The Adventurer Simplicissimus

Adir Sodré, Living Nature [acrylic on canvas, 38,5 x 208 cm, 1990]


Commentary on the book considered as “the maximum expression of German Baroque”

Among the prominent admirers of The Adventurer Simplicissimus (1668) is Thomas Mann, who in a brief preface to the first Swedish edition of the novel presented it as a rare literary monument, a magnificent and immortal work “of the most rigorous grandeur, colorful, wild, raw, amusing, passionate and degraded, teeming with life , familiar with death and the devil, in its aftermath contrite and utterly weary of a world that bleeds out in blood, robbery, voluptuousness.”

These words were written in 1944 and the slaughter of World War II made the background of the adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus intensely current, that is, the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), which decimated about a third of the German population. But that this literary monument is not only current in times of war, this the Brazilian reader will be able to perceive now, in the plastic exuberance of countless adventures, with the translation that comes to his hands.

Structured in five books and a Continuation (1669) the simplicissimus marks the beginning of the modern German novel and its singularity puts into perspective the various attempts to classify it: picaresque or adventure novels, war novels, Christian edification, roman comic, formation novel, as well as other designations, only apprehend partial aspects of this work sui generis.

In view of the profusion of episodes extending from Paris to Moscow (with the hero as a private prisoner of the Tsar, at the end of the 5th book), and even with incursions to the East, it would be impracticable to proceed with a more complete outline of the plot. In its general movement, the novel makes an arc that leads from the naive “simplicianism” of a boy who still at the age of thirteen is completely unaware of the world to the convinced and mature “simplicianism” of a pious hermit who, using wood juice, brasil, writes his story on a desert island and makes it reach Europe through Dutch sailors. From the idiocy of his existence in the depths of a forest (“Yes, I was so perfect and complete in my ignorance that it was impossible for me to know that I knew nothing”), the boy is thrown into the reality of war in the most violent way, when the soldier arrives at his house and immediately starts to torture, murder and rape.

Simplicius survives thanks to his infinite naivety and from then on begins to wander through the chaotic and monstrous world of war - a plaything of inconstancy that he will finally recognize as the only constant thing in earthly life. Disciple of a hermit at first; page and then buffoon of a mighty lord; feared soldier and glorious hero in the figure of the “hunter of Soest”; under the name Beau Aleman, opera singer and irresistible heartthrob in Paris; vagabond deformed by smallpox and syphilis after Parisian sexual excesses; trickster and charlatan back in German lands; pilgrim and new adventurer in his last worldly steps: here are some seasons of Simplicius' trajectory around the world to the contrary that he says goodbye to at the end of the story, resisting with unshakable conviction the effort of the Dutch to bring him back to Europe: “why did I should I want to return to such people? […] No!, may God protect me from such attempts”.

If the world shaped by Grimmelshausen is intrinsically evil, the forces that govern it – money and violence – embody themselves in an emblematic way in the criminal Olivier, who justifies his robbery with the Príncipe of Machiavelli and reveals herself, in deeds and words, as the most perfidious (and modern) among the countless characters that cross the hero's path. Notable in the novel is also the unveiling of the war's economic motivations, the perception that it has an uncontrollable dynamic and can only cease with the total exhaustion of its great victim, the civilian population.

The Hegelian characterization of history as a “butcher's counter” finds here one of the most expressive illustrations, but without Grimmelshausen allowing a glimpse of any meaning outside the religious plane. It is not surprising, therefore, that the utopian models that appear in the novel all have a theological background: the visions of the lunatic Jupiter, who prophesies the advent of the universal reign of a “German hero”; the wonderful episode at Lake Mummel, when Simplicius travels to the Centrum Terrae to meet the society of little aquatic men; or even the community of Hungarian Anabaptists. A certain exception among the utopias is contact with Swiss society, free from the scourge of war and therefore “as strange as if I were in Brazil or China”. This contact, however, is due to the pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Einsiedeln, which Simplicius undertakes alongside his friend Hertzbruder (but, unlike the latter, cooking the peas that must be put in the shoes).

O Simplicissimus it is commonly presented as the maximum expression of German baroque. That's right, but anyone who wants to understand this novel exclusively from the baroque allegories or topics will only be turning over straw without grain, passing by a work whose strength lies, above all, in the profusion and density of adventures based, to a certain extent, on experiences of the author, also in the crass and plebeian realism of a narrative that in many ways constitutes a countertrend to baroque aesthetics.

It is precisely these traits that preserve all the freshness and relevance of the novel and allow us to understand the fascination that it exercised, in the 20th century, on the Brecht of Mother Courage (character taken from Grimmelshausen), the novel's Döblin wallenstein, the Thomas Mann of Doctor Faust or even Günter Grass, who in the narrative The meeting in Telgte pays tribute to the author of the Simplicissimus.

*Marcus Mazzari Professor at the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP. Author, among other books, of learning labyrinths (Publisher 34).


Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, The Adventurer Simplicissimus. Translation: Mario Luiz Frungillo. Curitiba, Editora UFPR, 664 pages.


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