Anne here, and today I'm diving right back into the past — my past and actual ancient history — sort of.
When I was a student, I fell heavily for the Asterix and Obelix comic book series by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. If you don't know it, it's a very funny satirical French series about a village of indomitable Gauls during the Roman Occupation. The stars are Asterix (the small smart one) and his friend the huge and not-too-bright Obelix, who delivers menhirs (giant stones). And of course their tiny dog, Dogmatix.
The Romans haven't been able to conquer this village because they have a secret weapon — a magic potion created by their druid, Getafix. Yes, Get-A-Fix — the series is full of puns of this sort. The names are hilarious. There is a bard called Cacofonix, an ancient called Geriatrix, the chieftain's wife is called Impedimenta, the fishmonger is Unhygienix, and his wife is Bacteria.
The Roman names are also hilarious — centurians with names like Armisurplus, Ignoramus, Crismus Bonus, Dubius Status and Nefarious Purpus, Vitriolix, an architect named Squareonthehypotenus and so-on. It's all beautifully silly and fun.
Whenever the Romans try to conquer them, the villagers line up for their potion and POW! Roman soldiers go flying in all direction. Only Obelix needs no potion — he's permanently invincible, having fallen into a cauldron of potion when he was a baby.
The delights of this series came back to me recently, when I was pottering around on a streaming service from a local multicultural TV station, and lo! There I saw a bunch of Asterix and Obelix movies. Obelix is played by the wonderful Gerard Depardieu. So of course I had to watch a few. I thoroughly enjoyed Asterix and Obelix go to Britain.
The version I watched was in French, of course, with English subtitles, but on the web I see that some movie versions have slightly different titles so they may be dubbed for all I know. The comics I have are English translations with puns that work in English, but they're hugely popular around the world and have been translated into many languages. I imagine the translators had a lot of fun working out the various puns that would work in their language.
If you haven't read these comics, I urge you to try them. Amazon says they're for ages 7— 12 but that's nonsense has no idea. It's adult humor and adult satire. I have almost all the books and I still treasure them. And pull them out occasionally for a smile and a chuckle.
But Asterix isn't the only Roman-era literature I've been delving into. I'm a huge fan of Jennifer Ashley and under her Ashley Gardner name, she's begun a series about Leonidas the gladiator.
Leonidas is Rome's champion gladiator. Found guilty when he was young of a crime he did not commit, he had the choice of execution or fighting in the ring. He chose to fight. At the height of his career, his contract is anonymously bought, and Leonidas is set free — adrift, really, with a bare apartment, for which he must pay rent, and a mysterious, highly educated female slave. How they manage together, and the mysteries they solves is the basis of this excellent series.
Another wonderful series is the Lindsay Davis "Falco" series, where Falco is a private informer, reluctantly employed as an occasional spy and solver of mysteries.
The research is superb, the mysteries engrossing, and the human observations are delightful and often very funny. Another series follows that with Falco's adopted daughter, Flavia Albia. If you enjoy a well written mystery, then you'll find a gorgeously long backlist that will keep you happily occupied for months. And if you'd just like a glimpse into the mind of Lindsay Davis, I find her "rants" on her website entertaining and informative.
Another book I loved was Pauline Gedge's The Eagle and the Raven, a novel set during the Roman invasion of Britain. The Eagle in the title is, of course, the Romans and the Raven, the Britons.
What about you — are you a fan of Roman era stories,or do they leave you cold? Have you read any of these books? Do you know the Asterix comics? Do you have any other Roman-era recommendations?