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Older Than Feudalism
Ancient Roman Floor mosaic at the Baths of Musiciolus in Ostia, probably early 4th century CE

All of The Oldest Ones in the Book first recorded after the invention of the Greek alphabet (c. 800 BCE) and before the fall of Ancient Rome (c. 476 CE), a period usually called Classical antiquity. Works from this period include:

  • All ancient Greek and Roman myths, literature, and theatre.note 
  • The Biblenote 
  • Most of ancient South Asian literature and Hindu Mythology, including:
  • Most surviving examples of ancient Chinese literature, philosophy, and history date to this period:
  • The Zoroastrian holy book, Avesta.
  • The Manichean holy book, Shabuhragan.

Note: Tropes originating in other mythologies/religions are not indexed here, as we have no idea whether those stories even existed by the 5th century CE, or what forms they took, centuries before they were first written down. Even Norse and Celtic mythology are only Older Than Print; although they're derived at least in part from earlier (unwritten) stories, the details are fundamentally un-dateable. Early folklorists often started with the assumption that folktales and myths never changed; more research has shown that people can and do modify all sorts of tales for many purposes.

Tropes that date back to this time period:

    open/close all folders 

     A-C 

     D-I 
  • Daddy's Girl: According to The Iliad, Athena is Zeus' favorite child. Ares claims that Zeus rarely bothers to restrict her behavior. She also has the boyish traits associated with the trope.
  • Damsel in Distress: Andromeda and Hesione in Greek Mythology, both in the same pickle: their parents pissed off Poseidon, and had to sacrifice them to giant sea monsters to save their kingdoms. Thanks, Mom!
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Genesis 38 is the source for an outdated term for masturbation, Onanism. note 
  • David Versus Goliath: The Trope Namer is from the Book of Samuel in The Bible.
  • The Day of Reckoning: The Book of Revelation in The Bible.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Odysseus converses with several ghosts in Homer's Odyssey.
  • Death by Childbirth: Likely as old as our species, what with our disproportionately huge heads and tiny, tiny hips. In The Bible, Jacob's favorite wife Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin.
  • Death Faked for You: Faking baby Oedipus' death was what started the whole mess that blew up in Oedipus Rex.
  • Death Takes a Holiday: Sisyphos tied up Thanatos in Greek Mythology, and nobody could die until Ares rescued him.
  • Decapitation Presentation: David with Goliath's head in The Bible, Judith with Holofernes' head in the Apocrypha, Salome asking for John the Baptist's head, and Perseus displaying Medusa's head as a weapon in Greek Mythology. In Real Life, Chiomara with the head of the centurion who raped her, and the Egyptians with Magnus Pompeii's head, also during this time.
  • Deconstruction: Euripides's Trojan Women and Hecuba portrayed The Trojan War as a human tragedy rather than a sweeping epic tale of martial valor in the Homeric tradition, by showing the human consequences of war and its aftermath on the conquered people, and the cruelty and violence of the "heroic" invaders.
  • Democracy Is Bad: Plato's The Republic, various ancient Chinese writings.
  • Demythtification: Euhemerus' treatment of Classical Mythology is the alternate trope namer.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: In Greek Mythology Tantalos killed his son and tried to trick the gods into eating him. Punished after death in Tartaros, he stands forever in a pool of water, surrounded by fruit trees, but whenever he reaches for it the water drains away and the branches blow out of reach.
  • Determinator: Odysseus does get home... eventually.
  • Different for Girls: In the Trojan Cycle, when Thetis disguised her son Achilles in drag, he completely failed to pull it off — not that he really wanted to dodge the draft.
  • Don't Look Back: In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Book of Genesis), looking back got Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt. In Greek Mythology Orpheus lost his wife Eurydice (again) because he looked back when leading her out of Hades.
  • Don't Shoot the Message: Several times in The Bible, someone complains that God's followers' actions are besmirching God's name.
  • Double Entendre: A favorite tactic of Greek comedians. Aristophanes's plays are full of them.
  • Double Standard: In The Odyssey the nymph Calypso complains about this. She points out that male gods frequently sleep with mortal women, but are "harsh and far too jealous" when goddesses take mortal lovers.
  • Downer Ending: Rather common in Greek Mythology. The Odyssey has the murder of Agamemnon. The Returns told the deaths of several characters of the Trojan War. The Telegony has Odysseus killed accidentally by one of his own sons. The Argonauts' story ends with Jason's ignominious death. Greek tragedy almost required this trope.
  • Draft Dodging: Odysseus tried to avoid joining the Trojan War by pretending to be insane, but the other princes called his bluff. Thetis tried to get her son Achilles out of it by dressing him in drag.
  • Dragon Hoard: The idea that dragons are irrationally driven to guard treasure first appears in Roman literature: In his 13th Philippic Speech, Cicero compares a supposedly greedy man to a dragon, and in the Beast Fable "The Fox and the Dragon" by Phaedrus (c. 50 AD), a dragon guarding a gold hoard in a cave freely admits his behavior is absurd, leading to An Aesop about avarice.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Homer's Iliad.
  • Driven by Envy: Cain killing Abel in The Bible.
  • Driven to Suicide: King Saul from The Bible. Queen Iocaste in Oedipus the King.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Yes, really: Jehu, son of Nimshi drives his chariot "like a madman" (The Bible, 2 Kings 9:20). And when the Greek demigod Phaethon drove the sun chariot recklessly, he died and nearly destroyed all life on Earth.
