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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. He stayed in Russia, mostly in the capital, St. Petersburg, from 18 December 1764 to October 1765.

Presented here from Volume X of his memoir is everything he wrote about his time in Russia that is of Greek love interest. The main Greek love episode comes within the much longer story of Casanova’s affair lasting several months with a peasant girl aged twelve to thirteen. The whole of the latter story is included here for the light it sheds on attitudes to liaisons between men and pubescents in general, important in understanding the nature of approval of or hostility to Greek love at any time or place.

The translation from the original French is by Willard R. Trask in Giacomo Casanova Chevalier de Seingalt. History of My Life. Volumes IX and X (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970), pp. 18-156.


Chapter Five

Following his arrival in St. Petersburg in December 1764, Casanova was introduced to many in highest Russian society:

Teplov Grigory. Hermitage
Grigory Teplov (1717-79), The Hermitage

Monsieur Olsuviev introduced me to the other Secretary of the Cabinet, Teplov,[1] who loved beautiful boys, and who had the merit of having strangled Peter III,[2] who had kept the arsenic from killing him by drinking lemonade. [p. 108]

Soon afterwards, still at St. Petersburg:

Having left the imperial residence a hundred paces behind with Zinoviov,[3] I point out to him a peasant girl whose beauty was surprising; he sees her, he agrees, we walk toward her, and she runs away to a hut, which she enters; we enter it too, we see her father, her mother, and the whole family, and she herself in a corner of the room, like a rabbit afraid that the dogs it saw would devour it.

Zinoviov—who, parenthetically, is the man who spent twenty years in Madrid as the Empress’s envoy—talks to the father in Russian for a long time; I see that the subject is the girl, for her father calls her and I see her come forward obediently and submissively and stand before the two of them. A quarter of an hour later he leaves, and I follow him, after giving the fellow a ruble. Zinoviov tells me that he had asked the father if he would give her into service, and that the father had replied that he would be willing, that he must get a hundred rubles because she still had her maidenhead.

“You see,” he said, “that there is nothing to be done.”

“What do you mean? Suppose I were willing to give the hundred rubles?”

“Then you would have her in your service, and you would have the right to go to bed with her.”

“And if she did not want it?”

“Oh, that never happens. You would have the right to beat her.”

“Then suppose that she is willing. I ask you if, after enjoying her and finding her to my liking, I could go on keeping her.”

“You become her master, I tell you, and you can even have her arrested if she runs away, unless she gives you back the hundred rubles you paid for her.”

“And if I keep her with me, how much a month must I give her?”

“Not a copper. Only food and drink, and letting her go to the bath every Saturday so that she can go to church on Sunday.’’

12 peasant girl 1760 d1

“And when I leave Petersburg can I make her go with me?”

“Not unless you obtain permission and give security. Though she has become your slave, she is still first of all the slave of the Empress.”

“Excellent. Arrange it for me. I will give the hundred rubles, and I will take her with me, and I assure you I will not treat her as a slave; but I put myself in your hands, for I should not want to be cheated.”

“I will strike the bargain myself, and I assure you that I shall not be cheated. Do you want me to do it at once?”

“No, tomorrow; for I do not want the company to know of it. Tomorrow morning I will come to your house at nine o’clock.”

We all returned to Petersburg together in a phaeton, and the next morning at the appointed hour I was at Zinoviov’s, who was delighted to do me this small favor. On our way he said that if I liked, in a few days he would get me together a seraglio of as many girls as I could want. I gave him the hundred rubles.

