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Older Than Dirt
Magdalenian painting in Lascaux Cave, c. 17,000 BCE

"...machinery claims are made to the so called ideas in almost every film, and not infrequently they are backed up by suits for heavy damages. Inasmuch as these ideas, in the main, descend to us from Neanderthal man, it is often quite impossible for a given movie author to prove that he invented what he is accused of having stolen. So he must hunt for it in the literature of the past, and thus prove that, if he lifted it himself, so also did the man claiming it. Defending such suits has familiarized the solicitors of the movie folk with all the popular literature back to the earliest written records."
H. L. Mencken, "Blackmail Made Easy"

The Oldest Ones in the Book recorded before the Greek alphabet was invented, around 800 BCE. Mostly from mythology, and generally orally transmitted. If the work you're thinking of has a known author, and it's not ancient Egyptian, it's probably not from this era.

Specific works from this period:

Note: Tropes originating in mythologies/religions that aren't Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Anatolian, Vedic, or early Chinese are never indexed here, as we have no idea whether those stories even existed in 800 BCE, or what form they had, centuries or milliennia before they were first written down. Even The Bible and Classical Mythology are only Older Than Feudalism.note  Early folklorists often started with the assumption that folktales and myths were primordial; more research has shown that people can and do modify all sorts of tales for any purpose.


Older Than Dirt Tropes:

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     A-C 
  • Abstract Apotheosis: Imhotep, vizier to the Ancient Egyptian king Djoser of the 3rd dynasty, was worshipped centuries after his death as the god of medicine and wisdom.
  • Action Girl: Egyptian Mythology includes war goddesses such as Sekhmet, Menhit, Neith, and Pakhet.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Set, originally an ambiguous figure in Egyptian religion (he was responsible for the death of Osiris but was also the defender of Re, and was worshipped like the other gods), gradually became a God of Evil after his worship fell out of favor near the end of the New Kingdom.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Mesopotamian examples include the Allu, Asakku, Gallu, Rabisu.
  • Anatomy Of The Soul: Ancient Egyptian religion did not have the Western concept of souls. Instead, a whole person was believed to consist of the body, the name, the ib ("heart"), the shadow, the ka (life force), the ba (a sort of manifestation or spiritual force), and the akh (the ba and ka combined). An afterlife required all of these.
  • Animal Stereotypes: To the Ancient Egyptians vultures, cows, and female hippos were seen as nurturing and motherly, hawks and lions as warlike, bulls and rams as symbols of male virility, and a whole slew of animals (antelope, donkeys, male hippos, pigs, tortoises) as evil. These symbolic meanings were part of the associations between gods and animals, and of depicting gods in animal or animal-headed forms.
  • Animalistic Abomination: Apophis, the ultimate evil of Egyptian Mythology and the embodiment of primal chaos is a giant snake.
  • Another Dimension: Hindu cosmology contains several universes and planets.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Egyptian Mythology included deifications of concepts such as joy, plenty, and the king/Pharaoh's false beard.
  • Apocalypse How Class X-4: The Egyptian Coffin Texts and Book Of Going Forth By Day (a.k.a. Book of the Dead) tell that eventually, the Primordial Chaos of Nun will re-absorb the ordered cosmos, and of all life only the gods Atum and Osiris will remain in the eternal dark.
  • Arch-Enemy: With the Egyptian gods Set and Horus, it's personal. Set murdered Horus' dad, Horus hacked off Set's balls, Set gouged out Horus' eye, and on and on...
  • Arc Number: 70 in Babylonian myth.
  • Artifact of Death: "Princess Ahura: The Magic Book" is a New Kingdom Egyptian story about a prince who covets the magical Book of Thoth, buried in the river in six nested boxes and guarded by snakes and scorpions. He digs it out, kills the guardians, and obtains vast magical power, but the offended gods promptly kill him, his sister/wife, and their son.
  • Artificial Human: In Enuma Elish, the first humans were made from Qingu's blood.
  • Artificial Limbs: Queen Vishpla from the Rig Veda was fitted with an iron prosthesis after losing her leg in battle, and returned to battle.
  • Artistic License: One possible reason why myths change over time, even when written down. Different writers tell different versions of the same myths all the time (see Depending on the Writer), and even if these go back to oral traditions of entire towns, somewhere somebody changed it from the common origin.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Every Egyptian king got to do this upon their death, where they joined Re, Osiris, and/or the Imperishable Stars in heaven.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Real Life Sumerian king Shulgi, c. 2000 BCE. At least if you believe the poems he wrote about how very good he was at beating the crap out of lions and elephants.
  • Back from the Dead: Inanna/Ishtar, Dumuzi/Tammuz, Osiris...
  • Badass: Gilgamesh and Enkidu (wielding 120-lb swords) slew several mythical monsters. In Egyptian religion Set, not Re, is the god able to stop the Eldritch Abomination Apep/Apophis from putting out the sun.
  • Badass Family: Any family of related gods: i.e. the Egyptian Great Ennead and the Mesopotamian Annunaki.
  • Balancing Death's Books: In Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld, Inanna must give Ereshkigal another's life to enable her own resurrection. She sends her husband Dumuzi.
  • Beast Fable: The oldest known beast fables are Sumerian, dating from the middle of the 3rd millenium BCE. We also have Egyptian ones from the Middle Kingdom (early 2nd millenium BCE).
  • Be Careful What You Say: See Words Can Break My Bones on this page.
  • Bed Trick: The conception of Hatshepsut and other Egyptian kings, according to royal propaganda.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: The courtship of Ereshkigal, queen of the Mesopotamian underworld, and Nergal, god of plagues and fire.
  • BFS: Gilgamesh and Enkidu each wield a sword that weighs 120 pounds.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: The Mesopotamian gods and the Hittite gods. There is a pattern here, considering their creation myths are suspiciously similar.