  • The Drunken Sailor: In The Odyssey, the ship was almost home when the sailors decided to crack open Odysseus's pouch, assuming he was hoarding wine or gold. It actually contained all the winds, which immediately blew them way off course.
  • Dual Wielding: Dimachaerii type gladiators in Ancient Roman games.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: In Greek Mythology the handsome Endymion is enchanted to eternally sleep, with his youth and beauty preserved. Meanwhile Selene, goddess of the Moon, frequently makes love to him.
  • Due to the Dead: Achilles dragging and abusing Hector's corpse in The Iliad exemplifies the evil version. The protagonists in Sophocles's Antigone and Electra exemplify the good form.
  • Dumb Muscle: Ajax in The Iliad. Olympic "meatbag" athletes, according to some ancient Greek philosophers. Heracles was portrayed this way in Attic comedy, for example in Aristophanes' The Birds (in the "canonical" myths, he is reasonably clever).
  • Dystopia: Prophesied in the Book of Revelation, as the Beast arises.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Homer's Odyssey ends with the protagonist triumphant and the evildoers punished, but boy does Odysseus have to earn it. He goes through The Underworld, and 20 years of exile, angst, and heartsickness, to get home. This epic was held up as the prototype of comedy, which originally just meant any story with a happy ending.
  • Eats Babies: In Hesiod's Theogony, the Titan Cronus swallowed his own children, though unlike Child Eaters he didn't make a habit of seeking out more babies.
  • Eaten Alive: Some characters in Greek myth die this way, such as Odysseus's shipmates in Polyphemos's cave. Some gods, such as Prometheus and the siblings of Zeus, suffer this and survive, because Greek gods can't die.
  • Egopolis: Such as several Alexandrias founded by Alexander the Great.
  • Emergency Impersonation: Patroclus impersonated Achilles in The Iliad, when the latter refused to fight. Unlike in later impersonation stories, Achilles is the protagonist while Patroclus is a side character.
  • Emotional Bruiser: Hector in The Iliad: mighty warrior, devoted husband and father, and named by Helen as the only one who's nice to her but Priam.
  • Enemies Equals Greatness: The Bible seems to hold that the only reason why people have enemies is because of their choice to follow God. Joseph was hated by his brothers for being favored by Israel, David was resented by King Saul for being the only one to defeat Goliath, and there's Jesus who had set an example to humanity, much to the disgust of the Pharisees.
  • Enthralling Siren: The Sirens and their fatally enthralling voices in Greek Mythology.
  • Epic Catalog: The Catalogue of Ships in Book II of The Iliad is probably the most famous one in ancient epic poetry.
  • Eureka Moment: Trope Namer is Archimedes in his bath, allegedly.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Narcissus of late Greek and Roman myth.
  • Every Man Has His Price: Excessive amounts of bribery were commonplace in The Roman Republic.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Bible never specifically states exactly which pharaoh is involved in the Book of Exodus. Biblical scholars have been trying to identify him for a long time.
  • Everything's Better with Rainbows:
    • Rainbows used by characters: In Greek religion, the rainbow was personified as the goddess Iris, and was the path left by her as she travelled between heaven and earth.
    • Rainbows as symbols: In Genesis 9, the rainbow is the sign of God's promise that he will never again destroy the Earth with a flood.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Dates back to The Bible, in which the Devil often shown in this fashion, being unable to appeal to anything other than selfish desires when manipulating humans.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Jesus.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Deianira in Trachiniae, telling the chorus about the "strange sight" that is the bubbling, disintegrating piece of cloth she used to smear a "love potion" onto a shirt she just gave her husband.
  • Face-Heel Turn: In the back story of Euripides's play Hecuba, Achilles defected to Troy after falling in love with Polyxena, one of its princesses.
  • The Face of the Sun: This type of solar iconography first showed up in Roman and late Greek religious artwork, such as the sides of temples.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Jesus has a couple in The Bible.
  • Fairest of Them All: The Judgement of Paris in the Trojan Cycle, when Eris deliberately provoked a fight between goddesses using an Apple of Discord inscribed with the words "to the fairest." The resulting fight caused the Trojan War.
  • Fake Defector: In The Aeneid and The Odyssey Sinon surrenders to the Trojans, claiming he defected from the Greeks, so he can convince the Trojans that the Trojan Horse is a gift.
  • Faking the Dead: Orestes in Electra.
  • False Rape Accusation: In The Bible Potiphar's wife, after failing to rape Joseph, tells her husband that Joseph raped her.
  • Fanon: The Bible never states that there are three Magi, never even gives a definite number, and doesn't specify that they were male. It also doesn't specify that the fruit Adam and Eve ate was an apple, and doesn't refer to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute.
  • Fan Wank: As early as 44 CE, Stoic philosophers were complaining about obsessive fans who argued over literary trivia like "how many rowers did Ulysses have?"
  • Fashion Hurts: Plutarch mentions painful footwear.
  • The Fatalist: All the time. Thetis warned her son Achilles that two fates awaited him: if he went to Troy, he would die young, but become famous forever. If he stayed home, he would live a long time, but be forgotten. He went to Troy and was not shy about courting death. Hector knew he was fated to die at Achilles's hands, but eventually chose to face him.
  • Feed the Mole: One of The Thirty-Six Stratagems.
