Cost of Glory


Location: Rome

We are running our second annual retreat in Rome, 2024.  We are running it twice this year, so you’ll have two options for dates: June 30 – July 7, and July 14-21 2024.  Here is the TLDR:

  • Focus on improving speaking skills
  • Visit famous places in Rome and contemplate the examples of great men who spoke there
  • Led by 2 PhDs with 20+ combined experience leading tours, teaching, speaking
  • Leaders are long time entrepreneurs and EX-academics
  • Men only.  
  • We are looking for applicants who are both curious and willing to encourage/improve

That’s all you really need to know to apply.  We will post more soon; but in the meantime, for more information reach out to

And now, for the more leisurely description:


I love stone pines. They are the perfect tree of civilization – shady, tasty fruit (pine nuts), and they don’t obstruct the view. The Romans have been cultivating them since the days of the Republic.

Why? Well, for one thing, they believed in bringing out the hidden strengths in nature.  You could say it summarized their entire way of life.

Think about it: agriculture, their famous gardens, domesticated animals, fish ponds, aqueducts, frescoes, and harbors.  And of course, stone and concrete in wonders like the Pantheon.  

The Romans loved nature-maximizing art and technology.  But above all, they believed in the awesome strength of HUMAN nature.  


Have you ever wondered, “What was the Romans’ secret? What enabled them to build the greatest empire in human history?”

Here it is: They engineered their entire society around the goal of bringing out human excellence.  Most of the people they conquered… hadn’t.

You can see Rome’s excellence-engineering in the incentive structures of their political system, which taught men to value honor over money (extremely hard to pull off).  You can see it in their education system, which trained leaders to persuade, instruct, and discipline other free citizens.

They invested, with reckless abandon, in individual human greatness.

Consider the way they spent their leisure.  Ambitious Roman leaders from across the political spectrum, from Caesar to Cato, would leave behind their busy routines, the political game, their numerous profitable enterprises.  

They would retreat: sometimes to the countryside, sometimes to a nice beachside resort town, sometimes all the way to Greece.  They would meet up with friends there, and be very selective about whom they chose to spend their time with.  Why? 

Because these were some of the most important days on their calendar: their otium, that is, their leisure.

The Romans understood: otium was the space where they thought over their most important decisions.  It was the space where they solidified key friendships.  It was the time when they reminded themselves – or discovered – who they truly were, and what was most important to them – through reading, discussion, and contemplation.

It was, above all, the time where they refined themselves, and got mentally ready for the hard work ahead.

They knew: if you don’t take time to change scenes, set goals, learn new skills and tactics, and have real conversations with like-minded peers, you aren’t going to perform your best.

My business partner Eric and I have been fascinated by this idea of otium for a long time.  We’ve organized many tours, courses, seminars, and transformative experiences together.

We have seen people walk into our programs one kind of person and emerge a different kind of person.  Over the course of just a week, they unearth potential they didn’t know they had. Sometimes, they make big life changes afterward.

We have also seen the difference between meeting for a class 1 – 3 hours a week for several months, versus concentrating it all into a few completely focused days.  

It’s exponential.  

Intensity matters. And otium well spent can be intense.

Men as different as Scipio and Cicero saw that it was not just in battle or active business (neg-otium “non-leisure”), that solid character was formed.  It was during one’s leisure time, too.

Otium was also the time you could spend honing your craft. For ambitious Romans, the most important craft, besides warfare, was oratory.


Oratory. Ars Rhetorica. Rhetoric – the art of speaking in public

In its narrowest sense, it is a powerful system for organizing thoughts into successful persuasive acts: writing, speaking, conversing, and, generally, presenting oneself in public.

But the art of “Rhetoric” also summarized, for the Romans, a whole philosophy of life.  It was about becoming not just a complete speaker, but also a complete writer, a complete leader, a complete thinker, a complete man.  

Aren’t the most complete humans more confident, compelling, and influential?

The amazing thing about the Roman art of rhetoric is, it still works.

People still respond to appeals to ethospathos, and logos (character, emotion, and reason).  

Ancient storytelling techniques make classical works of literature – written thousands of years ago – clear, disarming, persuasive, and “bestselling,” even to this today.  

