Thursday, April 21, 2011

Asterix the Gaul: Latin Jokes Explained

A bigger, better version of this article now appears on my new Asterix site - click here to read it


Ever wondered what the Latin bits in Asterix were all about?  Didn't go to a good school?  Then you're viewing the right blog.  With the help of my friend Professor Ibrox, who speaks perfect Latin, I'll explain the whole deal.

Your School

Book 1 - Asterix the Gaul

The story - Asterix has beaten up some legionaries.  They lick their wounds in Latin.

Prof Ibrox explains: "It's not a typo; Accidence is a real word. Obviously, the joke is that accidence sounds like accidents. Accidence is the part of grammar where things are declined or conjugated: e.g. amo, amas, amat. The first legionary says 'vae victo, vae victis', which means 'Woe unto the one who has been conquered, woe unto those who have been conquered.'  Victo is dative singular, victis is dative plural.  In short, he's declining in the grammatical sense.

"So when the second legionary says 'We decline', it brings the whole grammar joke together.  Plus there's a natural association between 'decline' and Romans - as anyone who has tried to wade through Gibbon's seminal Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire will know."

The story - Asterix and Getafix are funning with the Romans - they've made a fake magic potion and fed it to the guy in the blue tunic. The centurion, Crismus Bonus, asks for a volunteer to get smacked in the chops. His troops don't seem to have heard him...

Prof Ibrox explains:  "The first guy is quoting from, of all things, the Bible in Latin - Ecclesiastes 1:2. Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas means 'Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.' The next guy says 'de facto', which means 'totally, dude.'  They are just making small talk instead of volunteering. 

"As is the next guy.  He simply asks, how are you doing? Personally, I'd have volunteered. As a kid in Glasgae it was normal for complete strangers to give you a friendly uppercut. Just for laughs."

Ah, Asterix! So great. If you follow this link you can buy it cheap at Amazon:


  1. I'll be doing almost all the Asterix books, by the way. I've already done six.

  2. Excellent stuff, finally more people fully appreciating the pun, especially the multilingual pun.

    Well done for having the gall to translate the Gaul.

  3. Anonymous11:00 AM

    Who is Prof. Ibrox? Where did you meet him?

  4. Oh, man, he's such a great guy. He's a highly, HIGHLY respected scholar who in a past life was a free-scoring midfielder.

    I met him at a screening of The Da Vinci Code. I remember him snorting with disbelief when Aringarosa said 'Parisi' instead of 'Lutetia'.

    After the movie I collared him, and he admitted he knew Latin and he agreed to help me translate the entire Asterix canon in exchange for a pint.

    Then he took me to a bar, and I've never seen a guy over forty get so much female attention with such cheesy lines. It was a real experience. I'm very, very glad to know him.

  5. In response to all the new Asterix-related traffic, I've tidied up this post a little bit and made the graphics better.

  6. If someone said that first paragraph to me out loud to explain a joke, I would beat the shit out of them on the spot. Never have I experienced something so terrible.

  7. Andy, do you mean the paragraph where the Prof explains accidence?

    It's pretty mind-bending. I remember trying to make it more understandable and my head literally exploding then instantly reforming, but smaller.

    If you mean the first paragraph where I say you didn't go to a good school, that's just to wind Ibrox up, because I used to introduce him to ladies by saying 'He speaks Latin.' He'd furiously explain how no-one in the modern world speaks Latin because no-one knows what it sounds like. Then I'd suggest it sounds 'like Italian or whatever' and he'd explode again.

    Every single time.

  8. If someone from MetaFilter could message jenkinsEar for me and tell him thanks for the mention, I'd super appreciate it! Tell him he has excellent taste in Asterix/Dwarf/comic related blogs.

  9. The Prof might have noted that "Vae Victis" in the first panel is also a quote of a famous real-life Gaul who gave the Romans a famous real-life kicking:

    "In 390 BC, an army of Gauls led by Brennus attacked Rome, capturing all of the city except for the Capitoline Hill, which was successfully held against them. Brennus besieged the hill, and finally the Romans asked to ransom their city. Brennus demanded 1,000 pounds of gold and the Romans agreed to his terms.

    Livy, in Ab Urbe Condita (Book 5 Sections 34–49),[1] records that the Gauls provided steelyard balances and weights, and the Romans brought out their gold. But the Romans noticed that the weights were fixed, and the tribunes dared to complain to Brennus about the issue. Brennus took his sword, threw it on to the weights, and exclaimed: "Vae victis!", for the conquered have no rights, forcing the Romans to bring even more gold to fulfil their obligation."

  10. The Prof might have noticed it if I'd asked him!

    Thanks for the info. Interesting stuff!

  11. HicHicHic10:31 AM

    This wins the internet!