  • Fighting for a Homeland: The march of the Ten Thousand, as depicted in Xenophon's Anabasis. The Hebrews fighting the Canaanites in The Bible. The Trojan refugees in The Aeneid.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The Spartans and Thebans encouraged soldiers to have a lover in the army so that they'd fight harder to protect them. And if they died, hopefully they'd go Ax-Crazy in a quest for vengeance.
  • Fire of Comfort: The domain of Hestia, Greek goddess of the Hearth. She was associated with the fireplace and the joys of domesticity. A Homeric Hymn to her mentions her place of honor in the residences of every immortal god and every mortal man.
  • Fix Fic: Iphigenia In Tauris was written to remove the bridge dropped on Iphigenia.
  • Flaming Sword: According to the Book of Genesis, God set up a Cherub with a flaming sword to guard the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve had been cast out from there.
  • Flashback: Homer's Odyssey.
  • Flipping the Table: Jesus does this with the moneychangers in the temple.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: A nasty-looking dog named "Puppy" in The Satyricon.
  • Food Chains: Eating some pomegranate seeds in The Underworld forced the Greek goddess Persephone to return there every year. In the Homeric Hymns, Hades force-fed her. Odysseus almost loses several men to the lotus-eating addiction.
  • Forbidden Fruit: The Adam and Eve story from Genesis is the Trope Namer.
  • Forged by the Gods: Hephaestus forges new armour and shield for Achilles, a knife for Peleus, and the shield and armour of Heracles. The Cypria mentions a spear, created by the Athene, Hephaestus, and Chiron, for Peleus.
  • Forging Scene: The forging of the Shield of Achilles in The Iliad.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: In Greek Mythology, Zeus apparently did this sort of thing whenever he had an affair with a mortal woman, at least according to the story in which his true form turned the woman Semele to ash. In The Bible, angels occasionally tried to appear in human form, since their true forms look more like bizarre Eldritch Abominations.
  • Friendship Denial: Prophesied by Jesus who tells Peter that he will deny Him three times before the rooster crows. Peter assures Him that he will never do that to Him, but, as Jesus was arrested that night, somebody in the crowd asks Peter was he with Jesus. Trying to avoid getting himself into further trouble, Peter responds with "No! I do not know Him!". As the rooster crows and with Jesus looking at him, Peter realizes that he was wrong.
  • Frontline General: In Real Life this is at least as old as the Roman Republic, moving to Older Than Dirt when it crosses over with Royals Who Actually Do Something. This is because before the invention of radio the general usually had to be in the midst of his men to be able to give orders and have them carried out quickly.
  • Full Boar Action: The Erymanthian Boar and Calydonian Boar from Greek Mythology. Both were monstrous boars that could only be vanquished by great heroes (Hercules and Meleager and Atalanta respectively).
  • Funny Foreigner: A staple of ancient Greek and Roman comedy. An example is Triballos, a "barbarian god" serving as an ambassador to Cloudcuckooland in Aristophanes' The Birds.
  • Gainax Ending: The Book of Revelation, for The Bible.
  • Gambit Roulette: According to some ancient Greek writers, Zeus set up the whole Trojan War by manipulating one key goddess as a gambit to reduce the population of demigods.
  • Gate of Truth: Described in The Underworld in Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid.
  • Gender Bender: Tiresias in Greek Mythology, Iphis and Hermaphroditos in Ovid's The Metamorphoses, and Bhangasvana and Shikandin in the Mahabharata.
  • Genius Bruiser: Odysseus is a powerful Badass, and also a master of cunning and strategy. Heracles is sometimes depicted this way, too.
  • Genius Cripple: The Greek Hephaestus is a crippled god, yet a brilliant craftsman who created magnificent works, including weapons, armor, and robots. Yes, robots.
  • Genre Deconstruction: See Deconstruction above.
  • Giant Squid: Large squids were first described by Aristotle, but Pliny The Elder is the first to give them more explicitly gigantic proportions (heads "as big as a cask" and 30 ft. arms) in his Natural History. The actual animals are presumably Older Than Dirt.
  • God Is Flawed: Rather common in this era. For instance, the Greek gods were a bunch of regular jerkasses. It's been theorized this was a metaphor for how idiotic humans can be.
  • God Test: Frequently in the Old Testament. Additionally the Gospel of Matthew gives us what may be the oldest subversion: Satan telling Jesus to prove he's the son of God, and Jesus basically telling him to screw off. Aristophanes provides a parody in The Frogs, in which Dionysos completely fails said test, despite being a real deity.
  • Going Native: Octavian's propaganda against Mark Antony made the latter out to be the Ur Example.
  • Gold Fever: Discussed in Book II of the Aeneid, when Aeneas recounts how King Polymestor of Thrace murdered Polydorus, the son of his ally King Priam of Troy, to rob Polydorus' treasure of gold. Aeneas' words auri sacra fames, the "accursed hunger for gold", was a popular quote even in antiquity.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Odysseus and Diomedes in Book 10 of the The Iliad.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The third commandment of the Hebrews: "You shall not take the name of Y**H your God in vain, for Y**H will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." (Exodus 20:7, NKJV). Euphemisms for this four-letter word were "the Name" in speech or "Lord" in prayer.
  • Grand Theft Me: Yayati, after the curse of his father-in-law that he should become old and infirm, asked his sons to exchange their youthful body with his. All refused except the youngest son, Puru, who was crowned after his reign. Puru was the ancestor of the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. His brother Yadu was the ancestor of the Yadavas — thus the ancestor of Krishna.
  • Gratuitous Greek: Several ancient Roman authors often inserted Greek quotations into their works.
