By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
Most of us are already familiar with the adventures of Asterix the Gaul and his companion Obelix. The series was created by Goscinny and Uderzo in 1959 and is considered the most successful European cartoon in history. Goscinny died in 1978, but Uderzo continued to create Asterix comics until 2012, when he handed the baton to other talented artists. Although their style is a little different and more modern than Uderzo’s, the new books are getting better and better. One excellent book of theirs is Asterix and the Chariot Race, which is a perfect choice for people interested both in classics and in a good comic book.
At the beginning of the book we hear the old saying that “all roads lead to Rome”, however the Roman highways are appalling, as a corrupt senator named Bifidus (probably a pun with bi+fides) is using the money for the Roman highways to finance his orgies instead. Willing to show the world that the Roman highways are in perfect condition, he has the idea of organizing a chariot race through Italy in which all peoples of the ancient world (including barbarians) would participate. No such race ever took place in antiquity, but chariot races were a popular sport.
The Gauls can’t miss this opportunity to defeat the Romans in their homeland, so Obelix buys a chariot (in exhange for eighty menhirs, “a real bargain!”) and convinces Asterix to be his co-auriga. I must congratulate the authors for giving Obelix the main role in this adventure rather than the supporting roles he usually has.
Throughout the book, we see many references to other peoples who inhabited the Italian peninsula apart from the Romans (Etruscans, Cimbri, Veneti). The authors make fun of modern-day stereotypes of every town the Gauls visit during the race. During a brief visit to Venetia, they meet a man in a gondola who invites them to stay for a party at which everybody will be wearing a mask (a reference to the well-known Carnival of Venice). When they reach Parma, they have the now world-famous ham, which is supposed to be eaten in thin slices, but we all know Obelix’s appetite! In Florentia (modern-day Florence) they see amazing works of art. Asterix says he is dizzy with so much beauty (a clear reference to the syndrome of Stendhal). Before the last stop, the Gauls witness Vesuvius about to erupt, but the catastrophe is prevented by Obelix who throws a huge rock inside the vulcano. A note explains that the region will be happy and prosperous until 79 A.D.
The only conceivably bad point I see in this great book is that some of the caricatures of real-life people are a bit over the top. Uderzo and Goscinny were very fond of caricatures, and they would often draw their closest friends and even themselves. Still, among the caricatures in the Chariot Race, I do like the first inkeeper (a caricature of Luciano Pavarotti), an old man drawing a sketch while watching the race (a caricature of Da Vinci) and the Roman champion (resembling the retired Formula 1 driver Alain Prost). If you have bought the book and identified any other celebrities, please write a comment below.
I’ve heard many people dismiss Asterix as comics for children, but the series was made to be appreciated by people of all ages. Just look at the number of classical references and the sophistication of the humor. Of course, Asterix is a great choice for children too, and if you want to expose your child to a fun take on classical history and literature, Asterix is perfect!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.