We arrive at the peasant’s hut, the girl being there. Zinoviov explains the matter to him, the peasant thanks St. Nicholas[4] for the good fortune he has sent him, he talks to his daughter, I see her looking at me, and I understand that she says yes. Zinoviov then tells me that I must assure myself that she is a virgin, since in signing the agreement I must state that I had bought her for my service as such. My upbringing made me reluctant to insult her by examining her; but Zinoviov encouraged me, saying that I would be doing her a favor by enabling myself to testify to the fact to her parents. At that I sat down and, taking her between my thighs, I explored her with my hand and found that she was intact; but to tell the truth I would not have called her a liar even if I had found her maidenhead gone. Zinoviov counted out the hundred rubles to the father, who gave them to his daughter, whereupon she put them in her mother’s hands, and my manservant and the coachman came in to sign as witnesses to what they did not know. The girl, whom I at once gave the name Zaïre,[5] got into the carriage and drove to Petersburg with us dressed as she was in coarse cloth and without a shift. After thanking Zinoviov I stayed at home for four days, never leaving her until I saw her dressed in the French style, simply but neatly. My martyrdom was not knowing Russian ; but it was she who, in less than three months, learned Italian—very badly, but well enough to tell me whatever she wanted to. She began to love me, then to be jealous; once she came very near to killing me, as my reader will see in the next chapter.

 St. Petersburg. Merchants houses. 1760 dtl
                                                                     St. Petersburg, 1760

Chapter Six

[…] Zaïre, having become so pretty by the month of May that, wanting to go to Moscow, I did not dare to leave her in Petersburg, I took her with me, dispensing with a manservant. The pleasure I took in hearing her talk to me in Venetian was inconceivable. On Saturdays I went to the Russian baths[6] to bathe with her in company with thirty or forty other people, both men and women and all stark naked, who, looking at no one, supposed that no one looked at them. This lack of modesty had its source in innocence of intention. I was amazed that no one looked at Zaïre, who seemed to me the original of the statue of Psyche which I had seen in the Villa Borghese. Her breasts were not yet developed, she was in her thirteenth year[7]; nowhere did she show the indubitable imprint of puberty. Snow white as she was, her black hair made her whiteness even more brilliant. But for her accursed jealousy, which was a daily burden to me, and the blind faith she had in what the cards which she consulted every day told her, I should never have left her.

Just afterwards, Baumbach of Hamburg[8] invited Casanova, as well as a young visiting Frenchman and his mistress La  Riviére (a Parisian adventuress) to a party:

I accept. Zaïre asks me what is afoot, for she does not understand French, and I tell her. She says that since it is to be a party at Krasni-Kabak, she wants to go there too, and I say that she may, for it was pure jealousy and I feared the consequences, which consisted in ill-humor, tears, and fits of despair, which had more than once driven me to beat her; it was the best way to convince her that I loved her. After the beating she became affectionate little by little, and peace was made with the rites of love. […]

Our party was gay. Baumbach talked only to the adventuress, Zaïre sat on my lap the greater part of the time. […]Zaïre, very glad to have been on an excursion during which she feared I would be unfaithful to her, said a thousand amusing things to me about the Frenchwoman’s lover, who was not jealous of her. She could not understand how she could bear having him so sure of her.

“But I am sure of you, and yet you love me.”

“That is because I have never given you reason to think me a wh... .”[9]

16 blond military 1760 d1

The next day I went to Baumbach’s alone, being sure that I should find there some young Russian officers, who would have annoyed me too much by flirting with Zaïre in their language. At Baumbach’s I found the travelling couple, and the two Lunin brothers,[10] then Lieutenants, now Generals. The younger of the two brothers was blond and pretty as a girl; he had been loved by the Secretary of the Cabinet Teplov, and, like an intelligent youth, he not only defied prejudice, he deliberately set about winning the affection and esteem of all men of position, in whose company he was always to be found, by his caresses. Having supposed the Hamburger Baumbach to have the same inclination which he had found Monsieur Teplov to possess, and not being mistaken, he would have thought it insulting to me not to make me of their company. With this idea in mind he took a place beside me at table, and he lavished such pretty attentions on me during dinner that I really believed he was a girl dressed as a boy.[11]

After dinner, when I was sitting before the fire between him and the traveling Frenchwoman, I declared my suspicion to him, but Lunin, jealous of the superiority of his sex, immediately displayed his, and, curious to know if I would remain indifferent to his beauty, he laid hold on me, and thinking himself convinced that he had pleased me, put himself in a position to make himself and me happy. And it would have happened if La Riviére, angry that a youth should infringe on her rights in her presence, had not taken him by the waist and forced him to put off his exploit to a more suitable time.