  • Gray Eyes: Greek goddess Athena is always described as glaukopis, meaning she has blue-green, or blue-gray eyes (or in an alternate translation, owl eyes). Translations typically simplify it to "gray-eyed."
  • Grey and Gray Morality: The Achaeans and Trojans in The Iliad.
  • Guile Hero: Odysseus. Ruth and Queen Esther in The Bible. Krishna in the Mahabharata.
  • Happiness in Slavery: The biblical instructions for freeing slaves also tell owners what to do in case they have a happy slave who wants to stay... just in case, you know.
  • Heads or Tails: Dates back to Ancient Rome, according to The Other Wiki.
  • Healing Factor (Regenerative Immortality): Greek gods don't age, can't be killed by anything, and heal very quickly even from massive wounds. Poor Prometheus had his liver torn out every day and grown back by the next morning. The Hydra also had this: whenever Heracles cut a head off, it instantly grew two more. One of its heads was also physically indestructible, which got it buried under a big rock.
  • Heel-Faith Turn: Just for starters, St. Matthew and St. Paul of the Apostles. Matthew was a tax collector, while Paul was a Pharisee-in-training cum Bounty Hunter under the name Saul.
  • Hell: The Christian concepts of Heaven and Hell go back to the New Testament. The fire-and-brimstone version was inspired, however, by the lakes of fire in the Egyptian underworld where damned souls were often punished.
  • Hell of a Heaven: Happens in one version of the classic Indian epic Mahabharata.
  • Hello, Nurse!: Helen of Troy, the most beautiful mortal woman in the world.
  • Hermit Guru: John the Baptist, and the Real Life Pillar Hermits.
  • Hero Killer: Typhon in Classical Mythology, who is terrifying enough to make the gods flee Olympus, and badass enough to defeat Zeus in a straight up fight. From a Trojan perspective Achilles is definitely this; one could make a case for Mezentius or Turnus in The Aeneid.
  • Heroic Bastard: Almost all of the demigod heroes in Greek Mythology, such as Heracles. Karna in the Mahabharata, and Jephthah in The Bible.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: In Kings 20:35-37, a prophet of God needs to be beaten and bruised in order to deliver the message God had for King Ahab (It makes sense in context).
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Oedipus' father Laios, when he's killed by the son he abandoned years earlier. Murderous King Diomedes, eaten by the freakish horses he used to feed human flesh. Corrupt minister Haman in The Bible, hung on the gallows he built for his rival.
  • Holy Is Not Safe: The Greeks believed that seeing the glory of a god would kill you. Likewise the Book of Exodus has God state that seeing his face would kill Moses, and the Ark of the Covenant was an equal-opportunity Doomsday Device.
  • Honor Before Reason: Cicero mentions Marcus Atilius Regulus, who had been captured by Carthage in the Punic Wars. He was sent to Rome to negotiate a Roman surrender, with the promise that he would return to Carthage. If he was unsuccessful, the Carthaginians would kill him. Regulus went to Rome, argued AGAINST surrender, and then returned and accepted execution by a Carthaginian sword.
  • Hope Springs Eternal: In Hesiod's story of Pandora's Box, hope was in the box (jar) to either help mortals, or deceive them.
  • Hope Sprouts Eternal: In the Old Testament the olive branch was the sign to Noah that the flood waters were receding.
  • Hot Librarian: The Greek goddess Athena is beautiful and wise.
  • How Do You Like Them Apples?: Eris's Apple of Discord in the Trojan Cycle.
  • Human Pincushion: Saint Sebastian's legend says that his martyrdom had him become this. In a subversion, he actually survived, so he "had" to be flogged to death.
  • Hydra Problem: Heracles fought the Trope Namer. He had to burn the stumps to stop its heads from groing back.
  • Hypocrite: Agamemnon in The Iliad; you go to war over a woman being taken — that means you shouldn't take another man's woman.
  • I Am Who?: Oedipus, especially in Sophocles's Oedipus the King.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: "I am Odysseus, son of Laertes". Commonly used in The Bible as well.
  • I Believe I Can Fly: Icarus, Pegasus, Harpies, Sirens, Hermes and Perseus with winged sandals...
  • I Fell for Hours: In The Iliad, when Hephaestus recalls being flung off of Olympus by Zeus he says that he fell all day.
  • I Gave My Word: In Classical Mythology, the oaths of the suitors that required them to follow Menelaus to Troy. Also the Oath of the Styx that Greek gods cannot break, which has gotten Zeus, Helios, and others in big trouble...
  • I Want Grandkids: In The Metamorphoses, Daphne's father often told her this: "Saepe pater dixit 'Debes mihi, nata, nepotes.'"
  • I Will Wait for You: Odysseus's wife Penelope and his dog Argos both waited 20 years for him to return. Penelope kept a ton of obnoxious suitors hanging while she waited.
  • Identical Stranger: In Menaechmi, by the Roman author Plautus.
  • Idiot Plot: Menaechmi, in which the characters take way too long to realize both twins are present.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: The biblical David twice gets close enough to kill Saul, but stays his hand. Although not explicit, the message is clear. Saul doesn't get it.
  • Ignore the Fanservice: Socrates is above such things.
  • Impossible Task: Heracles, David, Psyche, and Perseus faced them in stories from this period.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Roman Republic was full of them. One narrates Juvenal's Satires.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Odysseus shot an arrow through the handle-rings of twelve axes in The Odyssey.
