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The importance of popular reception (a subfield of classical reception) has been increasingly recognized in the 21st century. Students enter our classrooms with ideas of the ancient world formed by movies and video games; politicians and pundits refer offhandedly to the virtues of “the Romans” or “the Greeks”; even scholars have preconceptions from early encounters with antiquity. Yet scholarly recognition of the “popular” has overwhelmingly focused on institutions, such as Hollywood or major video game studios, as objects of analysis. The results of this scholarship have led to the identification of many themes, or tropes, of classical reception. These themes reinforce specific cultural values, such as the value of “freedom” or the idea of “the triumph of Christianity”, which are absent from the original texts, while omitting aspects of antiquity that may seem hard for modern viewers to accept, such as widespread homosexuality (e.g. Skinner 2010; Safran 2015; Engen forthcoming).

In this presentation, I introduce the preliminary results of the SSHRC-sponsored “Rome from the Ground Up” research project. This project examines the persistence of modern ideas about ancient Rome in YouTube videos created by amateurs and in their associated comments, which offer an effective gauge of the popular understanding of ancient Rome. It aims to quantify the “stickiness” of the themes identified in previous scholarship, as well as to identify new themes that are absent from mainstream media. This presentation focuses on approximately 400 YouTube videos in English dealing with the myth of Romulus and Remus and their associated comments, which show a significant interest in comparative mythology. In keeping with trends in mainstream media, these videos do not shy from the violence of the Roman foundation legend; however, the videos hesitate to engage with the religious elements of Roman myth. This is perhaps best explained by a general Christianization of ancient mythology in modern media.