  • Blade on a Stick: Human beings have been using pointy sticks of one design or another for tens of thousands of years. Paintings and literature from Egypt and Mesopotamia all clearly portray spears, and some show the use of long sickles or scythes as weapons of war.
  • Bling of War: Egyptians were very fond of painting their pharaohs as highly decorated war heroes.
  • Bloody Murder: In Enuma Elish Tiamat gives birth to dragons that, among other awesome features, have "venom for blood".
  • Blow You Away: Mesopotamian wind and storm deities include Enlil and Ishkur.
  • Body to Jewel: Several myths claim gemstones coming from people or animals, and not limited to shellfish.
  • Bold Explorer: The Mesopotamian hero Gilgamesh.
  • Born-Again Immortality: Egyptian gods can be killed (as Osiris was), and all of them age and die (especially Re). But they are always reborn as good as new. The sun god in particular, is often shown resurrecing as a child. Some of the other Egyptian gods might actually have Resurrective Immortality instead, though it's not clear.
  • Breath Weapon: In Egyptian Mythology the sacred uraei and serpents of the Duat breathe fire to protect the king and gods.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Notably the Egyptian Great Ennead, and some of the Igigi gods in Enuma Elish. Real Life Egyptian kings also did this to conserve their Royal Blood.
  • Cain and Abel: The Egyptian god Set killed his brother Osiris.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: In the Hittite text Kingship In Heaven, the thunder god Teshub overthrew his father Kumarbi, who had overthrown his father Anu, who had overthrown his father Alalu. In the much older Enuma Elish the gods overthrow their ancestors, Apsu and Tiamat, so Apsu can't kill them all.
  • Cessation of Existence: The Egyptians were most terrified of this. According to Egyptian Mythology, a person on the way to the afterlife passed by the Hall of Two Truths, where its heart was weighed against the Feather of Ma'at (Truth and Justice, personified as a goddess). If judged to be impure, the heart would be eaten by Ammit, a demon, and the person would cease to exist. See also Un-Person, below.
  • Chest Burster: In the Egyptian Pyramid Texts the newborn Set, god of deserts and violence and chaos, tears his way out of his mother Nut's womb.
  • Child Eater: Summerian and Akkadian texts mention the malevolent goddess (or she-demon) Dimme/Lamashtu who kidnapped and ate babies. Amulets warding against her were widespread. Dimme-kur/Akhkhazu and maybe Lilitu are other Mesopotamian Child Eaters.
  • Comet of Doom: Mentioned on ancient Chinese oracle bones from the late Shang Dynasty. A comet was also among the omens thought to have foreboded the fall of the Shang dynasty by the victory of King Wu of Zhou over King Zhou of Shang, c. 1050 BCE.
  • Complete Monster: The most heinous characters played seriously with no redeeming or altruistic traits. Villainous figures who are pure evil is one of the oldest tropes out there. The oldest listed example is the God of Evil Apep/Apophis from Egyptian Mythology, who was worshipped against since the days of the New Kingdom (c. 1550 BC – c. 1077 BC).
  • Continuity Snarl: Egyptian Mythology was always a complete mess, even in the earliest writings from when Egypt was united and the priests of the newly unified kingdom realized that the myths of Upper Egypt lined up not at all with those of Lower Egypt.note  Every now and then the Pharaoh would commission some priests to try and straighten things out a bit (usually in a way that made his dynasty look better), so it's clear they understood this was a thing; the most famous form of Egyptian myth—the Heliopolitan myths of the Great Ennead—are probably the result of attempts to combine Upper and Lower Egyptian myths (Heliopolis is near where the two meet) and various rival cults claiming their deity was chief god (particularly Atum v. Ra v. Osiris v. Horus).note 
  • The Conqueror: The first prominent conqueror of recorded history is Sargon of Akkad. Other famous conquerors of this period are Thutmose of Egypt and Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria.
  • Cool Boat: For the Ancient Egyptians one way to depict the sun god was to show Re sailing through the sky in a boat. At night, he sailed a different boat through either The Underworld, the inside of the sky goddess Nut, or the waterway behind the sky. The daytime sky could also be considered a waterway.
  • Cosmic Egg: The creation myth in the Sanskrit Rig Veda.
  • The Coup: Ignoring real life examples, which are likely as old as politics: In Mesopotamian Mythology the younger gods, led by Marduk, defeated and killed Tiamat and Apsu and took over the universe. In Hittite Mythology Anu overthrew Alalu and took over the kingship of heaven, then Kumarbi overthrew Anu, then Teshup overthrew Kumarbi. In Egyptian Mythology Isis seized the sun god Re's throne, although she did it with trickery instead of violence.
  • Crazy-Prepared: In Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld the goddess anticipates problems, and instructs her priestess exactly what to do.
  • Creation Myth: The Mesopotamian Enuma Elish and the Hittite Kingship In Heaven both date to this period. The Ancient Egyptians had several, starring creator gods such as Re, Ptah, Atum, and the Eight Gods of Hermopolis Magna.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Certain Ancient Egyptian punishments involved cutting off a person's arm first, then their head.
  • Cuckold: The fear of a man's wife/sexual partner sleeping with another man has likely been around longer than human speech.
  • Curse: Mesopotamian kings inscribed very elaborate curses on their stelae, threatening the hatred of the gods and long lists of nasty misfortunes upon any future king who overturned their decrees. Some Ancient Egyptian tombs threaten curses of misfortune and divine retribution upon would-be desecrators.

     D-I 
  • Darkest Hour: The death of The Hero's best friend, Enkidu, in The Epic of Gilgamesh triggers the first Heroic BSOD.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Kek and Kauket, god and goddess of darkness, are two of the eight gods who create the sun, dry land, and the entire universe in one of the Egyptian creation myths. Like the other six gods of the Ogdoad, their role was entirely positive.
