and loyal friend.”

“You will be furious, I tell you.”

“What has infuriated me is the way you deliberately displayed your charms, when, you must admit, you knew the effect they would have on me. You did not fear my amorous fury then; and do you expect me to believe that you fear it now, when all that I ask of you is to let me touch an object which cannot but fill me with disgust?”

“Ah! disgust! I am certain of the contrary. Here is my reasoning, and let it be the end of the matter. If I were a girl, I could not help loving you, and I know it. But since I am a boy, my duty is not to comply in the least with what you demand, for your passion, which is now only natural, would at once become monstrous. Your ardent nature would become the enemy of your reason and your reason itself would soon surrender, to the point of becoming the accomplice of your frenzy, thus seconding your nature. This inflammatory revelation which you desire, which yon do not fear, which you demand of me, would leave you with no control over yourself. Your sight and your touch, seeking what they cannot find, would want to avenge themselves on what they found, and the most loathsome thing that can happen between men would happen between you and me. How can you, with your intelligence, cozen yourself into thinking that when you found me a man you would cease to love me? Do you believe that after your discovery what you call my charms, which you say have made you fall in love, would vanish? No, they might even grow more powerful, and then your ardor, become merely animal, would employ every means your amorous mind could conjure up to calm itself. You would manage to persuade yourself that you could change me into a woman, or, imagining that you could become a woman yourself, you would want me to treat you as such. Led astray by your passion, your reason would invent sophism after sophism. You would say that your love for me, a man, is more reasonable than it would be if I were a girl, for you would find the source of it in the purest friendship, and you would not fail to cite me examples of such anomalies. Led astray yourself by the specious brilliance of your arguments, you would become a torrent which no dam could hold back, and I should be at a loss for words to demolish your specious reasoning, and lack the strength to repulse your furious efforts. You would finally threaten me with death, if I denied you entrance to an inviolable temple, whose gate wise nature made to open only outward. It would be a loathsome profanation, which could not be accomplished without my consent, and you would find me ready to die before I would give it.”

“Nothing of the sort would happen,” I answered, rather shaken by his cogent reasoning, “and you exaggerate. Yet I feel obliged to tell you, if only as a matter of form, that even if all you say should happen, it seems to me there would be less harm in allowing nature an aberration of this kind, which philosophy may well consider a mere folly without consequences, than to follow a course which will make an incurable disease of a sickness of the mind which reason would render only momentary.”

Thus does the poor philosopher reason when he undertakes to reason at moments when a tumultuous passion leads the divine faculties of his soul astray. To reason rightly one must be neither in love nor in anger; for those two passions reduce us to the level of animals; and unfortunately we are never so much inclined to reason as when we are agitated by one or the other of them.

Senigaglia by Friedrik Bernhard Werner 1735
                                                       Sinigaglia by Friedrik Bernhard Werner, 1735

Having reached Sinigaglia in comparative calm, and the night being dark, we stopped at the posthouse inn. After having our trunks untied and brought to a good room I ordered supper. As there was only one bed I asked Bellino in a perfectly calm voice if he wished to have a fire lighted for him in another room. He surprised me by gently answering that he had no objection to sleeping in my bed.

My reader can easily imagine the astonishment I felt at this answer, which I could never have expected and which I greatly needed to purge my mind of all the dark humor which was troubling it. I saw that I had come to the denouement of the play, and I was afraid to congratulate myself, for I could not foresee if it would be pleasant or tragic. The one thing I was sure of was that in bed he would not escape me, even if he were insolent enough to refuse to undress. Satisfied that I would be victorious, I was determined to win a second victory by leaving him alone if I found he was a man, though I did not believe it. If I found him a girl, I had no doubt that I would be gratified by all the compliance which he ought to show, if only in reparation.

We sat down to supper; and in his words, his manner, the expression of his eyes, his smiles, he seemed to me to have become a different person.

Feeling relieved of a great burden, I got through supper more quickly than usual and we rose from the table. After sending for a night lamp, Bellino fastened the door, undressed, and got into bed. I had done the same without uttering a word. And so we were in bed together.


I HAD scarcely got into the bed before I was overcome to see him moving toward me. I clasp him to me, I see that be is fired by the same transport. The exordium of our dialogue was a deluge of mingling kisses. His arms were first to slip down from my back to my loins. I stretch mine still lower, it is revelation enough that I am happy, I sense it, I feel it, I am convinced of it. I am right, I am vindicated, I cannot doubt it, I do not want to know bow, I fear that if I speak I shall no longer be happy, or be happy as I would not wish to be, and I give myself, body and soul, to the joy which flooded my entire being and which I saw was shared. The excess of my bliss seizes all my senses with such force that it reaches the degree at which nature, drowning in the highest of all pleasures, is exhausted. For the space of a minute I remain motionless in the act of mentally contemplating and worshiping my own apotheosis.

