Asterix and the Black Gold: Latin Jokes Explained

Book 26 - Asterix and the Black Gold


The story: Sick and tired of being humiliated by the indomitable Gauls, Caesar hatches yet another plan to try to deindomitabalize them - he sends a secret agent (Sean Connery) to try to discover the secret of Getafix's magic potion.

Note: Don't make the mistake of confusing this secret agent with the Roman Agent from a previous book - totally different thing...

Professor Ibrox explains:

"They thought they were the greatest fighting force that had ever existed, yet they were constantly frustrated by one tiny group of bravehearts who thwarted them again and again. I refer of course, to Glasgow Celtic's so-called hooligan 'elite' The Celtic Baby Crew and their inability to ever land a punch on Glasgow Rangers's mighty Section Red. But it would equally apply to the Roman empire and the Gaulish village we all know and love.

"If the Celtic Baby Crew sent a spy to infiltrate us - I mean, to infiltrate Section Red - he'd be found out in seconds. And we don't need magic potion - I mean, Section Red don't need magic potion, just a few cans of Special Brew.

"Um... where was I? Ah, the Latin. Ave Caesar, Lucratori te salutant. Wait, it has a translation in the bottom right corner! And this is the THIRD variant of this phrase you've asked me to translate. Why do you keep asking? Are you one of THEM? ARE YOU A CELTIC BABY? Hey! Come back here!"



The story: Getafix is stressed and unhappy in anticipation of the arrival of a merchant. It turns out he is in desperate need of rock oil to make his signature potion. The merchant slaps his forehead, says 'I knew I forgot something' and Getafix has a nervous breakdown. Dubbelosix (Sean Connery) revives him with some Scotch. Getafix says that without rock oil...

Professor Ibrox explains:

"The ingredients of the magic potion seem to change depending on the needs of the story - when the writers want to send us to Iraq, the potion needs oil. I suppose if the writers wanted a story set in Russia, Getafix would announce they desperately needed homophobic bile.

"Earlier in the comic Getafix talks about rock oil, then at the highest dramatic moment he whips out the Latin. Petra means rock, and oleum means oil. Petroleum is just oil from rocks, after all. Or more accurately, petroleum is baby dinosaurs trapped under the rocks for millions of years. My new car goes about 20 miles per baby dinosaur.

"Anyway, this panel is not funny. Didn't you call this section Latin Jokes Explained? We don't need to explain every little thing do we?"


The story: Asterix and Obelix set sail for Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq, basically) on the merchant ship. As usual, they meet some pirates along the way. Unusually, the captain begs for mercy and Asterix sees an opportunity to lighten the load on the merchant ship's rowers. He forces the pirates to buy the merchant's entire stock.

Professor Ibrox explains:

"Non omnia possumus omnes means 'we can't all do everything'. I believe this is the old pirate (Pegleg) complaining about the captain's failure to negotiate a good price for the goods Asterix forced him to buy. The captain defends himself by pointing out that he saved the ship at least. The black pirate says they should play possum next time. Oppossums are little animals that pretend to be dead when they are scared. The phrase playing possum means pretending to be dead. This is a pun on 'possumus', which is the 'we can' section of the phrase.

"If you need more information about lying on the floor, terrified, pretending to be unconscious so you don't hurt them any more, ask any member of the Celtic Baby Crew who was outside Baird's Bar on 27th August, 1988. What a day! What a night!

"The phrase Non omnia possumus omnes comes from Virgil's Eclogues, a work so shatteringly good it made him a legend in his own lifetime. But is it true that we can't all do everything? Maybe we can't, but for one magical day, Ally McCoist could."


The story: The merchant ship sails into the path of a Roman galley. The galley's captain believes himself to be a preincarnation of Lord Nelson, and visualizes himself capturing the Gauls with some slick seamanship.

Professor Ibrox explains:

"Magnum opus means 'the great work' of an artist. It should be large in scale, whereas a mere 'masterpiece' could be relatively small, such as the Mona Lisa or episode 5:22 of Seinfeld. I feel like there's a joke hidden inside 'naval operations, Roman fashion', but I can't put my finger on it. The asterisked box at the bottom continues the 'op' puns and leads to a payoff later in the comic that is rather lame and not worth talking about.

"Let's look into the centurion's reply. There's the obvious operation/opus/op stuff, but he's actually implying that Roman naval operations weren't up to much. For most of Roman history, he'd have a point. They only took naval power seriously when grain supplies to Rome were threatened. Their seamanship was sloppy and they abnegated navigation. Their main contribution to naval tactics was a huge plank that would allow their legionaries to dash across onto the enemy vessel and capture the ship. Crude but effective, except it made the Roman ships more likely to capsize.

"It's a bit like in movies where they store ammunition next to artillery. It saves time reloading, but lets James Bond blow up your emplacements without having to carry his own C4."


The story: Asterix and Obelix encounter and defeat so many Roman ships that Caesar orders all ports to be blockaded. 

Professor Ibrox explains:

"Look, Andrew, anyone reading this article will have played Sid Meier's wonderful achievement Civilization for many, many hours. They know what a trireme is!

"What, really? Analytics suggest they are all addicted to Candy Crush? What are you talking about? Sigh. Well a trireme is a ship with three levels of oars (high, medium, and low). Your readers are smart enough to know the bi means two, tri three, quad four, and quin five. They can work it out for themselves, right? They all have Clash of Clans running in the background? Well, that sounds educational..."


The story: Having tramped their way across the whole Middle East to get a tiny sack of oil, Asterix and Obelix sail back home. Guess what? They run into the pirates again, and run the same scam on them.

Professor Ibrox explains:

"Ave atque vale means 'hail and farewell'. You know that guy who comes into work on his day off to get a bag he left, and he says 'hi and bye'? This is the more literate version.

"The joke is the pun on vale (from the Latin phrase) and veil. Simples.

"Actually, in the original text the phrase is much richer. It's a poem where Catullus laments the death of his brother. He gave him all that he could - a few meagre lines of verse (that are still read two thousand years later). The last line in full is atque in perpetuum frater ave atque vale. It means: 'And forever, brother, hail and farewell.'

"And on that note, farewell, reader, farewell."