  • Dead Sidekick: Gilgamesh kinda lost it after Enkidu died.
  • Death by Sex: discussed in The Epic of Gilgamesh, where Inanna is known for killing her lovers, and Enkidu blames Shamhat's seduction for (indirectly) killing him.
  • Death Glare: Literally, in Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld.
  • Decapitated Army: Tiamat's army, after Marduk killed her in Enuma Elish.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet this way in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Deity of Human Origin: The kings of Ancient Egypt were considered fully divine after death. A few non-royals, like Imhotep and Amunhotep son of Hapu, were also deified. In the late dynastic periods, anyone who drowned in the Nile was deified.
  • Depending on the Writer: There are contradictory tales concerning gods and heroes in several ancient texts. Some Egyptian funerary texts have the god Set battle the Eldritch Abomination Apophis, and in others Set and Apophis are clearly identified with each other. The Mesopotamian Epic of Atra-Hasis (18th century BCE) tells details of the Deluge which contradict The Epic of Gilgamesh. Etc.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Dishing Out Dirt: Geb from Egyptian Mythology can cause earthquakes and allow crops to grow.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When King Gilgamesh declined to sleep with Inanna/Ishtar, the goddess sent the Bull of Heaven to terrorize a whole city of his innocent subjects.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Egyptian Mythology included deities who seemed little more than female counterparts added to a much older god, such as Input (counterpart of Anubis, whose Egyptian name was closer to Inepu), Sobeket (counterpart of Sobek), and Sokaret (counterpart of Sokar). The four goddesses of the Ogdoad (Naunet, Amaunet, Hehet, and Keket) are Distaff Counterparts to Nun, Amun, Heh, and Kek.
  • Distressed Dude: In what may be the first recorded example of this trope, a central point of Ancient Egyptian religion is the rescue of Osiris by Isis, after he's killed by Set.
  • Divine Date: The Mesopotamian goddess Inanna did it a lot.
  • Divine Parentage: Imhotep, supposedly son of the god Ptah; the Egyptian kings who claimed that gods fathered them; and whatever god(s) was/were responsible for Gilgamesh being 2/3 divine.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Gilgamesh has a habit of insulting Inanna, refusing her advances, throwing animal body parts at her face, etc. It doesn't do him any good.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Divine on Mortal:
    • As King, Gilgamesh (who was two thirds divine) made a law that all new brides in his city had to have sex with him first. This did piss his subjects off, and the gods sent Enkidu to wrestle Gilgamesh and give him an outlet for his pent up energy.
    • A recurring conception story for Egyptian kings was that a god such as Re slept with the queen in the guise of the current king. Therefore such queens thought they were having sex with their husbands when really it was some god. It was, in fact, quite possible that any woman married to a Pharaoh hoped for this to happen: this, and not birth order, supposedly determined who was the heir. This seems to be the "benevolent" variation of the trope.
  • Dream Sequence: In The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Droit du Seigneur: It was a Dead Unicorn Trope as far back as The Epic of Gilgamesh, with Gilgamesh making it a practice to deflower his subjects' wives. When Enkidu finds out he immediately travels to the city to beat it out of him.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Tiamat, the primordial goddess in Enuma Elish, was huge enough for the gods to create heaven and earth from her corpse, while making The Underworld from her husband Apsu's body. Apep/Apophis of Egyptian myth was a living embodiment of the formless primordial chaos and darkness outside of the shaped universe, typically painted as a giant snake/serpent. Hittite myth had the dragon-like Illuynka, enemy of Teshub.
  • Elemental Powers: Several gods have them: Teshub commands the lightning; Enlil and Marduk command the winds; Ishkur and Set control storms; and Sekhmet, Wadjet, and Nergal wield fire.
  • Elemental Rivalry: Horus the sun god vs. Set, god of storms and murderer of Horus' father Osiris.
  • Engagement Challenge: In the New Kingdom Egyptian "Tale Of The Doomed Prince", the chief of Naharin makes suitors for his daughter climb a tall cliff to her window.
  • Equivalent Exchange: The First Law of Thermodynamics. This is old as the reality itself.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: In the Old Kingdom Egyptian "Tale Of The Shipwrecked Sailor", the protagonist was the only survivor of his ship after a storm on the Red Sea.
  • Everybody Wants the Hermaphrodite: The Priestesses of Ishtar were transexuals/crossdressers representing the Goddess. Having sex with "her" was a sacred duty and people jumped at the idea.
  • Evil Chancellor: An evil vizier or two show up in Egyptian stories.
  • Evil Uncle: After murdering his brother Osiris, the Egyptian chaos god Set tried to kill his nephew Horus as a boy, and later fought him over Osiris's throne. In the New Kingdom fable "Truth And Falsehood", Falsehood acts much like Set towards his nephew Truth.
  • Evil Versus Evil: To ward off the Child Eater Dimmu, some Mesopotamians turned to the evil demon Pazuzu.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: One ancient Egyptian explanation for Apophis/Apep's repeated attempts to eat the sun god was that Apep was an Omnicidal Maniac who wanted to disrupt the cycle of time to kill Ma'et (the goddess and cosmic principle of Lawful Good, translated as justice or truth) and allow the universe to be destroyed by the ensuing entropy. Set, one of the nastiest and most demonised of all Egyptian deities, was the guy whose job it was to protect the sun from Apep. He was also one of the sun god's favorites.
  • Extra Eyes: The four-eyed Babylonian god Marduk.
  • Eye Scream: In Egyptian Mythology Set ripped out or blinded Horus's eye with his bare hands, and Apophis sometimes wounded the sun god Re's eye during the night.
  • Fairy Tale: The oldest extant fairy tales are written on Egyptian papyri from c. 1200 BCE.
  • Fate Worse than Death: In some Egyptian books of the netherworld (New Kingdom), Eldritch Abomination Apep/Apophis is said to have swallowed some gods or human souls whole. They're still aware in there, and about once a night someone beats up Apophis enough that they can stick their heads out for a short time... before he recovers and swallows them again. They never actually escape.
