Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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38   The Deserts of Bohemia

At this point discerning readers might begin to question the somewhat jagged trajectory of my argument. Is it not an unwarranted leap (so the ar­gument could go) to classify Svejk as a Diogenes for our time just because of his mongrel-mongering? Such an objection could be countered in two ways. First of all, Svejk's close association with dogs, highlighted in the opening sentence of the novel, is not the only textual allusion to a kynik heritage. Equally important, though more veiled, is the mention of Svejk's forging of dogs' pedigrees. One of Diogenes' most infamous deeds, for which he eventually had to emigrate to Athens, was the adulteration of coinage (paracharaxai to nomisma) in his native Sinope. In his Lives of Emi­nent Philosophers, our basic source of information on kyniks, Diogenes Laertius (hereafter D. L.) provides four versions of this event.31 By the same token, Svejk's imbecility, certified by the army medical board, paral­lels the similar assessment of Diogenes' mental incompetence, declared by the man whose authority in the science of Being surpasses even that of military doctors. When asked his opinion of Diogenes, we read in D. L.s' Lives, Plato replied, "A Socrates gone mad" (55).

It is, however, Hasek's "Preface" to his novel that provides the most ex­plicit link between Svejk and Diogenes. "Great times call for great men," he ventures. "If you analyzed their character you would find that it eclipsed even the glory of Alexander the Great." One of these unsung he­roes is, of course, "a shabbily dressed man in the streets of Prague," who "if you asked him his name would answer you simply and unassumingly:

'I am Svejk' " (37; 1). By juxtaposing Svejk to Alexander, Hasek follows closely the model established by the biographers of Diogenes: in a num­ber of anecdotes from his life, the shabbily clad kynik is confronted with Alexander the Great—the symbol of political power.32 In these emblem­atic duels the obvious underdog does not yield ground to the mighty ruler. "Alexander," we read in D. L., "once came and stood opposite him, and said 'I am Alexander the great king.' 'And I,' said he, 'am Diogenes the Kynic' " (63). Their parity was acknowledged by Alexander himself, who, as the Lives records, apparently said after one such encounter, "Had I not been Alexander I should have liked to be Diogenes" (35). The subtext for the comparison of Svejk and Alexander entertained in the "Preface" seems to be yet another chreia from the life of the great kynik reported by D. L.: "When he [Diogenes] was sunning himself in the Craneum, Alexan­der came and stood over him and said, 'Ask of me any boon you like.' To which he replied, 'Stand out

31 Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers in Ten Books, trans. R. D. Hicks (London, 1925), 2:23. Further references will be given in the text. Diogenes' crime is translated variously as "reminting the coinage," "falsifying currency," "restamping mintage' and so on; see Paul Elmer More, Hellenistic Philosophies (Princeton, 1923), p. 260. I will return to this term later.

32 The other frequent counterpart of Diogenes is Plato, the representative of truth.

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