Asterix and the Great Divide: Latin Jokes Explained

Book 25 - Asterix and the Great Divide


The story: A Gaulish village, not unlike the one where Asterix and friends live - has been torn apart by political infighting, and now the left hand side of the village serves one chief, while the right hand side serves Majestix. His villainous adviser has gone to the Romans to get their help in deciding the dispute. The book is full of right/left-inspired punnery, and this short extract is no exception:

Asterix Great Divide

Professor Ibrox explains - 

"Would your readers be interested in listening to a recording called Nunc dimittis? They could play that while I do all the translation guff. I'm an atheist myself, but sometimes I like to lie unclothed on a church balcony and listen to the choir. Nothing sexual, you understand. I just find it cleanses the soul. Not that we have souls. Um... what was I saying?

"Let me see... it's been a while since I did one of these. So I guess that's a centurion on the left, and he's telling the fishy guy to get lost. Nunc dimittis, he says, which is from a vulgate translation of the gospel of Luke. 

"If I remember Sunday school well, and believe me I tried my best to drown out those memories - Nunc dimitiss is the start of a bit that translates as 'now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation'. It was said by Simeon, who was told he wouldn't die until he'd seen Jesus. Why was he out and about looking for Jesus, then? I would have built myself a treehouse and hidden away up there. Or gone to Brazil. Jesus never went to Brazil. Eternal life, baby!

"Did you listen to the video? It's a style of music one might call a dirge. You remember the word dirge from the third panel of the comic, don't you? The joke here is that the guy has to get out of the centurion's sight or the next dirge he'll hear will be at his funeral. Moreover, the dirge would be called Nunc dimittis - the very one I've told you three times to listen to! And because we're reading Asterix in the 21st century but it's set in 50BC, the dirge is simultaneously in the far future and distant past. Hence the asterisked joke. (You should do an article about asterisks in Asterix!)

"Note that vulgate is a word used to describe an early translation of the Bible. It has nothing to do with the word vulgar. Vulgar relates to dirty jokes, like the one about the Latin scholar, the choirgirl, and the holy water."



Bits and Bobs

The pirates come up with a couple of bits of Latin, but nothing so complicated as to require Professor Ibrox's services. First, the captain tells his crew there's no chance of running into Asterix and Obelix because they're so far from the coast. The old pirate replies, 'If you buy that you'll buy anything. Caveat emptor!'

caveat emptor asterix pirate

Another way to phrase the first part is 'if you believe that you'll believe anything,' but using the word 'buy' sets up the caveat emptor joke. Caveat emptor means 'buyer beware' and is often used when you've just bought something you regret.

Then there's a rare opportunity for a different pirate to chip in with some Latin. After their usual sinking, the black pirate sighs that they've now been sunk in fresh water as well as salt water. All he ever wants now is a nip of aqua vitae.

aqua vitae asterix

Aqua vitae means the water of life, and is an old way of saying 'whisky'. The old pirate is pleased that his colleagues are picking up some knowledge from him, but being a last word freak he says he wants to stay on terra firma from now on. As you know, it just means 'solid ground'.