Sight and touch, which I had thought would be the leading actors in this drama, play only secondary roles. My eyes ask no greater bliss than to remain fixed on the face of the being who held them spellbound, and my sense of touch, concentrated in my fingertips, fears to move elsewhere since it cannot imagine that it could find anything more. I should have accused nature of the most despicable cowardice if, without my permission, it had dared to leave the place of which I could feel I was in possession.

Scarcely two minutes had passed before, without breaking our eloquent silence, we set to work together to give each other fresh assurances of the reality of our mutual happiness—Bellino by assuring me of it every quarter of an hour by the sweetest moans; I by refusing to reach the end of my course again. I have all my life been dominated by the fear that my steed would flinch from beginning another race; and I never found this restraint painful, for the visible pleasure which I gave always made up four fifths of mine. For this reason nature must abhor old age, which can itself attain to pleasure, but can never give it. Youth shuns its presence, for youth’s deadly enemy is age, sad, weak, deformed, hideous age, which drives it into lonely seclusion at last, and always too soon.

We finally broke off. We needed an interval. We were not exhausted; but our senses demanded that our minds be calm so that they could return to their proper seats.

Bellino, the first to break the silence, asked me if I had found him a good mistress.

“Mistress? Then you admit you are a woman? Tell me, tigress, if it is true that you loved me, how could you put off your happiness, and mine, for so long ? But is it really true that you belong to the bewitching sex of which I believe I have found you to be?”

“You are the master now. Make certain.”

“Yes. I need to convince myself. Good God! what has become of the monstrous clitoris I saw yesterday?”

After a complete conviction, which was followed by a long outpouring of gratitude, the fascinating creature told me her story as follows:

Salimbeni Felice by Georg Friedrich Schmidt 1751
Felice Salimbeni by Georg Friedrich Schmidt, 1751

“My name is Teresa.[18] The poor daughter of an employee at the Institute at Bologna,[19] I made the acquaintance of the celebrated castrato singer Salimbeni,[20] who lodged in our house. I was twelve years old and had a good voice. Salimbeni was handsome; I was delighted to find that I pleased him, and to have him praise me, and eager to learn music from him and to play the harpsichord. Within a year I had acquired a fairly good grounding and was able to accompany myself in an air, imitating the fioriture of the great master, whom the Elector of Saxony, the King of Poland,[21] had summoned to serve him. His reward was such as his affection made him demand of me; I did not feel ashamed to grant it to him, for I worshiped him. Men like yourself are certainly to be preferred to men like my first lover; but Salimbeni was an exception. His good looks, his intelligence, his manners, his talent, and the rare qualities of his heart and soul made him preferable to all the whole men I had known until that time. Modesty and discretion were his favorite virtues, and he was rich and generous. He could never have found a woman to resist him; but I never heard him boast of conquering any woman. In short, his mutilation made him a monster, as it could not but do, but a monster of adorable qualities. I know that when I gave myself to him he made me happy; but he did so much that I can only believe I made him happy too.

Salimbeni had a protégé whom he was boarding in the house of a music teacher in Rimini, a boy of my own age whom his dying father had had castrated to preserve his voice, so that he could turn it to profit for the benefit of the numerous family he was leaving behind, by appearing on the stage. The boy was named Bellino and was the son of the good woman whose acquaintance you just made at Ancona and whom everyone believes to be my mother.

A year after I first came to know this being so favored by Heaven, it was he himself who told me the unhappy news that he must leave me to go to Rome. I was in despair, even though he assured me that I would soon see him again. He left my father the charge and the means to continue the cultivation of my talent; but within a few days a malignant fever carried him off; and I was left an orphan. After that Salimbeni could no longer resist my tears. He decided to take me with him as far as Rimini and leave me to board with the same music teacher in whose house he was keeping the young castrato, the brother of Cecilia and Marina. We left Bologna at midnight. No one knew that he was taking me with him—which was easy enough, for I knew no one, and no one took any interest in me, except my dear Salimbeni.

