Follow TV Tropes


Mesopotamian Monstrosity

Go To
You can meet some interesting people at parties in New York.

They banded together, and went forth to battle to help Tiâmat.
They were furious, they plotted day and night without ceasing ...
She bedecked them with brightness, she fashioned them in exalted forms,
So that fright and horror might overcome him that looked upon them,
So that their bodies might rear up, and no man resist their attack ...
They carried the Weapon which spared not, nor flinched from the battle.

The Mesopotamian cities and nations (including Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, and various others) are one of the oldest known major civilizations in human history, and had a mythology as grand as any other, including the oldest of all surviving heroic epics, The Epic of Gilgamesh. However, unlike with many other ancient civilizations, knowledge about Mesopotamia's culture almost completely died out until its rediscovery by archaeologists in the mid-19th century. This gap led to the many centuries of Mesopotamian mythology having far less cultural impact than its later successors, such as Classical and Egyptian Mythology.

Mesopotamian mythology has remained relatively obscure, but the relative lack of knowledge about it has actually worked in its favor in modern pop culture, allowing it to serve as a ripe opportunity for an original Genius Bonus or Framing Device, in contrast to the more frequently-used and so over-familiar references to Classical and Egyptian mythologies. It is especially common to have demons or other supernatural beings have an origin from this civilization; the sheer archaic weirdness of their original descriptions (along with some massive Values Dissonance) makes them suitably uncanny for the purpose. Such uses serve as a modern alternative to Egyptian monsters, which were extremely common in the early 20th century.

In a pinch, an ancient supernatural menace can also come from somewhere else in The Middle East, especially the Levant (which drew some cultural influence from Mesopotamia, as well as from Ancient Egypt and the Hittites). It helps that The Bible mentions both Mesopotamian and Levantine kingdoms among the various foes of Israel and Judah, and that various deities from those cultures made their way into Abrahamic demonology, meaning that this trope (like the Nepharious Pharaoh) can overlap with Biblical Bad Guy.

See the notes on Mesopotamian Mythology for explanations of the significance of many of the names mentioned below.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In The Demon Girl Next Door, Lilith (who, while most famous for her role in Abrahamic religions, may have actually originated in Akkadian mythology, and is specifically noted to be from Mesopotamia in-universe) and her full-demon and half-demon descendants play an important role, although they resemble Horned Humanoids. It is stated that they originally resembled Big Red Devils, but centuries of having their powers progressively sealed away by the Light Clan caused them to take a more humanoid appearance.
  • Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: The goddess Ishtar originates from Mesopotamian Mythology. While not physically monstrous, the vileness of her actions speak for themselves. She's a Serial Rapist who has her familia members beaten into submission and then rapes them physically and mentally to make them more compliant. She also encourages a culture of forced prostitution where she will have potential "customers" roped into accepting the familia's services with their consent being an afterthought at best. She also performs Human Sacrifice rituals involving members of her own familia to enhance her power. All to wage a war against Freya and her familia for rather petty reasons.
  • Red River (1995) follows a girl named Yuri who is summoned from modern-day Japan to the Hittite Empire of the past in order to be used as a sacrifice by a sorceress queen, but the prince of the empire saves her by declaring her to be the war goddess Ishtar. Almost the whole story takes place in either the Hittite Empire or in Egypt, with Yuri's struggle in adapting to the culture being only part of her troubles.
  • Your Name: While not an actual character, the comet Tiamat is named after the ancient Mesopotamian deity and has a major influence on the plot, destroying Mitsuha's town.

