French History in a nutshell; little snippets of interest. Asterix! Part 7.
Everybody knows about Asterix and Obelix. They have sold millions of copies in hundreds of languages all over the world and are as popular today as they were when I was a child … hundreds of years ago.
Seriously, the Roman occupation of Gaul started around 121 BC, and was more-or-less complete under the rule of Julius Ceasar in 58-61 BC. The last vestige of Roman rule petered out 500 years later in 486 AD with the victory of Frankish (from the Germany area) troops at the Battle of Soissons. By then the Gaulish language had died out and the concept of the Gaul had gone with it, leaving most of France under Frankish rule, with just a small southern section under Mergoviginian rule …later to become the first kings of France. But more about that another day.
The Asterix books are essentially about a village called Armorica in what is now Brittany, and the villagers’ resistance to Roman occupation. Thier main strength lies in a magic potion that gives superhuman strength. Obelix, who is the side-kick for Asterix, is stupid but permanently strong, having fallen in to a cauldrom of the magic potion when he was a baby.
The potion is brewed by a druid (Gaulish “priest”) whose name in the Enlgish translation is Getafix. Most of the names of the characters and many of the places change with the translation (Getafix wouldn’t work in French where he is called Panoramix), though the names of Asterix and Obelix remain the same in every book. The village dog is Dogmatix in English but Idefix (fixed idea) in French. The two main characters, are clearly named for an asterix (a star and/or a *) and an obelisk which, in punctuation, often follows an asterix. It is worth noting too that the word “rix” in Roman-occupied Gaul also meant “king” or “kingly”.
The stories first came out in 1959 as a French-Belgian production, written, illustrated and created by Goscinny and Uderzo. There have been many feuds within and without the families as to rights over the books and subsequent films, and the French firm Hachette is now the owner of the series, having bought all rights from the surviving children of the original creators.
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