                                                                           Rimini by Antonio Fede

“As soon as we reached Rimini he left me at the inn and himself went to see the music teacher and make all the necessary arrangements with him for me. But half an hour later he is back at the inn, lost in thought. Bellino had died the day before our arrival. Thinking of the grief his mother would feel when he wrote her the news, it occurs to him to take me back to Bologna under the name of the Bellino who had just died and put me to board with his mother, who, being poor, would find it to her advantage to keep the secret. “I would give her,” he said, “sufficient means to have you complete your musical studies, and four years from now I will bring you to Dresden, not as a girl but as a castrato. We will live there together, and no one can say anything against it. You will make me happy until I die. All that is necessary is to make everyone believe you are Bellino, which you will find easy enough, since no one knows you. Only Bellino’s mother will know the truth. Her children will not suspect that you are not their brother, for they were infants when I sent him to Rimini. If you love me, you must renounce your sex and even forget it completely. You must now take the name of Bellino and leave with me at once for Bologna. Within two hours you will be dressed as a boy; all you need do is to keep anyone from knowing that you are a girl. You will sleep alone; you will keep out of sight when you dress; and when in a year or two your breasts begin to develop it will be of no consequence, for having too much bosom is a defect in which all we castrati share. In addition, before I leave you I will give you a little apparatus and teach you how to adjust it so well to the place which shows the difference of sex that the deceit will pass unnoticed if it ever happens that you have to undergo an examination. If you like my plan, you will enable me to live in Dresden with you without giving the Queen,[22] who is very devout, any occasion to object. Tell me if you consent.”

Bologna 2

“He could be sure that I would. I could have no greater pleasure than to do whatever he wished. He had me dressed as a boy, he made me leave all my girls’ clothes behind, and after ordering his servant to wait for him in Rimini, he took me to Bologna. We arrive there at nightfall, he leaves me at the inn, and goes at once to see Bellino’s mother. He explains his plan to her, she assents to it, and it consoles her for the death of her son. He brings her back to the inn with him, she calls me her son, I address her as ‘Mother’; Salimbeni goes off, telling us to wait. He comes back an hour later and takes from his pocket the apparatus which in case of necessity would make me pass as a man. You have seen it. It is a sort of long, soft gut, as thick as one’s thumb, white and with a very smooth surface. I had to laugh to myself this morning when you called it a clitoris. It was attached to the center of an oval piece of very fine transparent hide, which was five or six inches long and two inches wide. When this is fixed with gum tragacanth to the place where sex can be distinguished, it obliterates the female organ. He dissolves the gum, tries the apparatus on me in the presence of my new mother, and I find that I have become like my dear lover. I should really have laughed if the imminent departure of the person I adored had not pierced my heart. I was left more dead than alive, with a presentiment that I should never see him again. People laugh at presentiments, and with good reason, for not everyone can hear the voice of his heart; but mine did not deceive me. Salimbeni died still a young man in the Tyrol last year,[23] with the resignation of a philosopher. I was left under the necessity of turning my talent to account. My mother thought it a good plan to continue passing me off as a man, for she hoped she could send me to Rome to sing. In the meanwhile she accepted an offer from the theater in Ancona, where she also put Petronio to dance as a girl.

14 and priest 1750 d2

“After Salimbeni, you are the only man in whose arms Teresa has truly sacrificed to perfect love; and you have but to ask and I will from this day on abandon the name of Bellino, which I loathe since Salimbeni’s death and which is beginning to cause me difficulties for which I have no patience. I have appeared in only two theaters, and to be admitted to both of them I had to submit to the same degrading examination, for wherever I go people think I look so much like a girl that they will not believe I am a man until they have been convinced. Until now I have had to deal only with old priests, who were innocently satisfied with having seen, and then certified me to the bishop; but I have continually to defend myself against two kinds of people, who assail me to obtain illicit and loathsome favors. Those who, like you, fall in love with me and so cannot believe that I am a man, insist upon my showing them the truth; and that I cannot bring myself to do for fear they will want to convince themselves by touch as well; in such a case I am afraid not only that they will strip off my mask but that, becoming curious, they will want to use the apparatus to satisfy monstrous desires which may come to them. But the wretches who persecute me beyond endurance are those who declare their monstrous love to me as the castrato I pretend to be. I fear, my dear one, that I will stab one of them. Alas, my angel! Rescue me from my shame. Take me with you. I do not ask to become your wife, I will only be your loving mistress, as I would have been to Salimbeni; my heart is pure, I know that my nature is such that I can live faithfully with my lover. Do not forsake me. The affection you have inspired in me is true love; what Salimbeni inspired in me was the fondness of innocence. I believe I did not become truly a woman until I tasted the perfect pleasure of love in your arms.”

Moved to tears, I wiped hers away and promised her in all sincerity that she should share my fate.

