Asterix in Corsica: Latin Jokes Explained

Book 20 - Asterix in Corsica

1.

The story: Asterix and Obelix liberate a prisoner from the Romans, and accompany him to Marseilles. There, the prisoner's friend arranges transport on a ship to his home - Corsica.

By complete chance, the ship is run by the pirates, who have devised a new scam: stealing from their passengers.

Professor Ibrox explains:

"Isn't it usually Pegleg who comes out with the Latin? As we learned before, O tempora, O mores means 'Oh, what times! Oh, what customs!' The black guy signed up to be a good, honest pirate and finds this new plan too underhand for his liking.

"While he's complaining about this dastardly plot, Pegleg is thinking about the easy money they'll make. More's the word, he says, almost like 'greed is good'. But he should be thinking 'tanti dolores, quantae pecuniae.'"

Andrew explains Prof Ibrox's explanation:

"'Tanti dolores, quantae pecuniae' is the chorus to a famous Roman ditty composed by Magnus Insignisque. In short: 'Mo money mo problems.'"

2.

The story: Asterix, Obelix, and their new Corsican friend sneak on board the pirate ship. Once clear of the harbour and with no Roman ships in sight, the pirates go into the hold to see how much they've won. They are distressed to discover the Gau... the Gau... the Gauls! They sneak off and hide in a lifeboat.

errare humanum est

Professor Ibrox explains:

"I find that people often get 'Errare humanum est' mixed up. They sometimes confuse it with Pope's 'To err is human, to forgive divine,' and sometimes with Depp's 'To err is human, to arr is pirate.'

"It is, as every Rangers fan knows, a quote from Seneca, though as any Celtic fan will tell you, he in turn was quoting an old proverb.

"The full quote is 'Errare humanum est, perseverare autem diabolicum, et tertia non datur' - to err is human, but to persevere (in your error) is the way of the devil, and the third way is not given.

"In other words, 'I forgive you as long as we don't have to do this again'.

"Seneca was a brilliant philosopher, essayist, letter writer, and above all tragedian, making him the ancient world's Dan Brown. He was tutor to Nero, but when Nero went spazmo, Seneca killed himself, making him the ancient world's Sylvia Plath. Curiously, Ted Hughes loved Seneca and translated his work.

"Seneca's tragedies are full of blood and terrible puns, making him the ancient world's Ian Fleming. Seneca was probably a bit of a tosser though, making him the ancient world's [REDACTED - Andrew's lawyers].

3.

The story: Asterix et al have left the ship, some Romans have checked it out and found no renegades, so the coast seems to be clear for the pirates to retake their ship.

Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas

Professor Ibrox explains:

"Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas means 'happy is he who is able to see the causes of things'.

"The old scamp is cautioning his boss to be careful of things he can't see... and re-establishing his credentials as the primary source of highbrow Latin allusions. And by the way, he's right to ask why the Romans left the ship so quickly - shortly after the pirates return to the ship it explodes.

"My first thought on reading the quote was Virgil as it scans as hexameter (the last two thirds of a line). I checked, and, sure enough, it's from Virgil's Georgics, a poem ostensibly about farming but in fact about the return of the golden age of the world under the rule of Augustus.

"I find the poem so achingly beautiful that I shed tears every time I revisit it.

"Now give me my five quid and let me out at the Off Licence. I want to buy some scratchcards and be home in time for Jersey Shore."