The Casanova Cards

In Russia, a teenage peasant girl named Zaira learned the art of card-reading from travelling fortune tellers. In 1765, when she became the love slave of the notorious Giacomo Casanova, she took her cards with her.

Casanova gushed about her physical beauty — but he also reported that her dependence on the cards was a serious character flaw.

“Her skin was as white as snow,” he wrote, “and her ebony tresses covered the whole of her body, save in a few places where the dazzling whiteness of her skin shone through. Her eyebrows were perfectly shaped, and her eyes, though they might have been larger, could not have been more brilliant or more expressive … If it had not been for her furious jealousy, and her blind confidence in fortune-telling by cards, which she consulted every day, Zaira would have been a paragon among women, and I should never have left her.”

Casanova recounted the episode that nearly forced him to abandon his young lover: One morning, after a wild night on the town without her, Casanova returned to find Zaira enraged. She had “seen” his exploits in her cards. His description of a fortune-teller’s spread she used is actually the first such description we have on record.

“I got home, and, fortunately for myself, escaped the bottle which Zaira flung at my head, and which would infallibly have killed me if it had hit me. She threw herself on to the ground, and began to strike it with her forehead. I thought she had gone mad, and wondered whether I had better call for assistance; but she became quiet enough to call me assassin and traitor, with all the other abusive epithets that she could remember. To convict me of my crime she showed me twenty-five cards, placed in order, and on them she displayed the various enormities of which I had been guilty.”

Macho man that he was, Casanova simply threw Zaira’s “damned grimoire” into the fire and threatened to leave. She apologized profusely, and reportedly never touched another card.