  • Femme Fatale: Inanna/Ishtar tended to lead her lovers to their deaths, according to The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Although Hell as a location entirely separate from The Underworld is a Christian innovation, the fire and brimstone comes from the Egyptian Books of the Netherworld. Among the caverns of the Duat are several where sinners are burned in lakes of flame, tended by fire-breathing goddesses and dragons.
  • Fisher King: A variation appears in Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld. The fertility goddess Inanna mourned her husband Dumuzi each year when he died. Her grief (and guilt for killing him) transformed the earth into a parched wasteland where nothing could grow. Only the annual return of Dumuzi could cheer her up.
  • Floating Continent: The Rig Veda has one.
  • Flowery Insults: From Mesopotamian Mythology: For a guy who allegedly lived most of his life in the wilderness, Enkidu has quite a way with words.
  • Framing Device: The Egyptian "Tale Of The Shipwrecked Sailor", from the Old Kingdom, and the Middle Kingdom Westcar Papyrus both use framing devices of the narrators and their audiences.
  • Funny Animal: Some Ancient Egyptian and Sumerian art features animals that are only anthropomorphized just enough to stand on their hind legs and use opposable thumbs. They play music, serve drinks, ride chariots, herd livestock, play board games, and other human activities, but don't bother with clothes.
  • The Gambling Addict: Was a thing as far back as Vedic India. Mandala 10, Hymn 34 (sometimes titled "Invocation of the Dice") of the Rig Veda is the lament of a gambling addict who has lost all his property, including his wife, in games of dice. Dated c. 1,100 BCE or earlier.
  • Gemstone Assault: crystals have long been used as weaponry and tools. Like Obsidian blades.
  • Genesis Effect: Every religion has its own creation myth, and the religions on this page are no different.
  • Genius Loci: In the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian religions the earth, sky, sun, moon, and stars are gods and/or have a life of their own.
  • Genre Savvy: In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the titular character scorns a goddess who wants to sleep with him because he knew that in many myths (lost or never written) a mortals who sleep with this goddess die. Rather interesting considering this is THE oldest written story known to survive.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld depicts the divine sisters Ereshkigal and Inanna as this.
  • God Couple: Marriages and love stories of the gods appear in many myths. Egyptian Mythology has Geb and Nut, Osiris and Isis, Shu and Tefnut, etc. Mesopotamian Mythology has Anshar and Kishar, Anu and Ki, Apsu and Tiamat, Negal and Ereshkigal, etc.
  • God Emperor: To some extent, the kings of Ancient Egypt were viewed as living gods. However, they were likely not fully deified until they died.
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: Re in Egyptian Mythology preferred to withdraw from the squabbles of the other gods, except when it came to Apophis. His reaction to the contest of Set and Horus was sometimes depicted as "Leave me alone."
  • The Good Chancellor: Apparently Imhotep, Chancellor to the Egyptian king Djoser, was one of the best.
  • The Great Flood: Ziudsura/Utnapishtim/Atrahasis (his name depends on the writer) survives the Deluge in Mesopotamian Mythology.
  • Groin Attack: The Egyptian Set and the Hittite Anu both got castrated, violently.
  • Guyliner: All Ancient Egyptians wore lipstick and black eyeliner if they could afford it. Possible reasons include protection from eye parasites, blocking glare from sunlight, and a protective magical charm.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Well, Gilgamesh is two-thirds divine and one-third human. He had two fathers, apparently. Imhotep's father was said to have been the god Ptah, as well.
  • Happily Married: Osiris and Isis, despite his being murdered and mummified.
  • Heaven: The Ancient Egyptians believed in several afterlife concepts. One of these, the Duat, included at least in New Kingdom times a region called the Fields of Contentment/Offerings, and the Field of Reeds, which were heavenly landscapes with exclusive entry requirements. Another belief was that the virtuous dead, or at least kings, could join the stars and sun in the sky after they died.
  • Hellhound: The Babylonian Savage Dog in Enuma Elish.
  • Hellish Horse: Marduk's chariot is drawn by these in Enuma Elish.
  • Hermaphrodite: The Mesopotamian sky god Anu, and the Egyptian creator god Ptah, were each sometimes considered bisexual.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh and Enkidu.
  • Home Sweet Home: In the Egyptian legend of Sinuhe, the protagonist flees political instability but never stops wishing to return, and eventually does get back to Egypt.
  • Homoerotic Subtext/Ho Yay: Gilgamesh and Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh. The Sumerian goddesses Inanna and Ninshubur could be as well.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: The Epic of Gilgamesh has Shamhat, a temple prostitute who introduces Enkidu into human civilization by sleeping with him.
  • Horned Humanoid: In Egyptian artwork, the goddesses Hathor and Bat were often depicted as women with the horns of a cow.
  • Horny Devils: In Mesopotamian Mythology, on top of being Child Eaters Lilitu, Dimme and Dimme-kur are sometimes this as well, Depending on the Writer.
  • Hot-Blooded: Mesopotamian goddess Inanna. Aside her devastating prowess in battle as a war goddess, and her habit riding into town on the back of a lion, she was also known for physically dragging men out of taverns to sate her, erm, appetites.
  • Human Mom, Non-human Dad: After he was deified in the New Kingdom, Imhotep's father was said to be the god Ptah. Hatshepsut and some other Egyptian kings claimed their father was really a god instead of the previous king.
  • Human Sacrifice: In Real Life even the Egyptians did this in the first two dynasties, and possibly later as a form of execution.
  • Humongous Mecha: Parts of the Sanskrit Rig Veda appear to describe air-to-air missiles traded between flying mecha and floating cities.
  • I Am A Humanitarian: In the Pyramid Texts, the Egyptian god Shezmu butchers people and other gods for the deceased king to eat.