  • Improbable Food Budget: The seven years of plenty before Joseph's biblical drought.
  • Improbable Weapon User: The biblical Samson killed an army of Philistines using a donkey's jaw.
  • In the Blood: Original Sin in Genesis.
  • In the Name of the Moon: The heroes of Homer's Iliad do this, down to formulaic repetition originally designed to allow extemporaneous reciters of epic poetry to keep to the meter.
  • Indentured Servitude: In Real Life the Athenian lawmaker Draco passed a law that any man who was owed a debt by another could claim the indebted party as a slave until the debt was paid off.
  • Information Wants to Be Free: The Prometheus myth: the secret of fire given to the mortals against the other gods' will. Older Than They Think? Yup.
  • Invisible Jerkass: Plato's The Republic tells the tale of Gyges, a shepherd who finds a ring of invisibility. Gyges promptly uses its power to seduce the queen, assassinate the king, and become king. Plato's moral is that morality is rooted completely in society, and with anonymity, all morality disappears.
  • Invisibility: The Ring of Gyges and the Cap of Hades.
  • Invisibility Cloak: The Cap of Hades, which rendered all wearers invisible; later borrowed by Perseus.
  • Ironic Hell: Tantalus and Sisyphus in Greek Mythology both ended up in versions of Tartarus that fit their crimes.
  • Irrevocable Message: The execution order in Antigone, by Sophocles. The result was death and tragedy, not played for laughs.
  • Irrevocable Order: In The Bible, the Medes and Persians had a law that if the king's ring was used to seal a proclamation then it could not be undone, not even if the king changed his mind. This plays a role in the stories of Esther and Daniel.
  • It Was a Gift: Perseus was given his mirror-like shield and winged sandals by the gods Athena and Hermes. In Greek Mythology, Philoctetes got the famous bow of Heracles at the latter's death.

     J-P 
  • Jews Love to Argue: Parts of the Old Testament.
  • Judgment of Solomon: 1 Kings 3:16-28, Old Testament. Solomon did it with a baby.
  • Just the First Citizen: Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome: his official title, princeps, means "first" and is conventionally translated in this context as "First Citizen." He very deliberately avoided titles like "king" or "dictator".
  • Kangaroo Court: The trial of Jesus, as depicted in the Gospels.
  • Kid Hero: David in The Bible (1 Samuel), specifically his fight with Goliath.
  • Kind Restraints: Odysseus was tied to the mast in the Odyssey in order to prevent him from being drawn to the sirens.
  • King Incognito: Odysseus did it twice: once at Troy, and again in Ithaca. The prophet Elijah did this among the Israelites, and King Solomon was forced to after being dethroned by an imposter.
  • Klingon Promotion: If you successfully prosecuted a Roman Senator in court, you obtained their rank. Between 235 and 284 CE there were 25 different Roman emperors, mainly because they kept assassinating their predecessors.
  • Kneel Before Frodo: In the Ramayana, after the war against Ravana is won and Sita is rescued, Rama rewards his generals for their courage. When Hanuman walks up, Rama breaks into tears and tells him there's no treasure valuable enough.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: The Leviathan in The Bible (Job 41).
  • Lady Land: The Amazons in Greek Mythology.
  • Lady of War: The Greek goddess Athena.
  • Lady Macbeth: Jezebel, wife of King Ahab in the Old Testament.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Figures in The Recognition Of Shakuntala, an episode from the Mahabharata that was made into a play by Kalidasa: Śakuntalā and Dushyanta get married, but Dushyanta gets cursed with amnesia and completely forgets her, but nothing else. When Śakuntalā finally breaks the spell, all the memories return.
  • Lawful Stupid: The Hindu god Daksha hated his son-in-law Shiva for living a chaotic lifestyle. Shiva ignores him until his wife commits suicide after Daksha defiles and mocks her beloved. Shiva kills him, then revives him with the head of a goat.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: In "want but can't conceive" form only: Theseus's mortal father Aegeus, and several women in The Bible.
  • Leaking Can of Evil
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Jesus's parables are a famous example; the prophet Nathan has an earlier example in The Bible (2 Samuel 12).
  • Liminal Being: Tiresias, in The Odyssey, manages to be between two different states in three different ways.
  • Literal Genie: In a Roman myth about the Greek god Hermaphroditos, an annoying clingy girl wished she could forever be united with the uninterested deity she was harassing. Some literal-minded god fulfilled her wish ... by fusing their bodies together into one hermaphroditic person.
  • Living MacGuffin: Helen of Troy from The Iliad.
  • Living Shadow: Ghosts in Roman Mythology were usually jet-black, resembling animated shadows, and souls in the afterlife were called umbrae ("shadows").
  • Loads and Loads of Races: Classical Mythology features many races: Ordinary mortals, gods (including titans and daimones), nymphs, cyclopes, giants, centaurs, satyrs, fauns, and six-armed Gegenees; plus various bizarre Human Subspecies: headless Blemmyes, one-eyed Arimaspians, dog-heads, one-legged Skiapodes, four-legged Artabatitai, hermaphroditic Makhlyes, short-lived Kalingoi, mouthless Astomoi, ageless Makroboi, Golden and Silver Men, and more.
  • Losing Your Head: Orpheus's head continued to sing after his decapitation, according to Ovid.
  • Lost in Imitation: Several Greek myths are best known, and more often repeated, from a later version after a famous poet or playwright altered the contours of an earlier story. Such was apparently the case with Aeschylus's Prometheus and Euripides's Medea.
