It is, of course, in the nature of a great tragedy to bring many lessons to those who bear it witness, and the death of Victor, the giraffe, whose mourners gathered last night at the Zenith Gallery for the third annual memorial feast in his memory, has been no exception.

It was only three years ago that Victor, a 17-year-old giraffe with a lust for life, "lost his footing and spread-eagled himself while attempting to be of service to Arabesque, one of his three female giraffe friends at the Marwell Park Zoo" in England, as a handout from the Society of Victor Invictus so delicately puts it. For six long and bitter days, vain attempts were made to help the wretched beast, but even the efforts of Her Majesty's Navy, which managed to bring Victor to his feet with the help of a crane and a sling, ultimately came to naught. Victor died. Under the heading "cause of death" in the autopsy report, the coroner listed "sex."

Which should be enough to give anyone pause, but there are those hardy souls who apparently find hope in even this disastrous tale.

Last night's memorial found several hundred mourners of all ages willing to mull over the meaning of Victor's demise. Initially, however, membership in the Society of Victor Invictus was limited to men over the age of 50 and women over 40, because, in the words of J.C. Brown, one of the original founding members, "to all of us who have tried and failed, Victor has been a source of inspiration." After all, Brown said, though Victor died, he did leave a legacy -- a daughter, Victoria, for whom the society is considering establishing a scholarship fund.

Donald McLaughlin, an architect who sat down to the multi-martini lunch that founded the society, looked a bit pained when this last little sentimental morsel was repeated to him for confirmation. "Actually, we don't like this to get around" he said. "But there was another lady in his life, and she was the one who had the baby, not Arabesque."

Such faithlessness aside, McLaughlin tried to insist that the society "is not a sexual thing, but a spiritual thing. You take the squirrel or the field mouse, the nervous ticking of a cardinal. Now a giraffe is so peaceful, so quiet, those eyes so large and liquid . . . " The rest was drowned out by incredulous laughter.

Costumes being customary at this event, McLaughlin was resplendent in a red satin Indian turban and makeup that turned him the color of the Ganges, and there were others in top hats and tuxedos, sequined dresses and elegant gowns. Dan Sillers, who teaches psychology and communications at the University of the District of Columbia, was a bit distressed that he hadn't had a chance to change into his costume. He was dressed instead in his regular street attire, kilt with badger sporran (a purse). "Once I put one on," he said, referring to the kilt, "it was difficult to get back into pants. I happen to think the kilt is me -- maybe I'm in my earthy stage."

There were fewer costumes this year than last, the veterans said, although the chitchat did aim for the deliberately rococo. "I refuse to do anything in depth," one man was overheard to say. "I'm waiting for Jan. 20, and the return to traditional values. I'll be able to lie to women again. I find it more erotic that way."

It was left to Bob Lautman, who had cooked up the chili that became the party's chief attraction, to find a metaphysic in Victor's life and death. t"Everyone has that terror of growing old, of going downhill," he said. "But to die trying -- what more can you ask?"