The struggle made me laugh; but not having been indifferent to it I saw no reason to pretend that I was. I told the wench that she had no right to interfere in our business, which Lunin took to be a declaration in his favor on my part. Lunin displayed all his treasures, even those of his white bosom, and defied the wench to do as much, which she refused, calling us b……; we replied by calling her a wh…,[12] and she left us. The young Russian and I gave each other tokens of the fondest friendship, and we swore that it should be eternal.

The elder Lunin, Crévecoeur, and Baumbach, who had gone for a walk, came back at nightfall with two or three friends who easily consoled the Frenchwoman for the poor entertainment we had given her.

Baumbach made a bank at faro, which continued until eleven o’clock, when he had no more money, and we supped. After supper the great orgy began. La Riviére held her own against Baumbach, the elder Lunin, and his friends the two young officers. Crévecoeur had gone to bed. I and my new friend alone appeared to keep our heads, calmly watching the encounters which quickly succeeded one another, each different from the last, and of which poor Crévecoeur’s mistress always bore the brunt. Offended that she interested us only as spectators, she from time to time vented her spleen against us in the most cruel sarcasms; but we laughed at them. Our attitude was like that of two virtuous old men who look with tolerance on the extravagances of unbridled youth. We parted an hour before dawn.

Casanova ca. 1768 prob. by Anton Mengs
Casanova, probably by Anton Mengs, ca. 1768

I arrive at my lodging, I enter my room, and by the purest chance I avoid a bottle which Zaïre has thrown at my head and which would have killed me if it had struck me on the temple. It grazed my face. I see her throw herself down in a fury and beat her head on the floor; I run to her, I seize her, I ask her what is the matter with her, and, convinced that she has gone mad, I think of calling for help. She calms her frenzy, but bursting into tears and calling me ‘‘murderer’’ and ‘‘traitor.” To convict me of my crime she points to a square of twenty-five cards, in which she makes me read in symbols the whole of the debauch which had kept me out all night. She shows me the wench, the bed, the encounters, and even my sins against nature. I saw nothing; but she imagined that she saw everything.

After letting her say everything necessary to relieve her furious jealousy, I threw her accursed abracadabra into the fire, and, looking at her with eyes in which she could see both my anger and the pity I felt for her, and telling her in so many words that she had very nearly killed me, I declare that we must part for ever on the morrow. I say it was true that I had spent the night at Baumbach’s, where there was a wench, but I naturally deny all the excesses she accused me of. After that, needing sleep, I undress, I get into bed, and I go to sleep, despite everything that, lying down beside me, she did to win her pardon and assure me of her repentance.

After five or six hours I am awake, and, seeing her sleeping, I dress, thinking how best to get rid of a girl who, one day or another, might very well kill me in her jealous rages. But how could I carry out my intention when I saw her on her knees before me, despairing and repentant, begging me to forgive her, to take pity on her, and assuring me that in future I should find her as gentle as a lamb? The upshot of it was that, taking her in my arms, I gave her unmistakable tokens of the return of my affection, on condition, which she swore to fulfill, that she would not consult the cards again as long as she lived with me. I had decided to go to Moscow three days after this occurrence, and I filled her with joy by assuring her that I would take her with me. Three things in particular had made the girl love me. The first was that I often took her to Ekaterinhof to see her family, where I always left a ruble; the second was that I had her eat with me when I invited people to dinner; the third was that I had beaten her two or three times when she had tried to keep me from going out.

Strange necessity for a master in Russia: when the occasion arises, he has to beat his servant! Words have no effect; nothing but stirrup leathers produce one. The servant, whose soul is only that of a slave, reflects after the beating, and says: “My master has not dismissed me, he would not have beaten me if he did not love me, so I ought to be attached to him.”

