The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Asterix (French: Astérix) is a fictional character, created in 1959 as the hero of a series of French comic books by René Goscinny (stories) and Albert Uderzo (illustrations). Uderzo has continued the series since the death of Goscinny in 1977. The books have been translated into many languages (even Latin and ancient Greek) and are available in most countries. It is probably the most popular French comic in the world; probably, in most parts of Europe, a majority of the adult population has read an Asterix book at some point in their life. Asterix is less well known in the United States and Japan, which both have strong comic book traditions of their own.

The key to the success of the series is that it contains comic elements for all ages: young children like the fist-fights and other visual gags, while adults can appreciate the cleverness of the allusions and puns that sparkle throughout the texts.


Setting and characters

Asterix lives around 50 BC in a fictional village in northwest Armorica (a region of ancient Gaul mostly identical to modern Brittany). This village is celebrated amongst the Gauls as the only part of that country not yet conquered by Julius Caesar and his Roman legions. The inhabitants of the village gain superhuman strength by drinking a magic potion prepared by the druid Getafix (French: Panoramix—names of all characters, except usually Asterix and Obelix, vary from one translation to another). The village is surrounded by the ocean on one side, and four Roman garrisons on the other, intended to keep a watchful eye and ensure that the Gauls do not get up to mischief.

A recurring plot in many of the Asterix books concerns the attempts by the Romans to prevent the druid from making the potion, or trying to get the secret recipe for their own use. Such attempts are invariably foiled by the heroes of the Asterix books, the agile, clever and pint-sized Asterix and his clumsy, oversized, but good-hearted best friend, Obelix.

The humour encountered in the Asterix comics is typically French, often centring on puns, caricatures, and tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of contemporary European nations and French regions. Much of the humour in the initial Asterix books was French-specific, which delayed the translation of the book into other languages for fear of losing the joke and the spirit of the story. The newer albums share a more universal humour, both written and visual.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) this stereotyping and notwithstanding some streaks of French chauvinism, it has been very well received by European and Francophone cultures around the world.

Humour: stereotypes and allusions

Everywhere they visit, Asterix and Obelix encounter people and things borrowed and caricatured from 20th century real life. In the early album Asterix and the Goths, for instance, the Goths are represented as militaristic and regimented, reminiscent of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Germans. The helmets worn by these Goths even resemble the German Pickelhaube helmets worn up to World War I and one of their leaders bears an uncanny resemblance to Otto von Bismarck. The British are shown as polite, drinking warm beer or hot water (before the first tea has been brought to what would become England by Asterix) and boiling all their food, and serving it with mint sauce. Spain is the cheap country down south where people from the North vacation (and demand to eat the same food as they are used to at home).

Some caricatures of the traits of certain French regions are also used: the people from Normandy cannot give a straight answer; the people from Marseille play boules and exaggerate matters, and Corsicans don't like to do any work, are easily angered and have long-standing vendettas that they settle violently.

Minor characters often resemble famous people or fictional characters, usually caricatures of existing French people of the same era, particularly from television and the spectacles. In Obelix and Co., for example, the young Roman bureaucrat is a caricature of a young Jacques Chirac. Those characters usually stick out visually, by not having the round, oversized noses otherwise typical of Uderzo's style.

(Obelix and Co. also includes two Roman legionaries drawn to the likeness of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.)

Other side characters allude to people related to the place Asterix is visiting. Notable examples include Britain's most famous bards in the story Asterix in Britain, who are four in number and look remarkably like the Beatles; a pair of Belgian warriors in Asterix in Belgium who resemble Thomson and Thompson of Tintin-fame, and both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are depicted in Asterix in Spain. More recently, this spoofing has occasionally extended to major characters as well: in Asterix and the Black Gold, a Roman spy is a young Sean Connery drawn in James Bond style, and in Asterix and Obelix All at Sea, the leader of the escaped slaves (named Spartakis, being Greek) is based on Kirk Douglas' Spartacus.

The stories also feature allusions to major artistic works (such as Pieter Bruegel's Peasant Wedding and Victor Hugo's story of the Battle of Waterloo from Les Châtiments in Asterix in Belgium), historical personalities (Napoleon, Louis XIV of France), famous places (Le Moulin Rouge)…. [1]

However, in many other respects the series reflects life in the 1st century BC fairly accurately for the medium. For example, the multi-storied apartments in Rome—the insulae—which have Obelix remarking that one man's roof is another man's floor and consequently "These Romans are crazy": his favourite line. This line itself is also an intrinsic joke on Rome and the romans: its Italian equivalent being "Sono pazzi questi romani" abbreviates as "SPQR", which is the motto of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, though, the presence of chimneys in the Gaullic huts is not accurate, as they used gabled openings in the roof to let smoke escape; and menhirs are now believed to have been erected long before the Gauls.

The text also makes relatively regular use of original Latin proverbs and Latin phrases, and allusions to Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico, a book about the conquest of Gaul, later used as an introductory text to Latin. Some jokes are made about Caesar's use of the third person to write about himself. Such allusions were likely to be well-received by the better-educated sections of the French and Belgian public in the 1960s, when the teaching of Latin was still widespread in high schools.

