Trivia is the cream in the educational churn,

or, cocktail party chatter for the Italophilic.

Last update July 2, 2006. Back to main page.

The word 'trivia' itself is Italian trivia. From the plural of the modern Latin trivium, the place where three roads meet, comes this word referring to the not-very-important content discussed at such intersections. (Depends on what you consider "important," I guess.)

The Colosseum, or, as it was more often known, the Anfiteatro Flavio (Italian) or Amphitheatrum Flavium (Latin), or simply il Colosseo, is a real amphitheatre....  because it is oval. It is made from TWO theatres facing each other, thus "amphi" (Greek, "both") + "theatre."

John Cabot.
The English-funded navigator and first European to touch the American mainland since the Vikings (Columbus and the genocidal Spanish only landed in the Caribbean) was born Givanni Caboto in northern Italy and grew up in Venice. Wikipedia.

Caffe' corretto.
When you want to order an espresso with a shot of liquor in it, you order a "corrected coffee." Coffee without liquor is, I deduce, somehow a rule-breaker or defective.

Caffe' profumato.
It turns out there's another variation for guys who are not committed to a full shot in the morning: the "perfumed" coffee. Just a little bit of liquor in this one.

The amphitheatre commonly known as the Colosseum gets its name, probably, from a colussus (giant statue) of the emperor Nero, in whose palace's reflecting pool the foundations on the Colosseum have so long sat. (Nero build his palace after the Great Fire of 64 A.D., and only eight years later, in 72 A.D., Vespasian started the amphitheater.) Wikipedia.

From the formal, polite, and old-fashioned Italian schiavo, meaning "I serve," or, in its idiomatic meaning, "at your service," comes the informal, casual, and modern ciao!

was a form of extreme military discipline used by officers in the Roman Army to punish mutinous or cowardly soldiers. The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning "removal of a tenth." Wikipedia.

was not brought to Italy by Marco Polo. The earliest example of pasta in Europe predates Marco Polo's peregrinations (25 years he was gone, by the way) by 1800 years - found in Etruscan tomb decorations from 400 B.C. Wikipedia. Southern Italy and Sicily have credible claims to Italy's first pasta, through the inventiveness of Phoenecians needing to keep foodstuffs usable on voyages.

Pont. Max.
The Pope, or Pontifex Maximus, gets this Latin title from pre-Christian Rome. The Pontifex Maximus was the high priest of ancient Rome. And it gets better! Pontifex is from Latin pons, bridge + suffix -fex, builder, related to facere, build or make. Wikipedia. Just the bridge builder to the world of the gods (or, now, God)... that's all.

The Romans built with cement; the Pantheon, the largest dome in the ancient world, was built in about 25 B.C. (then rebuilt in about A.D. 125 by Hadrian, having been destroyed by the great fire of 80 A.D.) out of poured concrete made with cement from pozzolanic ash. (Pozzolanic ash is specific to Vesuvius and the town of Pozzuoli, home of Sofia Loren, just a little north of Naples. The name Pozzuoli itself comes from the Latin word for "stink," just as the modern Italian "puzzo" does... I've been there, and the sulfur stench is really something!)  After the 4th century sack of Rome, the secrets of cement, and thus concrete, of this quality would be "lost" for more than a thousand years.

After Constantine defeated his rival claimant as emperor of Rome, Maxentius, (at the Battle of Milvan Bridge, 312), and began to consolidate Christianity, he needed a place to settle down... a place that wasn't being menaced from the north as the empire contracted, and a place that was closer to the geographic center of Christianity. He chose Byzantium, and it was, until the Turks took it over in the 5th century, called Constantinople, from "Constantine" + "polis" (Greek: "city").

We all have at least a general sense of what fascism is, but I didn't realize that the word  comes from the bundle of sticks, 'fasces' in Latin and 'fascia' in Italian, that symbolized the (ancient) Roman senate and thus the power of the state. It seems also to have had the metaphoric meaning of a the strength of a united group. Mussolini, ever the salesman, used images of Rome in her former glory as part of his pitch to 1920s Italians. By the way, "Nazi" is short for "Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei," or National Socialist German Workers' Party, the full name of Hitler's political party. Hitler learned a lot from Mussolini, it seems, and eventually outdid his role model, and how.

The word has come to mean Christian burial tunnels anywhere, but the word orignates from the Latin for "near the quarry" or "caves." The first two catacombs in Rome, Saint Sebastian's and Saint Callixtus', are near an old tufa pit. By the way, the Chrisitans didn't worship in secret in the catacombs, nor hide out there. The authorities knew all about them, and were just as happy to leave them be, out in the periphery of the Rome, as long as the Christians paid their taxes on each and every grave sealed. Money makes the world go 'round.

Big domes.
So, which IS the biggest dome of antiquity in the West? It seems the Pantheon is the winner for interior clear-span. It also seems it would not be eclipsed until the completion of the Astrodome in 1964. According to the Q&A at, the clear span at the interior of the Pantheon is 43m (completed the first time in about 20 B.C. and rebuilt in about 125 A.D.). The span at the interior of Brunelleschi's dome in Florence, at Santa Maria dei Fiori is wider at parts (about 45m), it is octagonal, and rib-to-rib, according to the architectural historian Fletcher, is 42.2m, and according to Architecture of the Western World (Michael Raeburn, ed.) is 39.5m.
Others worth mentioning:
Hagia Sophia, Constantinople, 31m or 102' (masonry, completed about 535)
Santa Maria dei Fiori, Florence, 42.2m or 138' (masonry, completed 1436)
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, 42.2m or 138' (masonry, completed about 1590)
St. Paul's Cathedral, London, 32.6m 107' (masonry, completed 1708)
and then modern domes...
Astrodome, Houston, Texas. USA, 216m or 710' (reinforced concrete, completed in 1964)
Spruce Goose dome, Long Beach, CA, USA, 126.5m or 415' (geodesic, completed 1983)
Desert Dome, Omaha, Nebraska, USA,  70m or 230' (geodesic with acrylic, completed 2002)

The Millenium Dome in London, completed in 1999, at 365.2m or 1198' doesn't make this list because it is not a clear-span. (There are 12 towers supporting the nonetheless impressive roof.)

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