This is the course guidebook that accompanies the short 12 lecture “Great Course” of the same name. It is essentially an abbreviated transcript of each lecture, some related reading, and some “questions to consider”. (I watched the lectures, which is what I am reviewing here, and am using the book simply as an aide-memoire.)
Much of what we “know” about the Romans we learned from the movies. How accurate are they? Here we get overviews of several “sword and sandals” films and TV series, including Quo Vadis, Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, I, Claudius, Gladiator, Life of Brian, and even some discussion of “bread and circuses” themes in science fiction films.
Aldrete discusses the plot of each film, how it was made, and the sometimes staggering amount it cost to make, and then goes on to gleefully point out what it got right, and wrong, about real Roman life and history. So we learn, for example, that the Romans didn’t have galley slaves, that thumbs up and down possibly meant the opposite of what they mean now, how Spartacus was the final slave rebellion, and how the Roman Army really fought.
We learn about history, and about films. But, unfortunately, we don’t see any action, and precious few stills, to illustrate the points.