Toward the end of May:

Everything being arranged for my journey to Moscow, I got into my Schlafwagen with Zaïre, with a manservant who spoke Russian and German up behind.

In Moscow:

After dinner, I engaged a two-seated carriage, and I took a hire valet who spoke French. My carriage was for four horses, for the city of Moscow is made up of four cities, and one has to drive great distances through unpaved or badly paved streets if one has many visits to make. I had five or six letters, and I wanted to leave them all; sure that I should not get out of the carriage, I took with me my dear Zaïre, who, a girl of thirteen, was curious about everything. […]

Moscow 1790
                                                                             Moscow in 1790

I took to their addresses all the latters I had received from St. Petersburg […]. The next morning I received visits from all the persons to whom I had been sent. They all invited me to dinner with my dear girl. I accepted the dinner of the first to come, who was Monsieur Demidov, and I promised all the others that I would go to them in turn on the following days. Zaïre, instructed in the role she was to play, was enchanted to show me that she deserved the distinction I was conferring on her. Pretty as a little angel, wherever I took her she was the delight of the company, who did not care to enquire if she was my daughter, my mistress, or my servant. In this respect, as in many others, the Russians are an admirable people. […]

We returned to Petersburg in the same way in which we had come from it; but Zaïre would have wished me never to leave Moscow. Being with me at every hour of the day and the night, she become so much in love that I was distressed when I thought of the moment when I should have to leave her. The day after my arrival I took her to Ekaterinhof, where she showed her father all the little presents I had given her, telling him in great detail all the honors she had received as my daughter, which made the good man laugh heartily. […]

During these days Prince Charles of Kurland arrived, and he sent me word of it at once. […] The prince had brought with him his mistress, ill-humored as ever, whom he could no longer put up with because she was really intolerable, and he was to be pitied, for he could only get rid of her by giving her a husband, and a husband suh as she demanded was not to be found. I paid her a visit, but she bored me so much with her complaints of the Prince that I did not go back again. When the Prince came to see me and saw my Zaïre, and reflected how little my happiness, and hers, cost me, he learned how every sensible man who needs to love should keep a concubine; but man’s stupid hankering after luxury spoils everything and turns every sweet to bitterness for him.

On a great infantry review being held near Krasnoe-Selo, nine miles outside St. Petersburg, on 28 June:

I wanted to attend it, partly to satisfy Zaïre, who was ambitious to show herself in my company. […] I went there in my schlafwagen with Zaïre.

Krasnoye Selo military parade 1848 by Gustav Schwarz
                                                 Military parade at Krasnoye Selo by Gustav Schwarz

Unable to find lodgings in the two or three nearby villages, Casanova turned his carriage into a comfortable moving lodging for three nights:

I was the only person who had such a carriage at the review; visits were paid me, and Zaïre shone in doing the honors of the house in Russian, which I was very sorry I did not understand.


Chapter VII

Soon afterwards and some time after having decided to leave Russia, Casanova met a pretty French actress called Valville, whom he suggested become his mistress and accompany him to Warsaw. He went to supper with her and she accepted. …

I went downstairs only for a moment to dismiss my carriage and tell my coschman what to say to Zaïre, whom I had already told that I might go to Kronstadt and spend the night there. He was a Ukrainian, of whose loyalty I had more than once had proof; but I saw at once, that if I became La Valville’s lover, I could no longer keep her with me.

After spending the night in bed with La Valville,

I accepted her invitation to a second supper for the day when I should have parted from Zaïre, whose story I told her. She praised my discretion. […]

Back at my lodging, I found Zaïre apparently calm, but sad; this displeased me more than anger, for I loved her; but I had to make an end and prepare to suffer all the grief which her tears would cause me. Knowing that I must leave and that, not being Russian, I could not take her with me, she was concerned about what was to become of her. She would belong to the man to whom I should give her passport, and she was very curious to know who he would be. I spent the whole day and the night with her, giving her tokens of my affection and of the grief I felt at being obliged to part from her.

