Brain surgeons look to Asterix20th June 2011
A group of eminent German brain surgeons has made a semi-serious study of trauma and head injury in the Asterix series of comic books.
They found that the physical violence and the injuries that result in the animated adventures of Asterix the Gaul and his super-strong buddy Obelix were actually quite factual.
The symptoms depicted in the 34 volumes of comic adventures, in which the Druid Getafix and the village bard Cacophonix also make regular appearances, included such real-life outcomes as a tongue lolling out of a victim's mouth after he is knocked unconscious.
The goal of the study was to analyse the epidemiology and specific risk factors of traumatic brain injury [TBI] in the Asterix illustrated comic books.
The study's aim was not entirely light-hearted, however.
Daniel Haenggi of the University of Duesseldorf said scientists today tended to forget that the humans who came before us learned from their experiences.
The exercise, though fictional, reminded today's researchers of the importance of studying the past to shed light on the present.
Half of those biffed and thumped, often out of their strappy Roman sandals, had an initially severe impairment of consciousness after TBI. However, no permanent deficit could be found.
"Roman nationality, hypoglossal paresis, lost helmet and ingestion of the magic potion were significantly correlated with severe initial impairment of consciousness," the study found.
Magic potion and helmets both afforded some protection in the head trauma caused by a blunt instrument - the Asterix weapon of choice - to the head.
The druidic potion used to confer superhuman strength on the warriors in Asterix' village contained mistletoe, which we know now contains a substance called a lectin known to have some effect on brain tumours.
The researchers analysed 704 cases of head or brain injury across the entire oevre of Messrs Goscinny and Underzo.
Most victims suffered repeated head injuries, and were overwhelmingly male.
Only six females get bashed over the head in the entire series, compared with 698 men.
Strangulation was also present in a minority of cases, just 1.1%, while some injuries were caused by the associated fall after being lifted clean off the ground by a blow from the Gaulish duo.
The role of lectin needed to be studied further in TBI, the authors concluded.
Karl Schaller, a Swiss colleague of the authors, called for similar studies into other well-known comic violence routines, like Donald Duck or Pink Panther.
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