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Asterix at the Olympic Games

November 13, 2015


I’ve been thinking a lot about France.  And its history.  And the concept of how best to resist tyranny.

Conincidentally (?) the boy has started to read Asterix books.

Very strange things they are too.  I remember my own fascination with these stories as a child – aware that there was something hypnotically inappropriate about many of these tales.  Most bizarre of all, of course, is Asterix in Switzerland – the product of a truly depraved imagination.  What other children’s comic book can boast the immortal line

“An orgy’s no fun on your own”?

Asterix and the Olympic Games struck me as being rather less problematic for the boy – although of course, it’s all about substance abuse in competitive sport.  Having learned that Gluteus Maximus – a newly arrived legionary attached to a nearby garrison is training for the Olympic Games, the villagers decide to go and compete.

Although the Olympic  rules state that the event is only for Greeks and (reluctantly) Romans (seeing as they appear to be masters of the universe right now), Asterix decides that Gauls can compete on the basis that Gaul is now part of the Roman World.  In so doing, he manages to test the logic of imperial absorption.  Either the village is not part of the Roman Empire – in which case Julius Caesar will have to publicly admit that his mighty legions are powerless against this tiny outpost of Celtic resistance – or they are as Roman as Rome itself and thus eligible to compete under the Roman banner.

(A similar test case took place in 1896 when “England’s” best batsman was Ranjitsinhji, the future Maharajah of Nawanagar and a controversy broke out over his eligibility to play test cricket for “England”.)

In the event, as we all recall, it turns out that the Greeks already had a strict policy regarding “banned substances” so the magic potion which made these Gauls so indomitable could not be used to win athletic honours.  Fair enough, really.  Even Obelix is banned, having fallen into a cauldron as a baby – a legal conundrum which puzzles and irritates him for the remainder of the book.

The “victory” which Asterix eventually achieves is the result of a sting operation whereby the entire Roman contingent gets disqualified for being proven drug cheats.

(Not sure what the village gets out of this “victory”  – it has no financial value and I’m not sure what honorific kudos such a default trophy can confer.  I suppose they all get an excuse for a holiday in Greece [away from their wives as it happens] and I suppose that’s enough of an excuse.  The palm of victory itself is handed over by Asterix to Maximus Gluteus and his trainer-centurion Veriambitius.  They need it more.)

The boy and I were talking about this story after he’d finished the book (at great enthusiastic speed).

“It’s a good job there’s no such thing as real magic potion.  It would sort of ruin all kinds of sport, wouldn’t it.”

“Yeah, well, I hate to have to break it to you son…”

Perhaps Asterix offers a suggestion to future Olympic committees.  Instead of spouting all this get-tough zero tolerance rhetoric, they should instead talk about “…the magic potion sitting in the cauldron in a certain nearby shed whose door doesn’t shut properly and isn’t guarded by night” and stock up on blue dye.


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