Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) is best known to history as a great lover, adventurer, and diarist. Certainly his vast History of My Life cemented his reputation with the ladies (as well as innkeepers' daughters, soldiers' wives, courtesans, nuns -- well, you get the idea hereandhere.)
But tucked amongst all the romantic conquests is this curious passage of an unexplainable phenomenon. Casanova had no rational explanation for what he described, and neither do we – yet it definitely does sound like a modern UFO sighting.
31 August 1743 An hour after leaving Castel Nuovo on my way to Rome under a clear and windless sky, I noticed, at some ten paces to my right, a pyramidal flame a cubit high keeping pace with me some four or five feet above the ground. It stopped when I stopped, and when there were trees by the roadside it disappeared, but I saw it again as soon as I was beyond them. I went towards it several times, but it withdrew as far as I had approached. I tried retracing my steps, whereupon it vanished from my sight, but as soon as I started on again I saw it in the same place. It did not disappear until dawn.
What a wonder for superstitious ignorance if I had had witnesses to this phenomenon and then had made a great name in Rome! History abounds in such trifles, and the world is full of intellects which still attach great importance to them, for all the s-called enlightenment which the sciences have bestowed on the human mind. Yet I must candidly admit that, despite my knowledge of physics, the sight of this little meteor gave me some singular thoughts. I was prudent enough not to mention it to anyone....
Above: The Shipwreck by Claude Joseph Vernet, 1772, National Gallery of Art True, the painting, above, is a fanciful shipwreck, not a UFO sighting. But if any 18th c artist had attempted to capture what Casanova saw, I'd venture it would have been French painter Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789.) Washed in other-worldly light and ripe with nature at her most lurid, his landscapes surely would welcome a UFO or two.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.