    Comic Books 
  • A number of superhero comics have featured the Mesopotamian gods (or at least beings using their names) as gods, demons, gods degenerated into demons, or Ancient Astronauts. Their resemblance to their depictions in the original myths varies. For example:
    • Howard the Duck: Inverted; Pazuzu is the patron god of the Doucheblade. Played straight with the other Mesopotamian gods, whose followers were the enemies of the Doucheblade's original bearer.
    • In Project Superpowers, Samson's nemesis is the Mesopotamian god Dagon, here presented as a massive kaiju-like merman.
    • In a 1981 Madame Xanadu comic, the protagonist prevents the manifestation on Earth of a couple of demonic beings calling themselves "Ishtar" and "Tammuz", implying that these were once Mesopotamian deities.
    • In Green Lantern Annual #9 (2000) and the sequel miniseries JLA (1997): Gatekeeper (2001), they're said to be an offshoot of the Oans, who themselves split into evil and good factions, with the evil faction, Nergal, Ereskigal and Pazuzu, becoming monstrous and demonic.
  • Hellblazer:
    • The demon Nergal, a recurring antagonist, has the name of a Mesopotamian deity. It’s implied that he once passed himself off as a god, back in the day.
    • The monstrous Julian, introduced in issue #251, is a Babylonian entity called an "ekkimu".
  • In one story of The Sandman (1989), Morpheus (who frequently gets to deal with deities, who after all originate in his realm of dreams) has brief dealings with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, who has been reduced to dancing in a modern strip club. Where else could a rather dark sex-goddess find mass worship? She doesn't appear to be a monstrosity — she appears to be an exceptionally talented exotic dancer — until she gets suicidally depressed, and chooses her own way to go.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Alien Franchise: Long before descending into misanthropy, the Engineers influenced the development of and were worshipped by many human cultures in antiquity. Mesopotamia was one such civilisation, and it is implied that cuneiform derives from the Engineers' writing system.
  • The Exorcist: Pazuzu, the main antagonist, is a Mesopotamian demon who possesses the protagonist Regan. A statue of the demon also briefly appears.
  • Ghostbusters (1984): Gozer, the Big Bad of the movie, is an interdimensional being who was worshiped as a god by the Sumerians when it and its minions first appeared on Earth. The 2009 video game and IDW comics series reveal that Gozer has a long-standing rivalry with its sister, Tiamat, who was the one who originally banished Gozer from Earth centuries ago.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) opens with a Logo Joke for Legendary Pictures, showing their logo flanked by Mesopotamian-style carvings of a few of the kaiju characters. This foreshadows one of the movie's main themes: that ancient peoples were able to exist harmoniously with the "Titans". When we finally learn about the origins of King Ghidorah, it's accompanied by a barrage of ancient art, much of it Mesopotamian, suggesting that Ghidorah may have been the inspiration for mythical dragons like Tiamat. Finally, when we go to the Underwater Ruins of an ancient Godzilla-worshipping civilization, the architecture has a definite Mesopotamian influence, with lamassu statues aplenty.