Humour: puns

A key feature of the text of the Asterix books are the constant puns used as names of characters; The names of the two protagonists come from asterisk and obelisk, Asterix being the star of the books (Latin aster [star] and Celtic rix [king, cognate to Latin rex, Sanskrit raj, German reich, English rich, etc]), and Obelix being a menhir delivery-man. In fact, nearly all the Gaulish characters' names end in -ix, probably a reference to the real-life Gaulish chieftain such as Vercingetorix (though in life only the names of Gaulish kings—and not even all of them—ended in -ix, and if they did it was always -rix). English language examples include the chief (Vitalstatistix), the druid (Getafix), the fishmonger (Unhygienix), an old man (Geriatrix) with a young wife. Roman characters' names end with -us as in Noxiousvapus and Crismusbonus, while incidental characters often feature names like Hiphiphurrax and Mykingdomforanos.

Many of these puns reflect the French original, in which, for example, the Egyptian in Astérix Légionnaire is named Courdeténis in French and Ptenisnet in English. But the translation of puns is difficult, and Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge do an excellent job in the English language edition, sometimes even improving on the originals. For example, the translation of Ordralfabétix (meaning "alphabetical order"), was greatly improved as Unhygienix, given that this character is a fishmonger infamous for his rotting product. The original Panoramix, which perhaps represents the druid who sees the whole picture, is more appropriate as Getafix, as "get a fix" conveys the fact he makes potent potions. Assurancetourix, the ear-offending bard of the village, becomes the apt Cacofonix. An even more clever translation is that of Idéfix. An idée fixe is a "fixed idea", i.e. an obsession, a dogma. The translation, Dogmatix, manages to conserve the "fixed idea" meaning and also include the syllable dog—perfect, given that the character is a dog who has very strong views on the environment (he howls whenever he sees an uprooted tree).

List of volumes

Goscinny and Uderzo

  1. 1961 - Asterix the Gaul (Astérix le Gaulois)
  2. 1962 - Asterix and the Golden Sickle (La Serpe d'or)
  3. 1963 - Asterix and the Goths (Astérix chez les Goths)
  4. 1964 - Asterix the Gladiator (Astérix gladiateur)
  5. 1965 - Asterix and the Banquet (Le Tour de Gaule)
  6. 1965 - Asterix and Cleopatra (Astérix et Cléopâtre)
  7. 1966 - Asterix and the Big Fight (Le Combat des chefs)
  8. 1966 - Asterix in Britain (Astérix chez les Bretons)
  9. 1966 - Asterix and the Normans (Astérix et les Normands)
  10. 1967 - Asterix the Legionary (Astérix légionnaire)
  11. 1968 - Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield (Le Bouclier arverne)
  12. 1968 - Asterix at the Olympic Games (Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques)
  13. 1969 - Asterix and the Cauldron (Astérix et le chaudron)
  14. 1969 - Asterix in Spain (Astérix en Hispanie)
  15. 1970 - Asterix and the Roman Agent (La Zizanie)
  16. 1970 - Asterix in Switzerland (Astérix chez les Helvètes)
  17. 1971 - The Mansions of the Gods (Le Domaine des dieux)
  18. 1972 - Asterix and the Laurel Wreath (Les Lauriers de César)
  19. 1972 - Asterix and the Soothsayer (Le Devin)
  20. 1973 - Asterix in Corsica (Astérix en Corse)
  21. 1974 - Asterix and Caesar's Gift (Le Cadeau de César)
  22. 1975 - Asterix and the Great Crossing (La Grande traversée)
  23. 1976 - Obelix and Co. (Obélix et Compagnie)
  24. 1979 - Asterix in Belgium (Astérix chez les Belges)


  1. 1980 - Asterix and the Great Divide (Le Grand fossé)
  2. 1981 - Asterix and the Black Gold (L'Odyssée d'Astérix)
  3. 1983 - Asterix and Son (Le Fils d'Astérix)
  4. 1987 - Asterix and the Magic Carpet (Astérix chez Rahazade)
  5. 1991 - Asterix and the Secret Weapon (La Rose et le glaive)
  6. 1996 - Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (La Galère d'Obélix)
  7. 2001 - Asterix and the Actress (Astérix et Latraviata)
  8. 2003 - Asterix and the Class Act (Astérix et la rentrée gauloise)
  9. Announced 2005 - not much is known about this album yet...


Many of Asterix's adventures have also been made into films:

  1. 1967 - Asterix the Gaul (Astérix le Gaulois) (animation)
  2. 1968 - Asterix and Cleopatra (Astérix et Cléopâtre) (animation)
  3. 1976 - The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (Les douze travaux d'Astérix) (animation)
  4. 1985 - Asterix Versus Caesar (Astérix et la surprise de César) (animation)
  5. 1986 - Asterix in Britain (Astérix chez les Bretons) (animation)
  6. 1989 - Asterix and the Big Fight (Astérix et le coup du menhir) (animation)
  7. 1994 - Asterix Conquers America (German: Asterix in Amerika) (animation; produced in Germany)
  8. 1999 - Asterix and Obelix Take On Caesar (Astérix et Obélix contre César) (live action film)
  9. 2002 - Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre) (live action film)
  10. Announced 2006 - Asterix and the Vikings (Astérix et les Vikings) (animation)

Asterix movies tend to be divided into three clear groups. The early films (group-1) were a lot sillier and, in some instances, slightly more absurd. They have not always been approved mainly due to the limited animating.

Starting from 1985's (group-2) Asterix Versus Caeser the animation quality improved dramatically. The 80s Asterix-films are undoubtedly the more popular of the film adaptations. In the 90s Asterix films have received mixed reactions. Lacking some of their predecessors' charm Asterix Conquers America is not always considered a part of the second group.

In particular reactions have been mixed over the live action adaptations (group-3).

Video games

See also

External links

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