Chapter 1. Asterix the Gaul

Rene Goscinny

Albert Uderzo

English Translations: Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge


We are introduced to Asterix and his fellow villagers. When the Romans discover that a magic potion keeps the Gauls invincible, they capture Getafix to try and get the secret formula. But Asterix comes to the rescue...
The first adventure. The drawing is definitely not up to snuff yet, the characters aren't really established yet, the names aren't as imaginative yet in the translation, but the wit is there.

Table 1.1. Asterix the Gaul - Annotations

Page, Panel Comment
Page 1, Panel 3 The Germanic tribes attacked the Roman Empire quite a bit. Alaric captured Rome in 410 AD.
Page 1, Panel 6 Quid? = What?
Page 1, Panel 8 Ipso facto = thereby (literally 'by the fact itself'). Latin ipso - ablative of ipse, itself + Latin facto ablative of factum, fact.

Sic = so, thus. Used in written texts to indicate that a surprising or paradoxical word, phrase, or fact is not a mistake and is to be read as it stands.

Page 1, Panel 10 Vae victo vae victis = Woe to the conquered one, woe to the conquered ones. In 390 B.C., an army of Gauls led by Brennus attacked Rome, capturing all of the city except for the Capitoline Hill. Brennus besieged the hill and finally Romans came out wishing to ransom their city. He decided that Romans had to pay 1000 pounds (327 kg) of gold and Romans agreed. Gauls provided steelyard and weights, and Romans came out to bring their gold. But they noticed that weights were counterfeited and dared to notify Brennus about the issue. Brennus took his sword, threw it over the weights and exclaimed: "Vae victis!", forcing Romans to bring even more gold to fulfill their obligation.

Accidence = The section on morphology that deals with the inflection of words. Middle English, from Late Latin accidentta, from Latin accidens, accident, accident (referring to the earlier comments by the soldiers). A pun on 'accidents'.

Page 3, Panel 1 Done to a turn = (culinary) cooked, well done. In reference to the turns of the spit.
Page 4, Panel 5 Musical chairs probably originated as a Victorian party game, here attributed to "ancient Rome" as usual.
Page 8, Panel 5 Marco Polo introduced precious spices and silk worms (smuggled out in a monks' cane) from China to the West. Although spaghetti, as we know them today, are a specialty created in Napoli, noddles were first imported from China.
Page 10, Panel 2 Vini, vidi, vici = I came, I saw, I won. Julius Caesar used the phrase as the full text of his message to the Roman senate describing his recent victory over Pharnaces II of Pontus in the Battle of Zela. Caesar's terse remark simultaneously proclaimed the totality of his victory and served to remind the senate of Caesar's military prowess (Caesar was still in the midst of a civil war); alternatively, the remark can be viewed as an expression of Caesar's contempt for the patrician senate, traditionally representing the most powerful group in the Roman Republic.
Page 10, Panel 4 Alea jacta est = the die is cast. Reportedly said by Julius Caesar on January 19, 49 BC as he led his troops across the River Rubicon in Northern Italy out of the province assigned to him by the Roman Senate beginning his long civil war with Pompey and the Optimates. It implies that he has taken a chance and has passed a point of no return, i.e., he cannot take back what he has done, much like the gambler who has wagered everything on a throw of the dice. Caesar was said to have borrowed the phrase from his favorite Greek poet-dramatist Menander. As there was no letter or sound for "J" in the Classical Latin spoken by Julius Caesar, he would have said "iacta".
Page 12, Panel 8 "Sixth day of the new moon" = Pliny the Elder in his almanac work called 'Histories' wrote that the Druids began their month on the sixth day of the new moon, and that this day was considered auspicious for a mistletoe cutting ritual. He gives an account of white-clad Druids climbing oak trees to cut sacred mistletoe from them using gold sickles. The mistletoe was caught by attendants waiting below with a white cloth. Two white bulls were sacrificed during this rite.
Page 14, Panel 5 Potate = drink
Page 16, Panel 10 Quo vadis = where are you going?
Page 17, Panel 6 Ave (Caesar)! Morituri... = Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you! Said to Caesar by gladiators before combat.
Page 21, Panel 2 M1 - A highway in England
Page 22, Panel 2 "Hit the hay" = slang for going to bed.
Page 23, Panel 9 Triumvirate = three-way rule. [Latin triumbiratus, from triumbiri, board of three.]
Page 26, Panel 10 "Aut Caesar, Aut nihil" = Caesar or nothing. The motto of Cesare Borgia (1476-1507)
Page 27, Panel 8 Aqua = water (or aqua vitae, alcohol)
Page 30, Panel 9 Quid novi? = what's new?

Sursum corda = lift your hearts (Latin Mass). Sur"sum cor"da [L. sursum upward + corda hearts.] In the Eucharist, the versicles immediately before the preface, inviting the people to join in the service by lifting up the heart to God.

Page 32, Panel 5 Vanitas vanitatum... = vanity of vanities, and everything is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2, Vulgate). Gryphius, Andreas (1616-64), German poet-dramatist, originally named Andreas Greif, wrote in Latin, new High German, and Silesian dialect. Among his many sonnets, odes, epigrams, and religious lyrics is the famous "Vanitas! Vanitatum Vanitas!"

de facto = in actual fact. Exercising power though not legally or officially established. [Latin : de, from, according to + facto ablative of factum, fact.] Quomodo vales = How do you do?

Page 34, Panel 3 "Here's hair on your chest" = A pun on the idiom "it will put hair on your chest." Meaning it will make a man of you.
Page 41, Panel 9 Curlylocks... = A poem by James Whicomb Riley that goes:

Curly Locks! Curly Locks! Wilt thou be mine?
Thou shalt not wash the dishes, nor yet feed the swine,
But sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam,
And feast upon strawberries, sugar and cream.

Page 42, Panel 5 Vade retro = go behind, get thee behind me.
Page 43, Panel 6 "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" = Luke 20:22

Table 1.2. Asterix the Gaul - Names

Name (in order of appearance) Comment
Crismus Bonus Christmas Bonus.
Julius Pompus Pompous.
Marcus Ginantonicus Gin and tonic
Caligula Minus Minus is a diminuitive. Caligula refers to Emperor Caligula, who was famous for being warped and cruel; Caligula = little boot, so a double diminutive here!
Tenansix Ten and six: ten shillings and sixpence, or half a guinea, in British money of the time.
Tullius Octopus Octopus. Tullius is a Roman name.
Gracchus Sextilius Sextillion: In France and the US, 1021. In England and Germany, 1036. Gracchus is a common Roman name. It was also the Ancient Roman name for the month July. The month was later renamed July in honor of Julius Caesar. Also see the annotation for 'Claudius Quintilius' below)
Claudius Quintilius A quintillion. In France and the US, 1018. In England and Germany, 1030. Claudius is standard Roman. It was also the Ancient Roman name for the month August. The month was later renamed to August in honor of Augustus Caesar. Also see the annotation for 'Gracchus Sextilius' above)
Caius Flebitus A double pun. Caius is a common Roman name. Flebitus could be 'Phlebitis' which is a disease of inflamed veins showing up often in the legs. It could also be 'Flea Bits'