Obelix and Co. : Latin Jokes Explained

Book 23: Obelix and Co.


The story: Caesar has sent his top economist to Asterix's village with a plan to get the Gauls to fight each other instead of the Romans. The economist starts buying menhirs from Obelix. Obelix becomes snooty, money-driven, and unpopular. But now the Romans have a different problem:

redde caesari quae sunt caesaris
si vis pacem buy menhirs

Professor Ibrox explains:

"Obelix and Co. was by far my favourite when I was a kid. I didn't understand all of it but it felt like I was getting a glimpse into the adult world, and that the adult world was as silly and chaotic as the Glaswegian playgrounds where I learned to play football and honed my switch-blade skills.

"Anyway, onto the Latin. Redde caesari quae sunt caesaris means 'render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.' That was Jesus's reply when his disciples asked if they should pay tax. (If scripture is to be believed, Google, Starbucks, and Amazon won't be getting into heaven.) 

"After declaring that paying tax is Good, Jesus tells Peter to go fishing - he reels in a fish with a coin in its mouth so they can pay the tax. Protestants take this as biblical justification for taxes and capitalism. Catholics take this as biblical justification for lazing around all day by the lake.

"Si vis pacem is repeated later in the story, so I'll explain that in part 2."


The story: The economist has successfully created mayhem in the village. The Romans are buying every menhir going at higher and higher prices. Most of the Gauls have abandoned their normal jobs and routines (i.e. beating up Romans) to work in the menhir industry. But peace has come at a price. Rome is close to bankruptcy; Caesar is displeased.

draining my treasury to keep madmen busy
si vis pacem

Professor Ibrox explains:

"As you can see, this is the second time the economist says 'si vis pacem.' It means 'if you want peace.'

"It's funny because he's changed the old saying 'If you want peace, prepare for war' into 'If you want peace, buy menhirs.' We had a similar variant where I grew up: 'If you don't want to get mugged, wear full riot gear at all times.'

"Here's one for the Latin geeks: Students hate the irregular verb volo, but it's actually very simple: volo, vis, vult, volumus, vultis, volunt. Ask a student for the third person singular of nolo, 'I do not wish', and they will hit you for sure (the answer is at the bottom of the page). Which is why I always wear full riot gear on exam day."


The story: The economist has a solution to the financial crisis - selling menhirs as luxury goods. In one of the most brilliant pages in the whole of Asterix, he explains sales and marketing to a bemused Caesar. Here we see his masterful 'executive summary' (what Yes, Minister called The Janet and John Bit).

explaining economics to caesar
sell heap big menhirs

Professor Ibrox explains:

"This was the 1000th page of Asterix books, hence the wee M in the bottom right corner.

"Under the M it says 'albo notamba lapillo', which is apparently a French twist on a very famous Latin phrase, 'albo notando lapillo.'

"The latter means 'to be noted on a white stone' which seems sinister, perhaps related to graves. But actually it's a joyous phrase. It's a day so good we should carve a monument to it. Yay!

"If Goscinny and Uderzo - who gave themselves cameos in Obelix and Co. - had written Star Wars, they might have used 'albo notando lapillo' instead of 'This will be a day long remembered.'

a day long remembered


The story: The Roman economy is being destroyed by competition in the menhir industry. Even the pirates are affected.

flooding the market with menhirs
uti non abuti asterix

Professor Ibrox explains:

"The old pirate says 'uti, non abuti,' which means 'use, not abuse.' It's the same visual pun in English and Latin, and both are infinitives of deponent verbs. Grammar lol!

"If that wasn't hilarious enough, there's more jokes to be found. In the book, Caesar doesn't understand economics at all, so when he says that the market is being flooded, he means it...

"It seems the pirates have been taking menhirs as loot. Hence 'use, not abuse' - use the ship (to steal a sensible amount of products with a good weight-to-value ratio), don't abuse the ship (by overloading it with heavy, worthless lumps of shapen rock).

"Best. Episode. Ever!"


Grammar answer - non vult