  • Lottery Of Doom: How the Minotaur got fed, according to late Greek writers such as Diodorus Siculus and Apollodorus.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Homer's The Odyssey; Trope Namer.
  • Lotus Position: Gautama Buddha did it.
  • Love at First Sight: Classical Mythology is full of this: Eros, god of love, can inflict it on anyone whenever he wants, but then he suffered the same with Psyche. Numerous hapless souls fell for Narcissus, only to be callously rejected, and finally the gods made him pine away for his own reflection.
  • Lover and Beloved: Common in Ancient Greece; they called this Erastes Eromenos.
  • Love Ruins the Realm: Dido's fling with Aeneas supposedly started the Punic Wars. Prince Paris abducting Helen started the Trojan War. Marcus Antonius allowing Cleopatra to co-rule opened him up to bad PR and ultimately civil war.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Keno slips in the Chinese Han Dynasty, circa 205 BCE.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: The trope namer is Lysistrata by Aristophanes.
  • Macho Masochism: Mucius Scaevola was an ancient Roman who demonstrated his courage and loyalty to the city by thrusting his hand into a flame until it was consumed, when an enemy tried to threaten him.
  • Made a Slave: Joseph was enslaved in Genesis. Heracles was enslaved to Omphale in Classical Mythology.
  • Mad Oracle: The Pythia, a.k.a. the priestess of Apollo's Oracle at Delphi, was occasionally depicted giving prophecies in a state of possessed frenzy. The Real Life version, not so much.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Medea, in the trope's more general form.
  • Magical Girlfriend: Greek myth of Pygmalion, the anti-social guy who was so great Aphrodite turned his statue into Galatea, the perfect bride, so he could be happy forever.
  • Magic Music: In Classical Mythology Orpheus could charm wild animals, plants, rocks, and the god Hades with his singing.
  • Magic Wand: What Circe uses to turn men into pigs in The Odyssey.
  • Magma Man: Vulcanus is the Roman god of volcanoes. Italy has active volcanoes, and they tended to blame eruptions on this god.
  • Magnetic Hero: Jesus Christ might be the Ur Example.
  • The Magnificent Seven Samurai: Seven Against Thebes.
  • Make the Dog Testify: One of the numerous courtroom antics in Aristophanes' The Wasps is putting a bowl, a pestle, a cheese-grater, a brazier, and a pot on the stand in a lawsuit between two dogs (who look like famous figures of the day and can apparently talk) about the alleged theft of some fine Sicilian cheese. The defendant also brings out his puppies to soften the hearts of the jury.
    • A borderline case is Older Than Dirt: Ancient Egyptian myth has the trial of Horus (for sodomy with Set), in which Set and Horus both make their semen testify. However, since this is an explicitly supernatural trial (both parties being gods), it's unclear if it really fits under the trope.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Some Bible students believe that Isaiah 14:12 (particularly in the King James Version) and Ezekiel 28:12-19 is God talking to The Man Behind The Kings.
  • The Man in the Moon: A Talmudic tradition holds that the face of Jacob is engraved upon the Moon.
  • Marked Bullet: The sling bullets with "ΔΕΞΑΙ" (DEXAI, Greek for "take that") engraved on them.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: The Classical myth of Jason and the Argonauts: name a Greek hero, he was probably in this one, everyone from Hercules to Oedipus. Many had sons at Troy.
  • Matriarchy: The Amazons, first mentioned in The Iliad, are the sexist variety, supposedly demonstrating why women should never rule.
  • Men Are Generic, Women Are Special: The Greek Theogony has men created first, and the woman created later as a punishment to ruin mortal life.
  • Mentor Archetype: In the The Odyssey, Athena poses as Mentor, Telemachus's elderly advisor, and convinces him to actively seek information on his missing father, instead of passively waiting.
  • Merlin Sickness: The fruit on Anostus causes this in the Roman Varia Historia, by Claudius Aelianus.
  • Merger of Souls: Postulated by the 3rd-century-AD Greek philosopher Plotinus, as "Emanation ex deo" ("out of God"). Basically, in the hierarchy of being, there is The One (who is all good, transcended, and unchanging). The nature of the One is simply that it filters down itself, but the One never loses anything or changes. Next comes the Novus, or Divine Mind, and then bellow that is the Oversoul. From the Oversoul comes individual Human Souls. So what does this have to do with this trope? It's possible for a human soul to reunite with the One again, forever (at least in Neoplatonic tradition).
  • Miles Gloriosus: The play of that name is the Trope Namer, but The Iliad's Paris beat him to it.
  • Miracle Food: It goes all the way back to Greek mythology and the concept of ambrosia.
  • Mission from God: The Patriarchs, Moses, prophets in general in The Bible.
  • Mistaken Identity: Goes back at least to Greek theater, potentially further.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Believe it or not, there are numerous Roman wall paintings depicting couples during sex — with the woman wearing a brassiere, because it would've been considered lascivious for her to show her breasts. To her own husband. During sex.
  • Monkey Morality Pose: Dates back to the days of Confucius.
  • Moon Rabbit: Earliest recorded reference found during the Warring States period of Ancient China.
  • Morton's Fork: In the New Testament (Mark 12:13) the Pharisees try to catch Jesus in one by asking if they should pay taxes to Caesar.
  • Moses in the Bullrushes: Moses himself, in the Book of Exodus. Also Oedipus in Greek Mythology, Romulus and Remus in Roman Mythology, and Karna in the Mahabharata.