Rinaldi Antonio. Bas relief by F. I. Shubin 1777
Bas-relief of Antonio Rinaldi by F. I. Shubin, 1777

The architect Rinaldi[13], a man of sense, who was seventy years of age[14] and who had been in Russia for forty, was in love with her; he had told me several times that I should be doing him the greatest favor if I would leave her to him on my departure, offering to give me twice what she had cost me, and I always answered him that I would never leave Zaïre to anyone with whom she would not have wanted to be of her own free will, since I intended to make her a present of the amount I should be paid by the person who acquired her. This did not please Rinaldi, for he did not venture to suppose that he pleased her; yet he hoped.

He came to me on the morning which I had decided should see the end of the business, and, speaking Russian very well, he explained to the girl all that he felt for her. She replied in Italian that, since she could belong only to the person to whom I should leave her passport, it was to me that he should address himself, and that in any case she had no inclination in the matter, neither disliking nor feeling a fondness for anyone. Unable to get a more affirmative answer from her, worthy man left after dining with us, hoping little, but still asking for my good offices.

After he was gone I asked her to tell me sincerely if she would hold it against me if I left her to that worthy man, who would certainly treat her as if she were his own daughter.[15]

Just as she was about to answer, I was handed a note from La Valville, in which she asked me to come to her at once, to hear some news which would please me. I immediately ordered horses put to my carriage.

“Very well,” said Zaïre in a perfectly calm voice, “go about your business, and when you come back I will give you a definite answer.”

Valville then told Casanova that by following his advice she had received a passport and generous help to leave Russia from the Empress.

The grateful Valville showed me how much my friend she was, and we settled the time of our departure. I had mine announced in the city Gazette three or four days later. Having promised Zaïre that I would come home, and being curious what her answer would be, I left her, assuring her that I would live with her as soon as I had put the girl I had to leave in Petersburg in good hands.

Zaire in drawing room d2

After supping with me in a very good humor, Zaïre asked me if, when he took her, Signor Rinaldi would pay me back the hundred rubles I had given her father; I answered that he would.

“But now,” she said, “it seems to me I am worth much more, since you are leaving me all that you have given me and since I can make myself understood in Italian.”

“I see that, my little dear; but I don’t want it said that I made a profit on you, and the more so because I have already decided to make you a present of the hundred rubles I shall receive upon giving him your passport.”

“Since you want to make me such a fine present, why do you not rather put me back in my father’s hands with my passport? Don’t you see that that would be still more generous? If Signor Rinaldi loves me, you have only to tell him to come to see me at my father’s house. He speaks Russian too, they will agree on a price, and I will not object. Shall you be sorry if he does not get me so cheaply?”

“Certainly not, my dear child; on the contrary, I shall be very glad to have been of use to your family, for after all Signor Rinaldi is rich.”

“That will do, and you will always be dear to my memory. Let us go to bed. You shall take me to Ekaterinhof no later than tomorrow morning. Let us to bed.”

That is the whole story of my parting from the girl who was the cause of my leading a more or less regular life in Petersburg. Zinoviov told me that, if I had furnished security, I could have left with her, and that he would himself have done me the favor. I declined, thinking of the consequences. I loved her, and it would have been I who became her slave; but it may be that I should not have reflected so sagely if at the same time I had not fallen in love with La Valville.

Zaïre spent the morning getting her things together, now laughing, now crying, and she saw my tears each time she left her trunk to come and kiss me.

When I left her at her father’s, giving him her passport, I saw her whole family on their knees before me, addressing me in terms which are due only to the divinity. But Zaïre looked very much out of place in the hovel, for what they called a bed was only a big straw mattress on which the whole family slept together.