  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures, the Big Bad of the first story arc is a hostile Sufficiently Advanced Alien who was worshiped as the goddess Ishtar.
  • Sepulchre by James Herbert goes to Sumer and its mythology for its primary force for evil — the god Bel-Marduk.
  • In The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft, the deity worshiped by the monstrous Fish People is referred to as "Dagon" by its human cultists ("the Esoteric Order of Dagon"). Dagon is a Canaanite deity sometimes interpreted as being a merman or otherwise related to fish. Various other writers working on the Cthulhu Mythos have expanded on this reference. The scholar Robert M. Price postulates that this Dagon is Cthulhu itself, referred to under a biblical name by the Esoteric Order's leader because worshipping "Dagon" (a name most Americans from the 1920s would recognize as a pagan god mentioned in the Bible) would make the cultists more comfortable than worshipping an alien deity with an unprononceable name.
  • Another Canaanite variant appears in Good Omens, with the Noble Demon Crowley's alias "Nanny Ashtoreth" derived from the Phoenician version of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar.
  • In Slaves Of Spiegel by Daniel Pinkwater, Sargon the Magnificent, alien overlord, conqueror of galaxies, and supreme judge of the Spiegelian intergalactic cooking competition, is named after Sargon, the founder of the Akkadian empire. He's implied to be a very nasty character, although he doesn't do anything too terrible in the book.
  • The eight novel in The Expanse series, Tiamat's Wrath, is titled after the Babylonian goddess of primordial chaos, alluding to eldritch beings who have killed the Ringbuilders in the distant pastnote  and now have humanity in their sights after Winston Duarte's ill-advised attack on them.
  • The Simon Necronomicon is a literary hoax which pretends to be the real life version of the Necronomicon. Parts of it consist of rituals claimed to be based on Mesopotamian magic, and claims some Mesopotamian gods are actually the Great Old Ones.
  • The Greater-Scope Villain of The Chronicles of Narnia is the Calormene Top God Tash, whose appearance is modeled partly on apkallu, specifically on the bird-headed variety known to nineteenth-century Assyriologists as "Nisrochs" after an Assyrian god mentioned in The Bible.note  The author C. S. Lewis also applied a tweaked version of the name "Nisroch" to Calormen's God-Emperor, the Tisroc (may he live forever). Lewis apparently got the idea from The Story of the Amulet (E. Nesbit's second sequel to Five Children and It), which features both a Nisroch who guides the kid heroes and a Babylonian king who demands that his subjects follow every mention of him with "may he live forever."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1: Several Goa'uld used Mesopotamian deities as their God Guise. Also, in one episode, an alien captures Daniel Jackson, convinced that Daniel knows something about his mate, and after some risky memory probing, Daniel recalls reading that she was a minor Babylonian hero who died fighting the Goa'uld.
  • Ultraman Gaia had a Monster of the Week called Pazuzu, an extraterrestrial demon-like creature with electrical powers.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Lilith: It has been suggested that the Jewish/Christian myth of Lilith (who, it's worth noting, isn't in the Bible note ) originated in the demonic lilitu of Mesopotamian legend. If so (and this isn’t certain), this is an unusual medieval instance of the trope.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The goddess Tiamat (Goddess of Chromatic Dragons) is portrayed as a five-headed dragon and is one of the main members of the universe's pantheon of gods. Pazuzu and Dagon are also present as powerful Demon Princes who control their own layers of the Abyss.
    • In the Forgotten Realms setting, the Untherite pantheon was implied to be the Mesopotamian one, prior to getting mostly wiped out long ago; the sole survivors are the aforementioned Tiamat, and the incarnated God-Emperor Gilgeam, whose slide into insane despotism makes most other evil gods of the setting look pretty okay in comparison until Tiamat finally manages to kill him.
  • The Madness Dossier: The monstrous, mind-controlling "Anunnakku", the antagonists in this horror setting for GURPS, appear to be lodged in the human racial memory as the gods and monsters of Sumeria, and "monstrosity" is the word. The book draws a lot of terminology from Sumerian archaeology.
  • Pathfinder:
    • In order to avoid copyright conflicts with Dungeons & Dragons's portrayal of the dragon gods, Pathfinder digs rather deeper into a Mesopotamian angle for their origins. In this setting, the draconic cosmogony follows the Babylonian one much more closely — the progenitor gods Apsu and Tiamat began as great oceans of fresh and salt water before anything else existed, begat the first gods when their waters mingled, and only took physical form much later when their creations' conflicts forced their attention to them.
    • Numerous demon lords take their names from Mesopotamian Mythology, such as Dagon, Pazuzu, Areshkagal, Socothbenoth, Lamashtu, Nurgal, and Abraxas.
    • There's also an Infernal Duke named Nergal, associated with plague and diseases. He and Nurgal used to be one guy before getting cut in half by an enemy god. One half went to Hell and became Nergal, while the other half fell into the Abyss and became Nurgal.
  • Vampire: The Requiem reinvisions the Edimmu of Sumerian myth, originally a type of Vengeful Ghost or demon, as a powerful sevenfold spirit that can devour a vampire's soul and possess its body. Blood witches created the first to assassinate a Babylonian God-Emperor vampire, then learned to their horror that each victim lets the Edimmu spawn seven more skeins of seven spirits. Millennia later, the legend terrifies vampires.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: The Chaos Dwarves have a Babylonian aesthetic, live in the approximate equivalent of the Middle East, and field evil winged bulls in battle. Dwarf-headed versions are called lammasu and are powerful casters and manipulators, to the point where it's uncertain whether a sorcerer riding a lammasu is in charge or whether the lammasu is.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Chaos god of disease, Nurgle, is implied to have been worshiped as the Mesopotamian god of plague (and war) Nergal.
  • Leviathan: The Tempest: The Leviathans' origin myth is based on the Mesopotamian creation myth. The player characters themselves are Kraken and Leviathan-style monstrosities who trace their lineage ultimately back to Tiamat through a Progenitor. And their big enemies are the Marduk Society.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 


    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-2270 is a set of texts detailing rituals needed to convince Ereshkigal (the goddess of the dead, referred to in the books as the "half-divine she-torturer") to in turn convince her husband Nergal (a god of death, war, and plagues, also associated with the scorching power of the sun) to do some divine smiting of an enemy. Said rituals are complex and rambling, but boil down to getting Ereshkigal's attention, translating one's request into her language (Nergal's own language is too far removed from humanity for him to understand such requests, but Ereshkigal can communicate with both him and humans), presenting her with a blood sacrifice to give to Nergal, and then reciting a long prayer while Nergal is doing the smiting in order to assure him of your conviction. If all goes well, the target is hit with the force of a major nuclear strike (estimated at 275 petajoules), but the caster is damned to enslavement in Nergal's sun furnace upon death. If the caster screws up, Nergal smites them instead.

    Western Animation 
  • On The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Nergal is the name of a recurring character who is a shadowy demonic Eldritch Abomination from the Earth's core. Despite his power and appearance however, he's actually a pretty decent guy, and he even marries Billy's aunt and has a son with her.
  • A couple episodes of Futurama feature a giant living gargoyle named Pazuzu, who is apparently a creation of resident Mad Scientist Professor Farnsworth.
  • The Secret Saturdays: At the time of the show's creation, the Sumerian name Kur was thought to belong to the first dragon. In the show, Kur is a powerful cryptid that was both worshipped as a god and slain as a monster, and is capable of controlling every cryptid on Earth. The plot of the first season is the Saturday family trying to find Kur before V. V. Argost could use it to take over the world. At the end of the first season, it's revealed its power had reincarnated into the protagonist Zak Saturday.