  • Multishot: Rama, hero of the Ramayana, can shoot one thousand arrows with one draw, and once used such a feat to shoot down a rain of stones aimed at him. He is an Avatar of Vishnu, after all.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Old Greek and Roman poems played up the mediocrity of an event by writing it in epic verse. Batrachomyomachia used epic Homer-style poetry to narrate a battle between frogs and mice.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: King David effects the death of General Uriah, so he can have Bathsheba for himself, in The Bible (2 Samuel 10-12).
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Plautus's Poenulus, in which an incompetent interpreter turns Phoenician into Latin gibberish.
  • Naked First Impression: Mortal men pay dearly for having accidentally seen a Greek goddess bathing.
  • Nepharious Pharaoh: Egyptian pharaohs have been portrayed as villains ever since The Bible.
  • Neutrality Backlash: Seen in "The Bat, The Birds and The Beasts" in Aesop's Fables, where a bat refuses to take sides in a war between birds and beasts and is shunned by both sides after the war.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Jesus Christ mentions this happening to prophets.
  • Never Found the Body: At least as early as 200 CE, Achilles Tatius' Leucippe And Clitophon.
  • New Media Are Evil: Socrates' criticism of writing, which apparently goes back to an old tradition among the Greeks; didn't stop Plato, though.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: Lots of them in The Bible.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: The Trope Namer Herod, as well as the Ur Example of Pharaoh with Moses from the Book of Exodus.
  • Nice Mice: Found in "The Lion and the Mouse" in Aesop's Fables, where a mouse sets a lion free from a trap by gnawing through a hunter's net.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Achilles, the Nemean Lion, and Antaeus, all from Classical Mythology.
  • No Arc in Archery: Aristotle, the poster-boy for Artistic License - Physics, claimed that an arrow would fly in a straight line until its momentum was used up, then drop suddenly to the ground. Never mind the fact that every actual archer of the time knew he was full of shit.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Jesus mentions that "no prophet is accepted in his hometown." for this reason.
  • No, Mister Bond, I Expect You To Dine: In the Book of Genesis, Joseph does this to his brothers in Egypt. Subverted, because he actually intends them no harm at all.
  • No Place for Me There: In The Bible, Moses could not enter The Promised Land because of his impiety at Meribah (never mind that the other Israelites frequently surpassed him by leaps and bounds). King David could not build the Temple of Jerusalem because he was a man of war, and the temple had to be built by a man of peace (his son Solomon).
  • Noble Savage: Used by Tacitus when describing the Germanic and Caledonian tribes.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used To Be: In many myths of this period, the ambiguous "past" was much better than life at the time; for example, people lived much longer (Genesis), they mingled with gods, etc. Hesiod's myth of the Five Ages explicitly describes the decline of humanity.
  • Nouveau Riche: The Satyricon (c. 60 CE) has Trimalchio, a freed slave that has come to untold riches and is not afraid to show it off.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Odysseus tried this in the Trojan Cycle, to avoid having to go to Troy. The biblical David did it when in exile before he became king.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The original Brutus and the Roman emperor Claudius are two famous Truth in Television examples.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: One of the first known examples is that of the Jewish Zealots, of the 1st century BCE.
  • Ode to Intoxication: Most notably, Horace's "Ode to a Wine Jar."
  • Off the Table: In Roman legend, the Cumaean sybil visited Tarquin the Elder (the last king of Rome, 6th century BCE) and offered him nine books of prophecy for a great price. He refused; she burned three of them and offered the rest at the same price. After repeating this, he finally paid the original price for the remaining three.
  • Oh My Gods!: God swears by Himself in Jeremiah 22:5.
    "But if you will not hear these words, I swear by Myself, said the LORD, "that this house shall become a desolation."
  • Old Retainer: Odysseus's old nurse in The Odyssey; Phoenix to Achilles in The Iliad.
  • Omniscient Morality License: The Book of Job, as well as most of the tests, trials, and commands God gave people.
  • One Extra Member: The Four Gods in Chinese Mythology actually has five divine beasts. The fifth one is Huang Long, the Yellow Dragon that governs the element of Earth and the direction of center. He's absent in the Japanese version, where the center is associated with void instead.
  • Only Sane Man: Most prophets. Also Odysseus. Noah and Lot from the Book of Genesis — although "righteous" rather than sane.
  • The Only Way They Will Learn: "The Tao which can be explained is not the eternal Tao." Laozi, fifth century BCE China.
  • Opinion Flipflop: In the Qín Dynasty of China, one imperial advisor tested the loyalty of courtiers by bringing a deer before the emperor and calling it a horse. Anyone who dared tell the truth was soon vacated from his post.
  • Ordered to Cheat: Krishna urges Bhima to illegally hit Duryodhana below the belt in the Mahabharata, since his Achilles' Heel is his thighs.
  • Organ Autonomy: Ancient Greek and Roman doctors commonly believed that the uterus could get up and wander around a woman's body, inciting her to insanity. This is why the word "hysteria" comes from the Greek word for uterus. After all, if your organs did this to you on a regular basis, you might start to lose it after a while.
  • Original Man: The subject of how different past humans were from modern humans was the subject of Hebrew, Greek and Hindu philosophy long before the feudal period.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: In Euripides' play Ion, the orphan Ion was raised in Apollo's temple, and the only clue to his true identity is the basket he was found in. His mother conveniently recognizes this basket just in time to prevent him from killing her, after she'd tried to assassinate him.
