Posts Tagged ‘trivia’

The Road to Irrelevance

Posted in English Stew on April 29th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

Trivia literally means “three roads” in Latin. Seven roads led to a Roman education. The scientific routes were arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and music. The literary paths were grammar, rhetoric and logic. Those three roads–the Trivia– were not as esoteric as they seemed. If you were begging Nero for your life, you would want to be grammatical and eloquent.

However, as the Roman Empire disintegrated and was inundated by barbarian invasions, a well-rounded education became irrelevant. The Goths, Vandals and Huns really did not care about proper Latin grammar, and they had felt that brute force had its own logic. Yet, arithmetic remained important; barbarians liked to count what they stole. And music was still esteemed; the Germans always thought that they liked music, although a nation of Wagner fans obviously has more patience than pitch.

But even literacy would eventually revive in the Middle Ages. Someone had to write the place cards for the Round Table. However, the classical standards of literacy had become irrelevant. The Latin language that once linked all of Western Europe had either fragmented into the pidgin dialects of French and Spanish or had been completely eradicated by unappreciative barbarians like the Angle-Saxons. Latin standards for grammar really could not apply to different languages. Rhetoric was too estoric for a society that settled debates with a broadsword. Logic actually could be dangerous; the Medieval Church suspected it led to heresy.

So, by medieval standards the Trivia had become meaningless, irrelevant and questionable. Today, grammar, rhetoric and logic have regained some respectability; but the term “trivia” has not.