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Asterix and the Roman Agent

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Asterix and the Roman Agent (French: Le Zizanie) is the fifteenth book in the Asterix series.

PlotEdit

The resistance of the Gaulish village against the Romans causes friction between dictator Julius Caesar and the Roman Senate. With their Magic Potion which gives them superhuman strength and is known only to their druid Getafix, they easily stand up against Rome and her laws.

At a meeting with his associates it is suggested to Caesar that causing internal conflict between the Gauls will lead to their breakdown. He is then told about Tortuous Convolvulus, a natural troublemaker who can cause dissension and stir up fights between anyone. These have included the lions which were to devour him in the circus and ended up eating each other. His mere presence even causes an argument and a fight between Caesar's associates. Impressed by his abilities Caesar sends him to deal with the Gauls.

During the crossing Convolvulus subtly causes no end of dissent between the crew, the galley slaves and the Pirates who, in the course of a fight between themselves, sink their own ship.

Meanwhile in the Gaulish village, unaware of all this, things are being organised for Chief Vitalstatistix's birthday, a celebration of friendship all round. One who is not looking forward to it is his own wife, Impedimenta, who complains about all the eating and drinking that will go with it as well as the burden of useless and non-valuable presents including a mounting collection of swords, shields, stuffed fish and menhirs with huge ribbons.

Arriving in Gaul, Convolvulus moves into the nearby Roman camp of Aquarium. He then goes to the village and quickly stirs up distrust between the Gauls: he gives a valuable vase to Asterix whom he describes as the "most important man in the village", to the outrage of Chief Vitalstatistix who considers himself the most important.

The other villagers take this announcement seriously with Impedimenta having fights with the other women on the subject of who is the most important and then privately dismissing her husband as a failure.

Further gossip and rumours lead to the belief by many in the village that Asterix, who is close to Getafix the druid, has sold the secret of the druid's Magic Potion to the Romans. Suspicion and paranoia becomes part of everyday life to the point that the banquet to celebrate the Chief's birthday is held in sullen silence. Cacofonix is perplexed at the sullenness because his music practise has kept him blissfully unaware of the situation.

Leading this atmosphere of distrust are Fulliautomatix the blacksmith, Geriatrix the oldest inhabitant and their wives, one of whom goes so far as demanding to leave the area entirely. This shows that Convolvulus has almost succeeded. He does not have the Magic Potion, but his whole plan rests on making the Gauls believe that he does.

Through other tricks and deception, Convolvulus convinces the Gauls that their suspicions are well founded and that the Romans have the Magic Potion. However his plan works a little too well when even the Roman troops of Aquarium believe that they have the Magic Potion and insist on drinking it, even though it is not actually available to them.

The real turning point in his ruse however occurs when some of the deceived villagers openly voice their suspicions that Asterix and Getafix gave the secret of the Magic Potion to the Romans. This provides Asterix and Getafix with the excuse they need to announce a self-imposed exile and they leave the village with their heads held high. Obelix goes with them; he is himself confused as to whether or not the Romans have the Potion, but loyally sticks by his two best friends. They in fact intend to expose Convolvulus and teach the other Gauls a lesson in trust. The shock of their departure and their seeming helplessness against Roman attack has the villagers thinking they have acted foolishly.

Asterix and Getafix confront Convolvulus and announce that they are leaving the area with Obelix and the Magic Potion. Taking them at their word, Convolvulus persuades the Roman commander, centurion Platypus, to attack the village. Platypus, who is also a little mixed-up on the course of events, takes the credit for turning Convolvulus into an able strategist.

As the villagers suspect their folly, it is easy for Asterix, Getafix and Obelix to prove to them that the idea of the Romans having the Magic Potion was all due to trickery and deceit on Convolvulus's part. Getafix makes some Magic Potion while Platypus summons for reinforcements.

After drinking the real Magic Potion, the Gaulish villagers engage in a major battle with all four of the Roman garrisons that surround them. After winning the fight, they turn the tables on Convolvulus in an ingenious move: they thank him, treating him as one of their own, and give him the vase he gave Asterix earlier on. This tricks the Roman troops into believing that Convolvulus is a traitor who deliberately engineered their defeat and the vase is smashed as they arrest him. He is sent back to Rome for punishment, though that may be a case of easier said than done given that he retains his cunning and deceitful skills. Despite this, he has made no further appearances to date.

In the village there are apologies all round and it is agreed to hold another birthday for Vitalstatistix and make up for the previous one which was held in moody silence. Asterix however decides that he is entitled to a little of his own back after being suspected of being a traitor himself. The next day he is seen being proudly carried on a shield by Obelix in the same way that Vitalstatistix usually goes about his business. In a manner that Convolvulus would be proud of, this leads to gossip that Asterix has been appointed Vitalstatistix's successor and an argument and a fight between the wives as to which of their husbands would make the better chief. The men soon join in and peace is only restored when Asterix claims that he was simply testing the shield that he intends to give to Chief Vitalstatistix. Getafix says that they can't be blamed, they are only human, and Obelix exclaims "These humans are crazy!".

The story ends with the traditional banquet which doubles for a better celebration of Vitalstatistix's birthday.

NotesEdit

  • The original French title of this story was La Zizanie ("The Ill-feeling" or "The Dissension"). The inspiration was the dissension at Pilote magazine, a year before, during the May 1968 events in Paris, a time of civil unrest, when Goscinny, then also editor of Pilote, was almost evicted from the post, and remained bitter from the affair.
  • In the English version Caesar keeps making the famous "Et tu Brute" remark to Brutus who reacts in silent annoyance at this patronising attitude. In the original French version, Caesar keeps saying "Et toi, mon fils" (French for "And you, my son"), a possible reference to the suggestion by some historians that Brutus was actually fathered by Caesar, though some think it unlikely due to the mere 17-year age difference between the two men. It may also be a reference to the Greek phrase which the historian Suetonius reports Caesar did say to Brutus, καὶ σὺ τέκνον (Kai su, teknon?), literally, in English, "You too, my child?"
  • Brutus denies ever serving Caesar's enemy Pompey, whereas he actually did so in real life. It is a curious remark to make in a series which, although largely fictional, is based on extensive research into the history and background of the time and the habits of populations both old and new.
  • The incident of the Pirates fighting between themselves and sinking their own ship is referred to in the next adventure Asterix in Switzerland.
  • Centurion Platypus is a caricature of the actor Lino Ventura, well-known for playing the parts of tough policemen. He could be mistaken for Sylvester Stallone, to which he bears a resemblance, though Rocky came out much later than this episode.
  • When Impedimenta screams at Vitalstatistix about idiots (words used in the original French edition) who might one day have the absurd idea of writing the history of the village, Goscinny and Uderzo are clearly referring to themselves.
  • This is the first appearance of several female villagers — Impedimenta's inner circle of prominent wives. In particular, the wives of Geriatrix and Fulliautomatix and an obese lady whose husband is not mentioned, but who appears in many crowd and background scenes in later albums, are first seen here.
  • In the scenes where people have been deceived into arguing, the speech bubbles are painted in increasingly dark green. In contrast, in the final banquet panel, Vitalstatistix makes his moving birthday speech in pink.
  • In the original version, Convolvulus is named Detritus which literally means "trash".

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