  • I Have Many Names: The Egyptian gods Re and Amun both have tons. Osiris has 100 in the Book of the Dead. Marduk has 50 in Enuma Elish. Each Egyptian king had several throne names.
  • I Know Your True Name: The Egyptian goddess Isis tricked the sun god Re into revealing his true name to her, thus gaining power over him.
  • Immortality Seeker: A major plot thread in The Epic of Gilgamesh is the hero's attempt to achieve immortality.
  • Improvised Weapon: Older than non-improvised weapons in the archaeological record. Heck, older than our species. The earliest weapons known are the Schöningen spears, c. 400-375 millennia old. They were simply sharpened wooden poles, without any hafted points.
  • It's Been Done: From a 19th Century BCE Egyptian poem: "What has been said has been said."

     J-P 
  • Jerk Ass Gods: Very frequently, and sometimes called out by the mortals (such as Gilgamesh), though doing so was a very bad idea.
  • Jumped at the Call: Gilgamesh was bored and oh-so-happy for something better to do than steal women from their husbands.
  • Just So Story: The recurrant death of Dumuzi creating the seasons in Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld; and Horus's eye injury making the moon dimmer than the sun; and the castration of Set turning the deserts sterile.
  • Kidnapping Bird of Prey: The misconception that large birds will kidnap your baby's goes back to this time period.
  • Kill Him Already: After Gilgamesh defeats the Humbaba and has him at knife-point, Humbaba begs for mercy. Gilgamesh seems ready to grant it, but his friend Enkidu persuades him to get on with it.
  • Kill the God: God-on-god only. In Egyptian Mythology, Set killed his brother Osiris by chopping him up and scattering the pieces to the four winds (or dumping them in the Nile, depending on the version). Isis put him back together, but he was stuck in The Underworld, where he became king.
  • Land of One City: Most ancient Mesopotamian civilizations were city-states, before the Akkadian Empire started.
  • Large and in Charge: Egyptian artwork already depicted kings much larger than other folks before the First Dynasty. Gilgamesh is also an example.
  • Let no Crisis Go to Waste: In Enuma Elish, when the other gods beg Marduk (Ashur in some versions) to save them from Tiamat, he agrees... provided they make him king of the gods and ruler of the universe. The desperate gods agree.
  • LGBT Fanbase: Fan celebration of gay love since at least The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Libation for the Dead: The Ancient Egyptians poured libations to the dead, particularly to dead kings, at least since Old Kingdom times.
  • Light Is Not Good: The Egyptian Eyes of Re, such as Sekhmet and Hathor, were solar goddesses, but one of them once almost destroyed humanity in a bloody rampage.
  • A Load of Bull: The Sumerian Gud-alim are similar to the Greek Minotaur, but much older.
  • Long List: The Litany Of Re is an Egyptian work listing 75 different names and manifestations of the sun god.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Mesopotamian flood myth has the god who wants to save humanity talk to a wall (which just so happened to have a human next to it) about the gods' genocide plan... apparently, there was an oath not to tell it to people.
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: Mandala 10, Hymn 34 (1,100 BCE or older) of the Rig Veda is the lament of a gambler who has lost not only all his property, but also his wife in games of dice.
  • Love Goddess: Inanna/Ishtar was the Mesopotamian goddess of love and fertility. Hathor held that role in Egyptian religion.
  • Magical Eye: This trope is goes back to at least the Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, when the Eldritch Abomination serpent Apep/Apophis was believed to have a harmful or hypnotizing gaze. People wore and recited charms and spells to protect themselves from him. On certain occasions the Pharaoh also ritually whacked at a ball that symbolized Apep's eyeball.
  • Making a Splash: Sobek from Egyptian Mythology.
  • Male Gaze: Male artists have been paying tribute to the female nude ever since the paleolithic "Venus of Willendorf."
  • Malicious Slander: In the Egyptian New Kingdom "Tale Of Two Brothers", Anubis's wife tried to seduce her brother-in-law Bata. When Bata angrily spurned her, she accused him of trying to seduce her and of beating her when she refused. Anubis tried to kill his brother, which started Bata's fantastic adventures.
  • Mama Bear: Tiamat in Enuma Elish initially reacts this way when Apsu wants to kill their children, but later tries to kill them herself.
  • Meaningful Name: Many Egyptian names had clear meanings; i.e. gods like Amun ("hidden" or "hiddenness") and Meretseger ("she who loves silence"), and kings such as Merikare ("beloved of the ka of Re"), Tutankhamun ("living image of Amun"), Sobekhotep ("Sobek is satisfied"), and Scorpion.
  • Mr. Seahorse: In Hittite myth, Kumarbi gave birth to Teshub, Tigris, and Tasmisus after biting off Anu's genitals. The Sumerian water god Enki somehow impregnated himself.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Many mythological animals and people, especially in southwest Asia. The girtablullu (scorpion men) of Mesopotamian mythology, appearing in Enuma Elish and The Epic of Gilgamesh, were part man, part scorpion (see this carved image). Other examples from this period include griffins, leogryphs, sphinxes, urmalullu, lamassu, shedu, serpopards, sirrush, Anzu, gud-alim, and various dragons. The Egyptian Gods were also sometimes depicted in art as human beings with animal heads, though this wasn't necessarily meant to be taken literally.
  • Mood-Swinger: The Mesopotamian Inanna/Ishtar was goddess of love by night, but goddess of war by day. Romantic relations with her were... perilous.
  • Mother of a Thousand Young: Tiamat in Enuma Elish.
  • Multiple Choice Past: Egyptian sources frequently differ about the parentage of individual deities.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Gilgamesh refused to accept Enkidu's death for seven days, until finally a maggot fell out of his nose.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The title goddess in Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld, right after siccing demons on her husband.
