The Long Shadow of Antiquity: What Have the Greeks and Romans Done for Us?

Guest Author: Alicia Aldrete

In a rapidly changing world obsessed with newness, the latest craze, being up-to-date, and its own modernity, does the past still matter?  In an era when the phrase “That’s ancient history” has become a put-down suggesting obsolescence and irrelevance, do we still feel the effects of long-dead civilizations in our daily lives?  My husband, Gregory S. Aldrete, a professor who teaches ancient Greek and Roman history, often encounters students who assume that history is boring and pointless, and it is his mission to convince them otherwise.  With our new book, The Long Shadow of Antiquity: What Have the Greeks and Romans Done for Us?, we seek to demonstrate how numerous Western customs, rituals, and attitudes have their roots in the ancient world.  Along the way, our book offers readers entertaining and enlightening anecdotes and points out many unexpected connections between then and now.

Our calendar, the shapes of our cities, the holidays we celebrate, the English alphabet and language, and even how we measure time all bear the imprint of ancient Greece and Rome. Many of our beliefs and behaviors–from how we view, exercise, and clean our bodies to how we celebrate important milestones such as marriages and funerals—have their origins in classical antiquity. The profound contributions of the Greeks and Romans to such areas as architecture, government, literature, and law are widely acknowledged, and this book fully, clearly, and engagingly explores all of these topics, but it also exposes the various ways in which we still walk in the footsteps of the ancients in our everyday activities. 

We examine striking parallels between those ancient societies and the world today.  Celebrity athletes, maniacal sports fans, fad diets, fashion trends, superstitions, soap operas, high-rise apartments, voter fraud, and tourist hot spots—the classical world had them all. This book takes you on a lively tour through antiquity, pointing out instances when we copy, repeat, and parallel the Greeks and Romans.  Having a familiarity with the ancient civilizations that preceded and shaped the world enables one to better understand and make sense of the present.  That is why, in the 21st century, we should still care about the ancient Greco-Roman world, which has helped to make us who we are.

The book “The Long Shadow of Antiquity is the result of joint efforts by Gregory S. Aldrete and Alicia Aldrete.

Author Bios: Gregory S. and Alicia Aldrete are graduates of Princeton University, and hold advanced degrees from the University of Michigan in, respectively, History and Literature.  They are co-authors of a book on ancient armor made of linen, and Greg has written four other scholarly books on antiquity.   They live in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where Greg is a history professor.  Visit Greg’s website at: http://www.uwgb.edu/aldreteg/

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