Competition memorizers still get awe-inspiring results from memory palaces – a technique of ancient rhetoric.

You may have heard something about rhetoric in your formal schooling.  Vestiges still exist here and there.  But even most college courses in rhetoric barely scratch the surface.  This is in part because they are not taught by practitioners whose success really does hinge on persuasion. 

Eric and I are both former academics, and current business owners.  We have seen how rhetoric drives results in our own fields.

Look at my own experience: I’m not, by nature, a particularly great speaker or storyteller. I attribute all the success and popularity of the Cost of Glory podcast to my study of classical rhetoric.

Eric co-founded a highly successful educational institute and tour company, and ran it for ten years.  There were countless students, parents, customers, donors, vendors and strategic partners to persuade.

We believe in rhetoric’s power and learnability.  We also know that getting good requires serious commitment.  That commitment gets firmer through reflection, intentional study, and finding peers who share that commitment, who can encourage you.

This is why we decided to organize this leadership event, the Speak Lead Retreat

We are distilling the most important things we know about the classical art of Rhetoric, to deliver it to you in a single high-impact week.  We are putting it together in the transformative setting of otium.

And we are gathering a group of people together who are serious about understanding – and training in – practical rhetoric.  

Also, we are doing it in Rome.  We haven’t heard of anything else like this.


One recurring principle in ancient rhetorical theory is that the place affects the outcome. Place affects both emotion (pathos) and character (ethos). Different tactics are appropriate for the high court, low court, senate, assembly, banquet hall, funeral, temple porch, battlefield. 

Understanding Roman rhetoric requires understanding some key, historical acts of Roman persuasion.  This requires you grasp the topography of Rome.

For this reason, we are going to visit many of the Eternal City’s most famous monuments, and discuss how rhetoric shaped pivotal events that took place there.

You will also visit some out-of-the-way, secret spots we’ve found over the years – tourists have no clue about them.  Also, you will see some of the stunning, beautiful places the Romans have spent their precious leisure for more than 2,000 years.  And you’ll be doing this with a small group of like minded people.

Moreover, studies have shown that travel increases neuroplasticity.  Your biology programs you to pay careful attention when you are in unfamiliar territory.  Your ancient brain is alert to new dangers and new opportunities.  You notice things about your surroundings, about human nature, about yourself, that you wouldn’t otherwise.

You remember your experiences and conversations better. Habits started while traveling will take root more easily in your routine.

This is important, because what we do in Rome needs to stick.

You will be called on to speak.  You will be expected to practice, and to study (some).  You may have to get up early on a couple of mornings.  And no otium would be complete without some kind of physical challenge. So, we will be doing a bike ride, a hike, or a swim.


We mean business, and we are serious enough about this retreat… that we are not even allowing romantic partners to come.  In fact, it’s a men’s-only retreat

It would be foreign to the spirit of Roman otium to mix genders.  And we are really, obsessively focused on getting you into the mindset of an ancient Roman man of action.  Even if it is just for a few fleeting moments – that flash of clarity can change your life.  We know from experience.

(If you do need to bring your family along, we get it.  We would love to help you make arrangements and itineraries for them off-site, so you can travel with them before or after.  We will do mixed-gender and family-friendly trips some other time.)

To find out more, send an email to  We will post more information soon.

See you this summer in Rome.



Alex Petkas

Alex Petkas has been leading educational and professional development trips in the ancient Mediterranean world for 10 years. He has published widely on the history and practice of classical rhetoric in peer-reviewed venues. He is the creator and host of the podcast The Cost of Glory, as well as the founder of Ancient Life Coach, a leadership education company. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics.

Eric Hewett

Eric Hewett became adept in the history, architecture, and topography of Rome through fifteen years of residence there. First he lived as a carefree wandering scholar, studying the city out of his own interest, and then he worked in the tourism industry presenting Rome to visitors. He continued living in Rome while completing a doctorate and finally became a successful entrepreneur, co-founding and leading for ten years an academic start-up in the field of classics. He has designed, created and organized innovative courses and tours of Rome, Italy, France and Greece. His discovery of the rich heritage of ancient rhetoric during his doctoral studies transformed his own approach to speeches, writing, and communication. He holds a Ph.D. in Medieval Philosophy.