  • Named Weapons: In a fictional Egyptian tale of the conquest of Joppa, the Pharaoh Men-kheper-Re has a named staff/cane. He hides it in the luggage of the protagonist sent to put down a revolt, who kills the rebel leader with it. Unfortunately the text is damaged, so its name and powers are unknown.
  • Nameless Narrative: Surprisingly for a culture that put such emphasis on names, ancient Egypt has a few such tales: "The Wax Crocodile" (from the Westcar Papyrus), the "Tale Of The Shipwrecked Sailor", and the "Tale Of The Doomed Prince".
  • Narrative Poem: The Mesopotamians had them.
  • Nature Hero: Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Nature Spirit: There are many, many gods of earth, sun, moon, stars, rivers, trees, fertility, animals, plants, disease, life, death, storms, wind, the sea, the sky, etc. in Mesopotamian Mythology and Egyptian Mythology.
  • Never Say "Die": The ancient Egyptians believed that to record something in writing made it more real. Scribes usually did not speak of death, only of euphemisms such as passing west (towards the setting sun and The Underworld) or joining the sun god's barque in the sky. Set was never said to have killed or murdered his brother Osiris; instead he knocked him down.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Sobek the crocodile-headed Egyptian god was not entirely bad, but was unpredictable, representing the power the Nile itself held over Egyptians' lives. Another example comes from a folktale where a prince is prophesied to die by "a snake, a crocodile or a dog". Despite efforts to avoid all of those things, he still dies.
  • Nice Hat: Royal and divine crowns, especially in Egyptian iconography where they can be exceptionally complicated.
  • Noble Bird Of Prey: The falcon was the symbol and sacred bird of two major Egyptian gods, Horus and Re, and many minor deities.
  • No Man of Woman Born: In Egyptian Mythology, the Sun god Re decreed that Geb and Nut could have no children on any day of the year, for fear that their offspring could usurp his crown. The god Thoth created five extra days by gambling with either the moon god or the sun god, and on those five days Nut bore Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys, and Horus the Elder.
  • The Nothing After Death: The Mesopotamian underworld, Irkalla, was like this.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: The current page quote is a Sumerian proverb.
  • Oedipus Complex: In the Hittite myth Kingship In Heaven Alalu is overthrown by his son Anu, who is overthrown by his son Kumarbi, who is overthrown by his son Teshub.
  • Offing the Offspring: Apsu tries it in Enuma Elish. Tiamat picks up where he left off. Both fail.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, many gates in The Underworld are guarded by fierce minor deities who will only step aside for one who has learned their secret names. The funerary texts of course provided this information.
  • Only the Worthy May Pass: The Egyptian god Anubis tested the worth of dead people before letting them into paradise, by weighing their hearts on a scale against the Feather of Justice. Any heart that didn't pass got eaten by the monster Ammut, denying that person any afterlife at all.
  • Orifice Evacuation: In Kingship In Heaven, after the Hittite god Kumarbi became pregnant from eating Anu's genitals, the storm god Teshub had to emerge from his body. He did this through an orifice identified only as "the good place."
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: Urmahlullu are Mesopotamian lion-centaurs, with lion bodies and human torsos. There aren't any surviving stories of them, just carvings.
  • Out-of-Clothes Experience: Inanna winds up naked in Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld.
  • Overprotective Dad: Destined to become the grandfathers of heroes like Gilgamesh.
  • Parental Incest: Technically, Kumarbi and his father Anu were the parents of the Hittite thunder god Teshub. Enuma Elish implies that Tiamat did this too: her second husband Qingu was one of the Igigi, her own children and descendants. Her descendant Ea/Enki sometimes seduced his own daughters.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: The Egyptian air god Shu tried to prevent his son and daughter, Geb and Nut (earth and sky), from marrying and having kids. It didn't work, but he still holds them apart.
  • Petting Zoo People: Many Egyptian gods are frequently depicted with animal heads on human bodies, such as Horus, Re, Set, Sakhmet, Bast, Anubis, Khnum, and Thoth. However, these were probably understood to be purely symbolic depictions, not their actual appearances, and most deities had a varied iconography. Visual artworks going back to the Ice Age depict what look like animal-headed humanoids, though it's impossible to know what those from non-literate cultures represent.
  • Plague Master: The god Nergal in Mesopotamian Mythology and the goddess Sekhmet in Egyptian Mythology.
  • Playing with Fire: Egyptian Mythology features fire-breathing goddesses (Sakhmet, Wadjet, etc.) and dragons.
  • Powers That Be: While most gods had several names, more mysterious forces [refuse to] show their faces now and again. The ancient Egyptians largely eshewed naming or visually depicting their concept of the god beyond the gods for most of their history.
  • Power Trio: The ancient Egyptians liked their divine trios. By the end of the New Kingdom, many temples were dedicated to groups of three gods, who were often depicted as father, mother, and son.
  • Primordial Chaos: Egyptian Mythology had Nun, a creator god but also the vast, chaotic waters that preceeded the creation of land and sun, and would swallow the world again if kings did not maintain the social and cosmic order.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: In The Epic of Gilgamesh, both Gilgamesh and Enkidu have recurring prophetic dreams. About one another, about the challenges to come, about the afterlife...
  • Psychopomp: The Celestial Ferrymen were a group of Egyptian gods who would carry deceased kings across a heavenly waterway to an afterlife in the sky.

     Q-Z 
  • The Quest: Gilgamesh searching for the secret of immortality.
  • Really Gets Around: Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, demanded to sleep with every bride in the city on her wedding day.
  • Revenge: Several examples, i.e. Ishtar/Inanna to Enkidu, and those below. Some of these stories can be Values Dissonance for modern readers.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Quite frequently, i.e. the Inanna example of Disproportionate Retribution. The Code of Hammurabi required Revenge by Proxy for some crimes. For some crimes Ancient Egyptian law heavily punished both the criminal and their family.
