Asterix the Legionary (1967)
Presenting a pretentious thematic undercurrent…
Examination of army mores coupled with a scathing satire on military bureaucracy.
- Panacea: voluptuous village graduate.
- Nefarius Purpos: recruiting Centurian in Caesar’s army.
- Dubius Status: drill Instructor.
- Neveratalos: Greek volunteer.
- Selectivemploymentax: British volunteer.
- Gastronomix: Belgian volunteer.
- Hemispheric, Allegoric: Gothic volunteers.
- Ptenisnet: Egyptian volunteer, albeit under false pretences.
- H2S04 aka Vitriolix – Caesar’s camp spy. (In both senses.)
- Garrulus Vinus: Caesars camp’s resident old lag/rookie-befriender/inebriate.
Continuity; lack-thereof and other gaffes…
- For once a story with a specific historical backdrop which pinpoints time and place as the Tunisian crunch-point of the civil war that marked the end of the first triumvirate between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus.
- As in Asterix and the Normans the Romans are less villains than victims of their own bureaucracy. (Kessler)
- The postman Tragicomix makes a second conscecutive appearance (p8).
- The device of representing foreign languages with the appropriate typeface reaches wonderfully absurd levels as a translator is required to mediate between Goths (Gothic text), an Egyptian (hieroglyphs) and some roughly monolingual Gauls, Romans, Brits, Belgians and a Greek. The Greek speaks the same language, though his dialect id denoted by runic lettering (begins p14).
- Asterix, for some reason, takes a swig of potion before he goes to bed – which seems a tad wasteful considering that the potion’s effect is temporary and of little use when he’s asleep (p23).
Cleverness and contemporaneity…
- Dogmatix is jealous of Panacea (p4).
- A dutiful legionary salutes a post-bashing patrol that is lying in a pile on the road (p10).
- We witness Bureaucracy in action as Asterix searches for Tragicomix in army headquarters, being shunted back and forth from “Information”, to “Personnel”; and via the “Centurian of the Calends” back to “Information” – whereupon the midget-of-might resorts to a more direct method of information retrieval (pp11-13).
- The recruiting centurion has persuaded Ptenisnet that he is on a package tour. This backfires because Ptenisnet is forever complaining about the accommodation and asking to see the menu in the mess hall (p14).
- Ptenisnet mistakes Julius Caesar for a holiday-camp redcoat (p33).
- Ptenisnet’s expression when told to undress is alone worth the price of the book (p16).
- Gastronomix sans helmet is revealed to share a barber with his compatriot Tintin (p17). (Kessler).
- The interpreter translates the Centurion’s obscenities for the Goths by using the same symbols given distinctly Germanic iconography. The nature of these obscenities can be inferred when they inspire the Belgian to begin a dirty joke (p17).
- The Roman cook swears ‘by Vesta’, a goddess – yes; but also a UK brand of dehydrated curries and Chow-Meins that can be tactfully described as ‘downmarket’ (p21).
- When the pirates are scuppered for the first time (p31), their wreckage is depicted in a pastiche of The Raft of the Medusa (1819) by Theodore Gericault – acknowledgements again to the peerless Asterix Annotations for this obscure nugget.
- The Roman rebels’ password is ‘Cognito ergo sum’. Obelix expects Asterix to remember this because he is much better at ‘thinking and working things out’ (pp 37 and 38).
- The Asterix Roman catchphrase phrase ‘Alea Jacta Est’ is actually said by Julius Caesar at round about the time he is supposed to have said it (p38).
- Ptenisnet almost – but doesn’t quite – twig to his situation (p42).
- Asterix sits out the final feast in an infatuated swoon taking position in Cacofonix’s tree – the bard is displaced to the tree with his hut on it, which has conveniently shifted to the feast-area (p44).
- Ptenisnet is in the habit of shouting personal comments at the expense of those with an above-average quotient of body hair; we therefore need the category:
Ptenisnet’s hairy hieroglyphs in full…
- “Old Hairy Eyebrows”: the hirsute galley captain (p29).
- “Old Hairy Hands”: again, the hirsute galley captain (p29).
- “Old Hairy Nose”: Asterix (p42).
Ghastly British Gastronomy…
Selectivemploymentax is shown actually enjoying his army ration of ‘corn, bacon and cheese, all cooked together to save time’ (p20).
Obelix has a tender side…
- In fact he has a major rite of passage in the form of rejection by the beautiful graduate Panacea, though one suspects that Obelix would have been barely more successful, even had Panacea not been engaged to Adonis-reborn Tragicomix (first third of book).
- More overweight angst as the obese-one optimistically orders a medium sized uniform (p17).
The multi-cultural motley band of recruits allows for what is in essence a stereotype reunion from previous books: fur-clad Goths, stiff-upper-lipped Brits and hieroglyph spouting Egyptians are all present and correct .
Although the monopedal classicist does make the customary remark – he is shown mid-pose sharing his erudition with two colleagues as part of the Gericault pastiche – in this instance he is out of earshot and the exact quotation is not revealed.
He’s on page 33 – the general on the right of Caesar’s desk.
Good or What?
One of the greats.
Due in part to the good-natured interplay of the medley band of recruits whose multiple language barriers conspire to break the morale of every Roman authority figure they encounter. The character of Ptenisnet – who carries on an army career in the belief that he is actually on a package holiday is one of Goscinny/Uderzo’s funniest creations.