When I told Signor Rinaldi what had happened he took it in good part. He said that he hoped to have her, and that, if he had the girl’s consent, he would easily agree on the price with her father; and he began going to see her next day; but he did not get her until after I left; he was generous to her, and she stayed with him until he died.[16]


[1] Grigori Nikolaevich Teplov (1711-1779), one of the leaders in the conspiracy against Peter III; after 1762 he became Secretary to Catherine the Great. [Translator’s footnote 77]

[2] Traft’s translation of “l’autre secretaire de cabinet Teploff, qui aimait les beaux garcons, et qui avait le merite d’avoir étranglé Pierre III” in the original manuscript (Bibliothèque nationale de France ark:/12148/btv1b6000810t VIII) as “another Secretary of the Cabinet, Teplov,[2] who was fond of handsome youths, and whose virtue was that he had strangled Peter III” has been replaced by the more literal “the other Secretary of the Cabinet, Teplov, who loved beautiful boys, and who had the merit of having strangled Peter III” [Website footnote].

[3] Stepan Stepanovich Zinoviov, also Zinoviev (1740-1794), Russian officer and diplomat; he was appointed Russian Ambassador in Madrid in 1773. [Translator’s note 65].

[4] Patron saint of Russia; his feast celebrated on Dec. 6th [Translator’s note 98]

[5] Name of a Christian female slave of the Sultan of Jerusalem in Voltaire’s tragedy Zaïre [Translator’s note 99].

[6] A sweat bath, of the type of the Finnish sauna [Translator’s note 3]

[7] In view of the widespread circulation online of a dishonest translation claiming that Zaïre was fourteen rather than twelve (=13th year), it is worth affirming the accuracy here of Trask’s translation. Readers can confirm this for themselves by referring to the original manuscript, scans of which can viewed online at https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6000858n/f406.item.r=Fonds%20Casanova , that Casanova said “elle était dans sa treizième année.” [Website footnote]

[8] Casanova writes “Bombac”; since he was a native of Hamburg the name must have been Baumbach. [Translator’s note 7]

[9] Casanova writes ”p…..” (for putain) [Translator’s note 10].

[10] The two Lunin brothers: Aleksandr Mikhailovich Lunin (1745-1816), Russian Major-General, and his brother Pyotr (died 1822), a Lieutenant-General [Translator’s note 11]. The one of interest here is of course the younger, Peter, of whom Ian Kelly in his Casanova. Actor, Spy, Lover, Priest (London : Hodder & Stoughton, 2008) p. 284 says “Petr Mikhailovitch [was] only seventeen.” Though he gives no source, this is likely-sounding considering the elder brother was born on 26 November 1745 and so was aged nineteen.

[11] Traft’s translation of “j’ai cru que c’était une fille habillée en garcon” in the original manuscript (Bibliothèque nationale de France ark:/12148/btv1b6000810t VIII 205r) as “I really thought he was a girl in men’s clothing” has been replaced by the more literal “I really believed he was a girl dressed as a boy” [Website footnote].

[12] Casanova writes b……  (for bougres), and p….. (for putain).  [Translator’s note 13]. Bougres and putain mean respectively “buggers” and “whore”.

[13] Antonio Rinaldi (1709-94) was introduced in the preceding chapter as one “who had been in Petersburg for fifty years and who never wanted to return to his native Rome.” He was actually born in Sicily. He was the architect of Peter III and Catherine II both before and after their succession to the throne.

[14] Rinaldi, born on 25 August 1709, was then only fifty-six years old.

[15] Casanova certainly did not mean by this that he thought Rinaldi’s relationship with Zaïre would be non-sexual. As a man of the Enlightenment, he considered the religious injunction against incest, like those against fornication and sodomy, to be irrational. “I have never been able to understand how a father could tenderly love his charming daughter without having slept with her at least once,” he wrote in the first chapter of Volume X. Though he never had sex with any of his  children (at least as far as he recorded), he let his nine-year-old daughter Guglielmina stay in the same bed and have a good view while he deflowered his thirteen-year-old niece Giacomina. Moreover, he felt able to assume the latter’s father, his brother, would not object (Volume XII, Chapters IV-V).[Website footnote]

[16] Rinaldi resigned his posts as architect on account of bad health in 1784, returned to Italy and died in Rome in 1794.