  • Revenge Myopia: In Enuma Elish, Tiamat does her best to avenge Apsu's death at the hands of the Annunaki, completely ignoring the two small facts that Apsu was actively planning to kill them all and that she herself ratted him out to them, allowing a preventive strike.
  • Rightful King Returns: Horus in Egyptian Mythology, when he regains his father's kingdom (or sometimes half of it) from his murderous uncle Set.
  • Right Makes Might: This is a constant theme in Egyptian Mythology, resulting in nearly universally happy endings. The good guys (champions of order, justice, goodness, the gods, and Egypt) always triumph over the bad guys (fighting for rebellion, chaos, injustice, and anarchy) every time.
  • Ritual Magic: The ancient Egyptian concept of magic involved sacred words and ritual actions that had effects ranging from mundane to cosmic. Many religious rituals consisted of such actions, but the same knowledge applied outside the temple could be used for non-religious purposes.
  • Royal Blood: The ancient Egyptian kings depicted themselves as descended from the gods and inherently separate from mere mortals. To preserve their bloodline, they preferred to marry very close relatives, even their own sisters, or else foreign royalty.
  • Royal Brat: Gilgamesh.
  • Royal Inbreeding: In ancient Egypt pharaohs would frequently marry siblings and/or half-siblings. This gets the blame for dramatic rates of birth defects in their dynasties: Among others, Tutankhamen had a very severe cleft palate.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Gilgamesh did lots of things after the gods answered his subjects' prayers to get him the heck out of their city and away from their wives.
  • The Scottish Trope: In the ancient Egyptian religion, written words were considered magic in and of themselves. Therefore, the true name of the principle opposing Ma'et was never to be written. Even its alias (isfet) was risky.
  • Semi-Divine: Gilgamesh is two-thirds god.
  • Serpent of Immortality: This appears in The Epic of Gilgamesh, where the magical plant which grants eternal life and youth is stolen by a snake, making it immortal. Gilgamesh didn't get a chance to eat the plant and had to go home mortal.
  • Servant Race: This is what the gods made humanity for, according to Enuma Elish.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Shamhat, for Enkidu, in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Sex Is Violence: Several prehisoric cave paintings in France and Spain show hunters killing their prey while sporting erections.
  • Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: At least as far back as ancient Egypt.
  • Sex for Services: This is why prostitution is believed to be The Oldest Profession, possibly literally. Many historians believe that, indeed, there were situations like this in primitive times, where humans - men and woman - had to hunt for food or starve, and most were unwilling to share. It may not have been unfeasible for a woman who had a string of bad luck on such on any given day to offer sex to a man who had brought down some game in order to convince him to share with her. It was a matter of survival.
  • She Is the King: A Real Life example, no less: His majesty Hatshepsut, King of Egypt. Statues portray her with a male's body and she wore a ceremonial beard, as she was the King. Neither is she the Ur Example; that's Sobekneferu — and note that "Ur Example" merely means "oldest known."
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: The Sumerian sun god Utu and his brother Nergal, god of plague and fire.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: The Sumerian Courtship Of Inanna And Dumuzi. Inanna spends most of the story berating the shepherd Dumuzi for not being a farmer, until they have a good argument and Inanna becomes smitten. They spend the rest of the story having awesome sex.
  • Sole Survivor: In the Old Kingdom Egyptian "Tale Of The Shipwrecked Sailor", the protagonist was the only survivor of his ship after a storm on the Red Sea.
  • Speak of the Devil: Some Egyptian gods were apparently feared enough that they were called only by odd euphemisms, such as "That Ba."
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: In the Egyptian story "Princess Ahura: The Magic Book", the eponymus Artifact of Death grants the reader the ability to understand birds and beasts, among other fantastic powers.
  • Spear Counterpart: While Distaff Counterparts seem to be more common in the Egyptian pantheon, they also have a few of these. I.e. Sesha (counterpart of Seshat) and Tefen (counterpart of Tefnut, or maybe another name for Shu).
  • Spell Book: Examples from Ancient Egypt date as far back as the Middle Kingdom, although many of the longer and more famous spellbooks (of those intended for use by the living) date to Greco-Roman times.
  • Spontaneous Generation: Whichever god comes first in a Creation Myth usually either appears from nowhere, or creates him/herself. Explicitly spontaneously-generated Egyptian gods include Ptah, Atum, and the eight gods of the Ogdoad. Tiamat and Apsu in Enuma Elish apparently also came from nowhere.
  • Staff of Authority: Used by Egyptian and Mesopotamian rulers.
  • Stairway to Heaven: The Egyptian Pyramid Texts describe both a ladder and a stairway for the deceased king to use when he Ascends to a Higher Plane of Existence, and the Step Pyramid was probably a literal Stairway to Heaven for King Djoser.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: The Mesopotamian goddess Inanna/Ishtar is bereaved every year when her love Dumuzi spends several months in The Underworld. The Egyptian gods Nut and Geb are kept apart by their father Shu, who wanted to prevent their marriage.
  • Strategy Game: Senat, and possibly Go.
  • Super Strength: Gilgamesh had it.
  • Swallowed Whole: The various Egyptian books of the netherworld (New Kingdom) include a few vignettes showing deceased people, or maybe gods, swallowed whole by Apep/Apophis.
  • Take Me Instead: Dumuzi's sister, attempting to save her brother in Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld.
  • Talking Animal: Ancient Egyptian Fairy Tales.
  • Talking to the Dead: Some Ancient Egyptians wrote letters to the dead — occasionally along the lines of threatening a lawsuit if they didn't stop sending phantoms to torment the living.
  • A Taste of the Lash: The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi mandates this for some crimes, c. 1780 BCE.
  • There's No Place Like Home: This is the theme of the Egyptian story of Sinuhe, who lives in exile in Palestine but forever longs for Egypt.
