Asterix and the Great Crossing: Latin Jokes Explained

Book 22: Asterix and the Great Crossing


The story: The Gauls are fighting each other, as per. The Romans are more than happy to let them get on with it. Unusually, the Latin is explained in the subsequent panel.

nice when they fight each other
Ira furor brevis est
anger is a brief madness

Professor Ibrox explains:

"Ira furor brevis est does indeed mean 'anger is a brief madness' - the decurion wants to get out of there before the Gauls notice them.

"The original quote continues: animum rege, qui nisi paret imperat. This has been translated as 'Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.' I think they used it in a movie, so no need to explain it more.

"It's taken from an epistle of Horace.

"Horace was a total fascist, but a brilliant poet - a lot like Ted Hughes. Unlike Hughes, Horace was responsible for the most beautiful poem ever written and starred in a Scottish comic strip. He was the first in Rome to mould the Greek lyric poems into Latin idiom. I tried explaining the import of this to a recent class, but only two of them apprehended my meaning.

"The first yelled, 'Horace be cookin' up covers, yo! Bitch be sampling oldschool Greek shit and droppin' it on phat new Roman beats.' Distressingly, everyone understood him. The second, a lovely young filly, said, 'Perhaps more apt to compare it with Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet. Keeping the tried and true ingredients but making it more palatable to and digestible for the modern audience.'

"So there's hope for our species after all."


The story: While Asterix and Obelix are adrift on a foodless boat, the pirates have prepared a sumptuous birthday feast for their captain.

Donec eris felix multos numerabis amicos
stop making silly remarks

Professor Ibrox explains:

"Donec eris felix, multos numerabis amicos is from Ovid's Tristia, and it means 'As long as you are fortunate, you will have many friends'. The full quote continues, 'if the weather becomes cloudy, you will be alone.' It's basically Ovid's way of whingeing about people who abandoned him when he got kicked out of Rome.

"It's used quite movingly here, because even though the Gauls roll up and eat all the food, the pirates do not abandon their captain - they stick with him through thick and thin.

"I love Ovid. His name both looks and sounds funny. Try saying it aloud. Ovid. Oh-vid!

"If Horace was a 1950s square in a polyester suit and crewcut, Ovid was your seventies rebel with shades and hempen slacks, and a way with participial periphrastics that turned Greek girls into groupies and made Scythians swoon. The Tristia is literally 'sad tales', written after he got in trouble for snorkelling in Caesar's bath.

"My favourite Ovid is Metamorphoses, in which Zeus morphs into all sorts of shapes and forms so he can hump whatever takes his fancy. It was later translated, very, very, inaccurately by Franz Kafka.

"Talking of translations, my old classics teacher used to say that if Ted Hughes had spent less time working on Ovid and more time banging his wife, her writing might have been a bit more cheerful."