Asterix and the Big Wide World
The world-famous Asterix cartoons as a mirror of history and present: amusing and instructive
That Caesar conquered Gaul in 50 B.C. is something we have been told by the Roman general himself and by such historians as Plutarch and Suetonius. However, the existence on the Atlantic coast of a small village refusing to bow before the Roman empire is something we have learned from René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, the literary fathers of the beloved Gallic heroes, Asterix and Obelix. That, 300 years before Caesar’s campaign, the Gauls marched on Rome and captured the city on the seven hills, is something we now learn from René van Royen and Sunnyva van der Vegt.
Just as in their earlier Asterix en de waarheid, Van Royen and Van der Vegt examine how accurately the world-famous Asterix strip cartoons mirror the historical truth. Using archaeology material and accounts by ancient geographers, they show amusingly and instructively what kind of world the village inhabited by Asterix, Obelix, Panoramix, Assurancetourix and Abracourcix really belonged to.
The modern reader stepping into the era of Asterix is playfully introduced to the age of Julius Caesar, but is bound to wonder sooner or later whether the Gauls really ate wild boar all the time, whether the Roman legions really dressed as is claimed, whether the Gauls really drank magic potions, and whether their bards really sang as badly as they do in the strips. In Asterix en de wijde wereld the two heroes travel through the Roman Empire, where they learn of the customs of the various inhabitants and gain some idea of their interrelationships.
The appeal of Goscinny and Uderzo’ strips is that they portray all sorts of contemporary events against the background of the ancient world. Thus they mention the fall of the Berlin Wall, have Laurel and Hardy serving as foreign legionnaires, and transpose contemporary customs and cultural oddities to ancient times. Van Royen and Van der Vegt demonstrate convincingly that the creators of Asterix are thoroughly steeped in the work of historians, and that even some of their most far-fetched cartoons convey a treasure of historical facts.