  • Threshold Guardians: The Girtablullu ("scorpion-men") in The Epic of Gilgamesh, who guard the gates of the sun.
  • To Hell and Back: This is the plot of Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld.
  • Top God: Several ancient religions have a singular supreme deity at the top of their pantheon: i.e. Egyptian Re, Amun, Atum, and Isis; Mesopotamian Apsu, Tiamat, Enlil/El, Ashur, and Marduk. Notably, people of this period didn't generally agree which god that was, and beliefs also changed over the millennia.
  • Tragic Bromance: Gilgamesh and Enkidu are very close friends, perhaps more than friends. Enkidu dies, and Gilgamesh really can't get over it.
  • Truly Single Parent: Several Egyptian creation gods did this: Atum created the deities Shu and Tefnut from his semen or spit, Re created humanity from his tears, and Ptah created Atum and the other gods with his voice and heart (mind).
  • Tsundere: The Sumerian goddess Ereshkigal and her sister Inanna.
  • The Underworld: The Mesopotamian Irkalla and the Egyptian Duat are both the afterlife where everybody, one way or another, goes when they die, unless somehow they cease to exist (see Un-Person). While the Duat has sections corresponding to Heaven and Hell, and some damned in the Duat even suffer in lakes of fire that probably inspired the Christian Fire and Brimstone Hell, these regions are connected to each other and a dead person or living visitor could potentially take a tour of both. Unlike the Duat, Irkalla is generally gloomy and unpleasant.
  • Un-Person: In Real Life, one of the punishments for traitors in Ancient Egypt was to chisel away every written or carved instance of their name. Egyptians believed that they could only have an afterlife if their name, and either their body or a good portrait, was preserved for eternity. So this was considered a most permanent punishment. Sometimes they cremated criminals' bodies too, to really prevent an afterlife.
  • Uneven Hybrid: King Gilgamesh from The Epic of Gilgamesh was said to be 2/3 god and 1/3 human.
  • Unstoppable Rage: In the Egyptian Book Of The Heavenly Cow (14th century BCE), several mortals rebelled against the god Re when he grew old. He sent the fierce goddess Sekhmet to punish the rebels, but could not stop her from gleefully trying to exterminate all humanity. He finally tricked her into drinking an entire lake of beer, and she passed out.
  • The Vamp: Mesopotamian Mythology has the goddess Ishtar/Innana and the Child Eater Lilitu.
  • Vestigial Empire: Ancient Egyptian history provides two examples; the second was noted in Greek histories.
    • The early Egyptian First Intermediate Period (2181-2055 BCE) had one within Egypt: records show that the Pharaohs at Memphis were still given respect and may have a religious role across the land, but in reality he had no power outside Memphis and the country was run by squabbling local lords.
    • The Twentieth Dynasty and much of the Third Intermediate Period (around 1200-1000 BCE, give or take a century) were characterized by splendid isolation, the loss of the New Kingdom's empire in Nubia, the Levant, and Libya, along with interminable squabbling among heirs to the throne, several coups, barbarian raids (including the "Sea Peoples"), and occasional temporary conquest by outside powers.
  • Warrior Prince: Egyptian kings (according to royal propaganda found on temple inscriptions); also King Gilgamesh.
  • Wealthy Ever After: The Egyptian tale "The Eloquent Peasant" apparently ends with the protagonist Hunanup richly compensated for his troubles and rewarded for his eloquence with numerous goods confiscated from the household of Djehuty-nekht, the man who had wronged him.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Dumuzi gets this for not saliently mourning his wife Inanna when she died.
  • Wild Hair: Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Winged Humanoid: Winged-humanoid Egyptian gods usually have the wings attached to their arms, but occasionally on their backs. Mesopotamian art has the winged genii called Apkallu.
  • Woman Scorned: Inanna/Ishtar, in The Epic of Gilgamesh, takes it very badly when Gilgamesh turns down her proposition, and calls her out for killing her past lovers.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: One of the ideas behind Ancient Egyptian magic was the very real potency of words and especially names. Their religious rituals also made extensive use of this principle.
  • World's Best Warrior: Goliath of the Philistines, to name just one.
  • World's Strongest Man: Gilgamesh of Mesopotamian Mythology.
  • Worthy Opponent: Gilgamesh and Enkidu, to each other.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: From the Egyptian "Tale Of Two Brothers", New Kingdom: Anubis's wife tried to seduce her brother-in-law Bata. When he refused, she created fake bruises from makeup, and told Anubis that Bata tried to seduce her and beat her for refusing.
  • Yandere: The Mesopotamian goddess Inanna/Ishtar.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: In the Egyptian story "Princess Ahura: The Magic Book", the prince and his family cannot escape the punishment the gods decree for their sacrelige. Gilgamesh fails to escape the mortality of humanity.
  • You Killed My Father: Horus in Egyptian Mythology, after his uncle Set killed his father Osiris.
  • Young Conqueror: The earliest one we know about for sure is Thutmose III of Egypt. He took control of the Egyptian Army as a teenager during his joint rule with Hatshepsut; he was 22 or 23 when Hatshepsut died and he took sole rulership. The Canaanite city-state of Kadesh took advantage of the transition to march on Egyptian territory, but Thutmose fought them off and promptly began conquering much of the rest of Syria. In this and subsequent campaigns in Syria and Nubia, Thutmose proved to be a very skilled general—modern historians compare him to Napoleon for his grasp of strategy and tactics and his ability to leverage his country's colossal human and economic resources into military advantage—and had conquered most of his substantial empire by age 30.
    • It is possible that Sargon of Akkad about 900 years earlier also fit the trope, but we don't know how old he was when his reign began and he started forging an empire.
  • Your Mom: A "Your Mother" joke was found on a cuneiform tablet from ca. 1,500 BCE.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The Sumerian goddess Inanna twice threatened to make the dead rise from The Underworld to devour the living if she didn't get her way.


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