November 1745 to March 1746 represented the low point of Casanova’s young life to date. This highly educated and ambitious young man who just a couple of years before had been socialising with the cream of Venetian society was now scraping by as a lowly fiddler in the small theatre of San Samuele where his mother had once performed. Not only was he poor but since his return from Constantinople there hung about him a reputation for being irreligious and immoral, a reputation he did little to redress in the following months. He joined up with seven or eight other ne’er do wells, ‘sharing all the habits of my degraded comrades’, drinking heavily, gambling and indulging in various acts of debauchery, vandalism and petty crime. His life changed dramatically, however, after meeting a wealthy and influential Venetian Senator, Matteo Giovanni Bragadin, during Carnevale. According to Casanova, Bragadin, out of politeness, had offered him a lift home in his gondola. There are inconsistencies in Casanova’s account, however. Firstly, Bragadin’s gondola would have been going in the opposite direction. Secondly, it was not very likely that a member of the Venetian aristocracy would offer a lift to an unknown plebeian youth. In fact, there is a strong suspicion that their encounter was more to do with prostitution than politeness. Whatever the truth of the matter, that evening Casanova saved Bragadin’s life. While on the gondola the worthy Senator suffered what was probably a stroke. His condition was misdiagnosed, however, and the prescribed treatment only made matters worse. It was Casanova’s timely and decisive intervention that saved the day, to the immense gratitude of Bragadin who, being a devotee of Jewish mysticism and the occult, was convinced that Casanova was gifted with special healing powers. Ever the accomplished improviser and opportunist, Casanova confessed that he did, in fact, possess the skill to act as an intermediary between the natural and the supernatural world. From that point onwards, in the eyes of Bragadin and two of his equally credulous and influential friends, Casanova could do no wrong. His fortunes were transformed.
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