Thursday, June 23, 2011

Casanova Sees a UFO, 1743

Thursday, June 23, 2011
Susan reports:

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 here and here.)

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. 


March 17th said...

What a brilliant post, I just love it. If there is an award for unlikely yet superb blog title post - it's yours ! Beautiful painting too x

Keith said...

Great painting, I love it. Don't think an alien space ship would look half as good, having seen one close up. But then it did not look anything like cassanova's sighting I must admit. I seem to recall other period sightings. They are obviously way ahead of us technology wise.
Good post.

Susan said...


Anonymous said...

I usually think of UFO's as being something in the sky ( unidentified flying object). This is an interesting subject, though. What could he have seen? IN most sights of mysterious fire like will o the wisp and St. Elmo's fire, the fire is fixed in a place.
I gather that the sighting took place in Italy? I wonder if any other sightings were ever made around there.

Undine said...

Casanova and UFOs--now, there are two things you wouldn't normally think to put together.

Curiously, from what I've read of him, he may well have had (without knowing it) some sort of genuine psychic powers. I wonder if that had any sort of influence in this incident?

Anonymous said...

Must have been alien women checking him out.

Rosi said...

Absolutely fascinating.

Isobel Carr said...

Something which is only a few feet off the ground doesn't sound like a UFO, but more like the ghostly sightings were are usually attributed to things like swamp gas (will you all think I’m crazy if I tell you I saw the same thing in the supposedly haunted music building where I went to college?).

Jolene said...

Did you know this nerdy history girl is also a UFO expert? So my worlds collided today with this post! Undine's comments are particularly interesting--last night I was on a radio program with parapsychologist Dr. Barry Taff and Derrel Sims ("The Alien Hunter"), and we were discussing paranormal fall-out tied to UFO witnesses--many experienceers have heightened sensitivity to forces we as yet don't understand. At the same time, individuals with psychic abilities--which may be indiciative of specific brain chemistry or even genetics--might be of particular interest to ETs.

As to the swamp gas scenario posited by Isobel, there's no question that misidentification accounts for a majority of sightings...but by no means all. She's right that the apparition that Casanova describes may not even have been a craft per se, but possibly an entity that he was prevented from seeing (screen memory).

Now I'm more curious than ever to examine this extraordinary man's life to see if there are any other markers of ongoing experiences.

He's right about one thing: "History abounds in such trifles."

Louise Partain said...

"History abounds in such trifles" and so does the History Channel.

"A little meteor" shaped like a pyramid flame that followed Casanova? Hm-m-m. I guess that proves that words don't always exist for what we experience when we experience it.

And I too like the way light, shadow and color are used in the painting. Marvelously mysterious and spooky.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Love these comments!

I think we also have to remember that Casanova was an 18th c. man, and sufficiently pious (despite his shenanigans with women) to have considered the priesthood. Yet he would have been familiar with the symbolism of pyramids in Freemasonry, too - oh, the marvelous contradictions of the Age of Enlightenment!

So when he describes a "pyramidal flame", he must have been aware of similar flames in the Bible, and the power that such flames had to destroy sinners who did not follow God's laws - which must have given Casanova, that serial adulterer, more than a few uneasy moments. Plus - not to get all Dan-Brown-ish -but the use of the word "pyramid" seems very specific, and perhaps a hint at a coming new world order?

And how obvious is it that I'm just shooting my mouth off here? :)

Louise Partain said...

New world order, SHS? Hmmm. Then there's that "little meteor" thing that shows he's thinking outer space. So what we have here is a new world order from outer space? So what world are we talking about?

And yes, I'm really shooting my mouth off, here! :)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Louise, I told you I was just...speculating. :)

But to speculate a little further: though this incident took place in 1743, Casanova didn't write it down until very late in his life, when he actually wrote his "History." By that time, he would have witnessed the American Revolution, and the French Revolution was well on its course as he was writing. Before his death, he would also have seen the first ambitious rumblings of the Corsican Napoleon. All that certainly qualifies as a shockingly dramatic change in the 18th c Europe that Casanova had known as a young man, and who can blame him if perhaps he indulged in a little prophetic hindsight in his memoirs. Who knows? :)

Louise Partain said...

So "the little meteor" had more to do with the meteoric rise of a new world order?

An Italian who sounds so very French! And yes, he did have the advantage of hind-sight having taken advantage of so many hind sights as it were.

Did a more convoluted intellect exist? And his adventures and excesses certainly did not render him happy. Oh, well, Mozart's librettist, Da Ponte, said Casanova disliked being wrong, so what better way to appear right than to show that he foresaw the outcome of the pyramid fire that followed him and caught up with him. It was smart of him to step out of the path of the new world juggernaut.

And dying "as a Christian"? Such an inspiration to us all. LOL

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