The ambiguity as to Bellino/Teresa’s gender gone, the rest of her story is not of Greek love interest. The next day Casanova and she agreed to marry within another two, but the plan was upset when he lost his passport and was arrested. Thereafter they drifted apart, though he was discover, on meeting her again seventeen years later, that she had borne him a son.


[1] In the Papal States […], feminine roles were played by castrati, since women were not permitted to appear upon the stage [Translator’s note 3 to Chapter I). Castrati were males who had been secretly and illegally castrated, usually by the age of nine, so that they would retain the purity and tone of boys’ voices. Their heyday was the first half of the 18t century, when as many as four thousand boys were castrated annually in Italy. The operation need not amount to more than a vasectomy, so they often remained sexually potent; more oddly, at Covent Garden in 1764, the castrato Tenducci introduced to Casanova his wife, by whom he had already had two children (Volume X, Chapter 1).

[2] When Casanova and Bellino remet after seventeen years’ absence, the latter said , “When I met you I could not have been more than fourteen,” to which Casanova replied, “I thought it was fifteen.” (History of My Life, VII 7).

[3] City in the legateship of Urbino-Pesaro in the Papal States. [Translator’s note 4 to Chapter I]

[4] An abate was the highest rank of minor order in the church bestowed on a boy who might or might not go on to be ordained as a deacon or priest. They were tonsured and wore black robes, but, apart from promising not to duel or dance, were not expected to behave very differently to lay boys.

[5] Giton was a wanton and alluring boy in Petronius’s 1st century AD novella, the Satyricon, and the prototype of boys who made themselves available to men.  Since Petronio was a "prima ballerina" on stage without being a castrato, real or apparent, it seems fairest to guess he was younger rather than older than Bellino and in between him and Cecilia in age, ie. fourteen. [Website footnote]

[6] A zecchino was a small gold coin weighing 3.46 grams. A paolo was a silver coin of the Papal States weighing 3.58 grams. The exchange rate between gold and silver was obviously variable.

[7] A Spanish gold coin of the weight and value of eight gold scudi, ie. 6.766 grams.

[8] “If Casanova did say that, it was probably bluster. Castrati were seldom seen in Venice, where women could perform on stage; he never indicates how he could have acquired a familiarity with them.” (Leo Damrosch, Adventurer: The Life and Times of Giacomo Casanova, Yale University Press, 2022, p. 75)

[9] A long, narrow vessel, with a sail and oars. [Translator’s note 7 to Chapter I]

[10] An Andalusian song and dance tune. [Translator’s note 8 to Chapter I]

[11] “Pessimism” and “pessimist” were then neologisms which Casanova still considered very daring. “Pessimist” was not admitted into the dictionary of the French Academy until 1855. [Translator’s note 9 to Chapter I]

[12]  Spanish, “God help me! ” [Translator’s note 10 to Chapter I]

[13] Spanish wines: the former from the Pamplona district, the latter from southern Spain. [Translator’s note 11 to Chapter I]

[14] Italian, “God will provide.” [Translator’s note 12 to Chapter I]

[15] Horace, Epist., I, 16, 60-62. Laverna is the goddess of gain, including illicit gain. [Translator’s note 13 to Chapter I]

[16] Several Horatian manuscripts read justum sanctumque, which must be the reading the Jesuit knew. [Translator’s note 14 to Chapter I]

[17] Greek epithet for Aphrodite risen from the sea. Casanova may be thinking of the Greek relief of the birth of the goddess on the so-called “Ludovisi Throne,” or of one of the famous statues of Venus. [Translator’s note 15 to Chapter I]

[18] [18] It is not until Vol. X that he [Casanova] reveals her real name : Angela Calori (born 1732; died ca. 1790). [Translator’s note 22 to Chapter VII of Volume VII]

[19] The Istituto delle Scienze, successor to an Accademia degli Inquieti founded in 1690. In 1802 the Institute was annexed to the University.  [Translator’s note 1 to Chapter II]

[20] Felice Salimbeni (1712-1751), well-known Italian singer and musician. [Translator’s note 2 to Chapter II]

[21] Friedrich August II (1696-1763), King of Poland as Augustus III from 1733 to 1763. Salimbeni did not perform in Dresden until 1750, having been in the service of Frederick the Great from 1743 to April 1750. [Translator’s note 3 to Chapter II]

[22] Elisabeth Maria Josepha (1669-1757), Queen of Poland, wife of Augustus III.  [Translator’s note 4 to Chapter II]

[23]  Actually, Salimbeni died in September 1751, at Laibach. [Translator’s note 5 to Chapter II]