Monday, May 07, 2012

The Mansions of the Gods: Latin Jokes Explained

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Book 17 - The Mansions of the Gods

The story: This is one of only two Asterix books without the hero's name in the title. In it, Caesar plots to cut down the forest surrounding Asterix's village and build an apartment complex named The Mansions of the Gods. He sends an architect, Squaronthehypotenus, to carry out the deed. Even after encountering the Gauls, he decides to press ahead.

Professor Ibrox explains: "Beati pauperes spiritu means 'blessed are the poor in spirit'. It's from the Sermon on the Mount.

The architect says that the gods seem to favour those with the least to recommend them. He's thinking of the Gauls, but it could equally be applied to Celtic fans, or nightclub bouncers."

The story: The architect has had great success in cutting down the forest, unaware that the Gauls are using magic potion to immediately regrow the felled trees. He wakes the centurion to announce the good news. The centurion has more experience of dealing with the Gauls, and is not easily excited.


Professor Ibrox explains: "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched - Gnothe seauton. It means 'know thyself' and should really be written gnothi seauton as it is the aorist second person imperative, as I'm sure you knew.

It doesn't make sense, but perhaps that's the intention. Probably it's just a setup for the 'it's Greek to me' line. Instead of Know Thyself they should have written 'Know the Gauls'. That would be more logical, but isn't a famous Greek phrase.

My head is not a happy place to be right now. Still, at least the bouncer came off worse."

The story: The Gauls have changed strategy and have decided to let the Romans build the Mansions of the Gods. The Romans publish a promotional brochure to drum up interest in the flats.
Mansions of the Gods brochure, page 2
Gauliseum detail enlarged

Professor Ibrox explains: "I made Andrew include this one because it's one of my all-time favourite Asterix gags.

Basically, the brochure shows how great life will be when the Mansions of the Gods are finished. One of the things they plan to build is not a Colosseum but a Gauliseum - a great pun.

You could go there to watch the Gaulacticos play football or listen to the Spice Gauls."

The story: For a laugh, the Gauls have sent Cacofonix to sing in the Mansions, which is the equivalent of sending Serge Gainsbourg. Predictably, the occupants panic and start preparing to leave.

Professor Ibrox explains: "Quousque tandem? Brilliant joke!

Quo usque tandem is the first bit of the first line of Cicero's oration against Catiline. Catiline was one of the chief conspirators during Cicero's consulship, and Cicero had the pleasure of prosecuting him, but his speeches against him are florid and overly rhetorical.

The whole line means 'When will you stop testing our patience?' You could say Quo usque tandem? in many situations - for example, to the man in the next cell who keeps singing Je t'aime... moi non plus, complete with moaning.

Shut up, you drunk old dirty old man or you'll get some of what I gave that Celtic-loving bouncer!

Professor Ibrox will return in 6 weeks (or fewer with good behaviour).


  1. "to the man in the next cell who keeps singing Je t'aime... moi non plus, complete with moaning."

    Brings a whole new meaning to the expression "a coming distraction".

  2. "Tandem" also meaning one after the other, and the line appears twice...

  3. Yes! What he said!

  4. Anonymous12:52 PM

    Explanation for point 1 "Beati pauperes spiritu"
    says that "He's (architect) thinking of the Gauls". This is not correct.
    Architect is saying that as response to centurion's statement that Gauls have magical powers and trees are in the league with them. Architect thinks that centurion is a simpletone and his statement is stupid hence he sighs to himself with "Beati pauperes spiritu" as response to centurion's silly comment.
    Use of "Beati pauperes spiritu" always follows this pattern and translates as "blessed are empty headed" :-)


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