Are the Bohemians really bohemian?


Our tours are designed to ensure that all the guests can ask us any question and that we have the time to answer it. We would not have it any other way: we love talking to our guests and discussing anything they want to discuss - many of the ensuing discussions are very interesting and inspiring for us, too. But let's be honest here: sometimes the questions takes us by surprise and we do not have the answer right away. In that case, we always promise to research the issue and send the answer later via email. The same thing happened to us when we were asked whether the Bohemians (i.e. the members of the nation living in the Western part of the Czech Republic) had anything to do with the bohemians (i.e. artists living a very free, spontaneous life) - we did not know. But it is an intriguing question - culturally, the Czechs (i.e. the Bohemians) are very closely connected to the Austrians through history, and we like to compare ourselves with the Germans, which are probably not the nations you would associate with a bohemian way of life (probably with the exception of the Romantic period). Strange. Well, we did the research, and now we know. Here is what we found out:

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Bohemians can be defined in two ways:

[infobox bg="redlight" color="black" opacity="on" subtitle="(1) a native or inhabitant of Bohemia. (2) (also bohemian) a socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts."]Bohemian[/infobox]

So it's true. "Bohemian" can be used to denote either a Czech or an unconventional artist. David Cerny definitely comes to mind as someone who would fit both descriptions. However, is there any connection between the two meanings? Were the Czechs the inspiration for the latter, more generic use of the word? Apparently, they were. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, "bohemian" has the following etymology:

"a gypsy of society," 1848, from French bohemién (1550s), from the country name (see Bohemia). The modern sense is perhaps from the use of this country name since 15c. in French for "gypsy" (they were wrongly believed to have come from there, though their first appearance in Western Europe may have been directly from there), or from association with 15c. Bohemian heretics. It was popularized by Henri Murger's 1845 story collection "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme," the basis of Puccini's "La Bohème." Used in English 1848 in Thackeray's "Vanity Fair."

The term 'Bohemian' has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gipsey, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits .... A Bohemian is simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art. ["Westminster Review," 1862] 

So there you have it. We should probably add the explanation of the "Bohemian heretics" mentioned in the article. This clearly refers to the "Hussites", a Christian movement formed in the Bohemian Kingdom that followed the teachings of Jan Hus, a Czech reformer who was burnt at a stake for heresy in 1415. The ensuing Hussite Wars lasted until the 1430s, with the Hussites defeating several crusades organized against them by the Pope. The Hussite movement formed a major part in the formation of the Czech national identity in the 19th century, and the teachings of Jan Hus were later hijacked by the Communist regime who painted the reform leader as a forerunner of Communism.

And then there's the other Bohemians: the Prague football club with a huge following, the third in line behind the Sparta and the Slavia, nicknamed the "Kangaroos". The kangaroos? Yes, the mascot of the Bohemians is the kangaroo (Jan actually used to play football with the guy who wore the kangaroo suit before and during the Bohemians games). But we will blog about this Prague oddity with roots in Australia later…


And we're closing out with a nice and fitting song...