  • Our Angels Are Different: The Bible actually features very few Winged Humanoid Angels. Otherworldly, Lovecraftian Eldritch Abomination-looking angels abound. Those in Isaiah and Ezekiel are particularly... awesome. The Cherubim were originally imagined as winged cobras.
  • Out of the Frying Pan: In The Bible (Amos 5:19), "It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear."
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: David to Bethsheba in The Bible (Samuel 1). Actaeon and Siprotes to Artemis, and Tiresias to Athene, in Classical Mythology.
  • Outsourcing Fate: Several examples in Greek Mythology, but probably the best-known is Paris having to choose the most beautiful goddess from among Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. We all know how that ended.
  • The Owl-Knowing One: Owls are the symbol for the Greek goddess of knowledge Athena.
  • Panacea: The trope as we know it comes from Greek Mythology.
  • Papa Wolf: In The Odyssey, many of Odysseus' problems are caused by Poseidon's wrath and revenge for the fate of his son Polyphemos, whom Odysseus blinded. Ares, usually not depicted in a favorable light, once killed a son of Poseidon to stop him from raping Ares' daughter.
  • Parental Favoritism: Jacob vs. Esau, Joseph vs. his brothers (Genesis).
  • Parody: The ancient Greek Batrachomyomachia, a parody of the war epic genre depicting a conflict of mice and frogs.
  • Pater Familicide: The Greek hero Heracles, in a fit of insanity caused by the goddess Hera.
  • Peacock Girl: Hera in Greek Mythology sometimes wears a few feathers; the peacock is her sacred bird.
  • Pegasus: The Trope Namer shows up first in Hesiod's writing.
  • The Philosopher King: As outlined in Plato's The Republic.
  • Plague of Good Fortune: Herodotus tells of a king who had such good luck that he threw a cherished ring in the ocean to try and balance things, hoping to dodge whatever doom the gods had in store for him. The ring was eaten by a fish, the fish captured by a fisherman, and the ring returned to the king. This sealed his fate —- he lost everything.
  • Planet of Hats: The allegorically intended nations of Hyperborea and Atlantis, among others.
  • Plant Person: Greek religion has the dryads, the nymphs of trees, groves, woods, and mountain forests. Hamadryads were a type that died when their tree died.
  • Platonic Cave: Plato's philosophy.
  • Please Shoot the Messenger: In Classical Mythology, Iobates was the King of Lycia. His nephew Proetus sent Bellerophon to Iobates with a note that said "Kill the bearer of this message."
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Large portions of Numbers and Leviticus consist of the Israelites doing something to piss God off, God threatening to wipe them all out, Moses pleading with Him, and then God agreeing to destroy only a few thousand instead.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: The Greek gods Artemis and Apollo became this, but only after the Greeks and Romans started regarding them as sun god and moon goddess.
  • Power Incontinence: King Midas just can't stop turning everything to gold... his food, his water, his daughter...
  • The Power of Rock: In the Book of Joshua, Joshua destroyed the walls of Jericho with music.
  • Preacher's Kid (diabolic type): In Leviticus 10:1,2 the very first High Priest, Aaron (the brother of Moses), had two of his sons mess up.
  • Prodigal Hero: In The Bible Moses is exiled for some time, then comes back to free the Israelites from slavery.
  • The Promised Land: Canaan in the book of Exodus, which is also the Trope Namer.
  • Prongs of Poseidon: The Greek god Poseidon's trident is the Trope Namer.
  • Proper Lady: The Odyssey features Penelope, Queen of Ithaca, who remains loyal to her missing husband Odysseus for twenty years, keeping her suitors at bay. She was cited as the greatest example of marital faithfulness in the classical world.
  • A Protagonist Shall Lead Them: Saul, Moses, David, etc. in The Bible.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Euripides's Medea, after Jason dumped her for the princess of Corinth. This did not end well.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Many such artifacts are drawn from very old stories, but it happened back then too. The Golden Fleece was used by various mythographers in their retellings of the Argonauts story, and Hercules's bow showed up in his stories and the Trojan Cycle.
  • Pungeon Master: God made some puns in The Bible.
  • Punished for Sympathy: There are multiple incidents in The Bible where God punishes the Israelites for showing pity to those He commanded to be destroyed. In Sophocles' Antigone, after the title character's brother dies an enemy of the state Creon commands that his body be left unburied. Antigone disobeys and is Buried Alive for her trouble.
  • The Punishment: In some versions of the Greek Medusa myth, Medusa used to be a beautiful nymph. Being a hideous monster, and turning people to stone, was a punishment from Athene for having sex (or rather, getting raped) in her temple.
  • Purple Is Powerful: In Ancient Rome, the Patrician class were the only people allowed to wear Tyrian purple.
  • Purpose Driven Immortality: The Bible contains several examples of people who were promised that they would not die until they saw some prophesy fulfilled, such as Simeon who was promised he would live to see the Lord's Messiah.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Trope Namer is the Greek general and king Pyrrhus of Epirus, who tried to conquer Italy. Rome beat him in a war of attrition partly because of Roman improvements on Greek military doctrine (combined arms tactics, and generals commanding from the rear instead of leading from the front), but mostly because they could replace their forces fairly readily and Pyrrhus couldn't.

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Older Than DirtThe Oldest Ones in the BookOlder Than Print
That One LevelPt/Índice de TraduçãoThe Oldest Ones in the Book
Older Than DirtImageSource/ArtThe Ophelia

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