Asterix the Gladiator (1964)
Presenting a pretentious thematic undercurrent…
- Cutting satire of a plc in the form of the Phoenician trading vessel.
- Commentary on the then developing trait of high-rise accomodation as A&O visit a contact in a GLC (Greater Latin Coucil) owned apartment whose residents bicker constantly about each other’s noise.
- Odius Asparagus: Prefect of Gaul.
- Picanmix: Gaulish infant.
- Caius Fatuous: Gladiator Trainer.
- Sendervictorius and Appianglorius: Guards at Circus Maximus.
Continuity; lack-thereof and other gaffes…
- Geriatrix makes his first appearance – as Obelix’s locum menhir-deliverer (p9).
- Obelix begins his practise of collecting the helmets of the Romans he has bashed (p6).
- Introducing the Pirates and their continual sinking feeling (p11).
- First affectionate caricature in Asterix. Caius Fatuous is based on a journalist friend of the authors. (Kessler).
Cleverness and contemporaneity…
- The galley slaves are in fact business partners who failed to read the contract before signing. Whilst being attacked by pirates they will not fight before tabling amendments to their contract at an extraordinary general meeting (pp10-12).
- Ironically, Julius is less than grateful for the gift that forms the story’s premise (p13).
- Julius makes the first of several ironic references to his impending murder at the hands of Marcus Brutus. The bardic connection is somewhat spelt-out in the frame-caption (p34.)
- Humour that anticipates The Life of Brian as Caius Fatuous offers Obelix a Roman delicacy containing “Nightingale’s tongue’s”, “Sturgeon’s Eggs” and “Cockroach’s gums” (p26).
- The Gauls pass over the standard Gladitorial Ave Caesar Morituri te Salutant (Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you), in favour of the less formal “Hi, Julius” (pp 37 and 38).
- A vendor sets up a stall outside the Circus Maximus advertising “Super Persic, Washes even Purpler.” (p34.)
- The circus scenes parody the Hollywood epics Ben Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1960).
In introducing the Pirates, Goscinny and Uderzo also introduce the Pirates’ lookout, a character-portrayal that is just a tad uncomfortable nowadays. In this adventure we are only witness to his voice which is African dialect straight out of Huck Finn – “Dat sure wuz a hidin’ dey give uz!”. In ensuing books his looks are revealed as those of a stereotypical thick-lipped African.Since writing that I have found out from Kessler’s book that the black pirate’s accent has been altered in recent translations to a less stereotypical one. He gives a comparison from page 5 of Asterix and Cleopatra:
Original: “Egyptian ship on de starbo’d bow, Sah!”
Revision: “Next instalment coming up, Sir! Egyptian ship to starboard.”
Vanitas vanitatum = vanity of vanities, and everything is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2, Vulgate).
Good or what?
Good.The characters and situations haven’t yet been established, but the humour is nonetheless of a high order.