Updated: Sep 27, 2022
Introduction: The Cult of Jeopardy
The loss of Alex Trebek, noted Cat lover and High Priest of Trivia, leaves THESE devotees grieving in their beers on dive-bar Quiz Nights:
The answer: What are Nerds?
The Trouble with Trivialists.
Yes. It's a word.
Competitive trivia is a uniquely human construct. Nerds seek one another's moderate approval through vainglorious demonstrations of their capacity to retain the obscure, the esoteric, the irrelevant. Trivia. Competition is fierce. Friendships are forged and broken. To misquote Dr. Sayer, “The politics of (Trivia) are so intense because the stakes are so low.”
Trivialism is a philosophic school of thought, dating to 5th Century BCE Greece. The gist of Trivialist logic: all arguments are valid. "The Cat is black," and, "The Cat is not black," are equally correct in the mind of a Trivialist. Predating Socratic thought by decades, the latter skewered the former. According to Plato, Trivialist dialetheism is untenable in a world in flux. Tru. Dat.
It's no small irony that the Trivialists, whose name has become synonymous with inkhorn nerds, believed any and every statement to be true. Say that to the bar-quiz guy who, over some pretentious Austin IPA, correctly answered the question about midi-chlorians; and prepare for a fight.
Goddess at the Crossroad
In ancient Rome, according to a bunch of classics scholars, the meeting of three roads (tri-via) implied, at best, a gathering place where rabble exchanged banalities. Trivia.
This pedantic Feline does not agree.
Trivia was an epithet of Roman goddess Diana. Queen and huntress, Diana was Trivium Dea: the triple-headed goddess of the crossroad. Syncretized with her Greek ancestors, Trivium Dea's aspects employed lunar mutability as metaphor for the spectrum of the divine feminine. Diana/Artemis, with her crescent bow - that sliver of a waxing moon - invited anticipation and potential. Luna/Selene, the bright, circled orb, evoked fecundity and fulfillment. Hecate/Hekate, a sloping, waning shape, recalled completion; the verge of transformation.
Amid the cacophony that is Roman mythology, there are, of course, countless interpretations of this multifaceted deity. Not the least to mention are her many associations with Catkind - a topic for a later post.
Old Judeo-Christian white guys, you who dismiss Diana's sacred crossroads as hubs for plebian gossip, take care when traveling the dark streets of Rome. Blithely shuffling to a favorite gelato stand, you may find yourself faced with a slighted eidolon, and lose your way.
The aforementioned Hekate, frequently depicted in Feline company, was ancient Greece's goddess of crossroads and the underworld. Torches ablaze, she stood at points of no return. Even before her, liminal deities permeate history - perched on
tri-via, thresholds, awaiting human choices to drive human fates. Yikes.
Likewise, the trope, "Devil at the Crossroad," did not originate with Robert Johnson's self-deprecating humor; nor with those guys who wrote Supernatural. A metaphorical expression of moral dilemma, a moment forced to crisis: What's behind Door Number One? Two? Three? C'mon. Let's Make a Deal. Turning back is not an option. Here are three paths. Tri-via. Pick one. Choose wisely.
Cats, Rats, and Rome
Fontana di Trevi, Nicola Salvi's baroque masterpiece, stands at the meeting point of three ancient Roman streets. Trevi, a mish-mash Italian word, means... well, I think you can figure it out.
Fed by a renovated Imperial-era aqueduct, Trevi Fountain spills virgin waters into a bright basin. There, hordes of wide-eyed, touring humans lob traveled bits of alloy, in rote compliance with ancient superstition and modern fancy. Leached metals leave the water impotable, and Cats scatted the place long ago.
In 2015, the Eternal City found itself overrun with rats. Invading Piazza di Trevi, the rats took up shop in the bowels of the monument. They set about a terror campaign, doubtless, to clear the place of tourist infestation. Human mayoral candidate, Antonio Razzi (pronounced RAT-zy! HA!), resolved to conscript half a million Felines, and solve the rodent problem. With no appetite for exploitation, the Cats ensured his campaign's failure, and swept Virginia Raggi into office.
Among its many epithets, Rome is called The City of Cats. Urbs Feles hosts many feral Cat colonies. A consortium of benevolent, well-organized, Gattare - Cat Ladies - watch over the population's health and well being.
The ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, in the heart of the old city, are best known as the site of the First Century BCE's most notorious crime. We all know the story. A mob of senators made a Hail Mary play to fortify the Republic against imperialism, and felled Julius Caesar outside of Pompey's Curia.
Today, between 250 and 300 Cats ignore great Caesar's ghost at the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Cared for by the Gattare, the Cats are a tourist attraction unto themselves. When design house Bulgari donated €1 million to restore the site for tourism, 30,000 Romans petitioned the city to protect the Sanctuary. Mayor Raggi, who, doubtless, owes her position to the Mobilization of Felines Against Rat-zy (Forza Gatti!), graciously agreed. The renovations will proceed, and the Cats will remain in residence.
Torre Argentina is but one crossroad site that Rome's cats call home. Indeed, among the criss-crossing layers upon layers of human history, legions of Felines go about their lives, aloof and dispassionate, as the city's juxtapositions leave humans in awe.
Colosseum Cats slip along pathos ridden walkways, once trod by doomed Big Cats heisted from the empire's nether regions. Over 200 strong, domestic Cats reclaimed this site, perhaps in honor of our fallen brethren; perhaps in spite of the humans who exploited them.
What do you think happened to that costumed fool, with his ridiculous plastic gladius, who charged tourists €20 to take selfies with him? My euros are on the Cats.
The most ancient of the Centro Storico ruins are found in the Forum Romanum. There, in the 7th century BCE, Vestal Virgins commenced tending the sacred fire, guarding the life of the city, and of the city politic. A few paces away, and a few feet underground, lay the shrine of the Lapis Niger. Near contemporary with the earliest Vestals, the Black Stone, with its proto-Latin inscription, dates to the nascent days of Rome.
"Antiquity" is relative at the Forum. Monuments built by the earliest kings crumble side by side with temples from the Late Empire, when the sacred fire went out.
Near the comparatively spankin' new Temple of Saturn, is a pillar that once held the Millarium Aureum. Caesar Augustus, Rome's first emperor - nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar - placed the Golden Milestone in the Forum.
Ambitious patron of infrastructure, Augustus chose one spot from which to measure distance from the city. As tendrils of empire crept across the continents, all roads led back to the Forum and to the Millarium Aureum. Indeed, the Forum became the crossroad of the world.
Today, 300,000 strong, Cats rule the Eternal City. From high vantage and under cover, we lounge and judge the seasonal herds of humans. They gawk and coo and, thankfully, leave. Many, having tossed some coins in Rat Fountain, return to repeat the cycle.
We Cats know our Trivia. But, we are not Trivialists. We are not Nerds. If all roads lead to Rome, the Trivium Mundi, where Cats rule, is it not fair to posit, All Roads Lead to Cats? Dear Alex Trebek, RIP, lover of Cats and Rome; High Priest of Trivia, undoubtedly would agree.