A talentless bard called Cacofonix (people have a really difficult time when he sings as in it’s a cacophony), a dog called Dogmatix, an elderly person Geriatrix (the association with geriatics) the druid who mixes up a magic potion that makes his villagers invincible is called Getafix. The star of the story, why, Asterix!
A few more notables are Crismus Bonus, Fuliautomatix, Vitalstatistix, Psychoanalytix, Orthopedic, Impedimenta, Bacteria and more. There are around 400 characters in all the Asterix books and taking a good look at the names is the first thing I do.
Clever names are just one part of the charm of Asterix comics. The puns and the jokes are another level and have a lot of cultural, artistic and political allusions. When you get the joke, well, you feel smart and superior to those who didn’t get them. The Latin is another matter though. Knowing the literal meaning of phrases doesn’t help, you have to understand the grammatical nuances (of Latin, yes huh is my reaction all the time), know the context in the story and tie up the dialogue of the characters to see how the joke/pun is ‘closed’.
Written in French originally by Goscinny and Uderzo, the writer and illustrator team, Asterix has now been translated to more than 100 languages. Translator Anthea Bell has been responsible for bringing these delightful books to English readers.
Coming back to the names, Asterix, the star is also a typographical symbol used to denote a footnote. Obelix, his side kick, meaning a large monument, alluding to his size, denotes another typographical symbol, used when there is a second footnote. From this, you can get an idea of the layers of meaning in everything in the series. There is a challenge in keeping the wit alive as the books are translated to other languages.
The dog in the books is simply called Dogmatix, which is a play on the word ‘dogmatic’ or maybe it’s just because it has the dog in it? In Hindi, Dogmatix changes to ‘Kutta Bhaunkix’ (don’t cringe, I am sure it’s all very funny).
Even though the story revolves around the Romans determined to conquer a little Gaulish village (most of Gaul has already been conquered – the time is 50 B.C.) and even when there’s the army and ambushes in plenty there’s no real bloodshed. The battles are not gory; rather they are funny by virtue of the cleverness of some characters and utter stupidity of others.
The battles, ludicrous challenges and laughter inducing situations all end with a feast under the starry night where wild boar is eaten and Cacofonix is ‘usually’ tied up after he plays a few notes.
I am now (re)reading ‘Asterix the Gaul’, the first in the series. If you an Asterix fan, maybe you can tell me what do people do with the menhirs that Obelix keeps delivering?
This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.