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:

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     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  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Genesis 38 is the source for an outdated term for masturbation, Onanism.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).
  • Dying Curse: Immediately before Queen Dido of Carthage commits suicide in book IV of The Aeneid, she prays to the gods that Aeneas' mission may fail, and that the Carthaginians may forever be enemies to the descendants of Aeneas' Trojans and may one day avenge her. While part of the curse comes true, it ultimately fails.
  • 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 of The 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.
  • 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. This caused such strife that Solon banned the practice—respecting only Athenian citizens—when he was asked to reform the city's laws.
  • 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.
  • Inn of No Return: Procrustes' bed: Accept hospitality from this man, and he'll kill torture and kill you.
  • 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.

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