Older Than the NES | Before 1985
Older Than Cable TV | 1939 — 1980
Older Than Television | 1890 — 1939
Older Than Radio | 1698 — 1890
Older Than Steam | 1439 — 1698
Older Than Print | 476 — 1439
Older Than Feudalism | ~800 BC — 476 AD
Older Than Dirt | Before ~800 BC
From the fall of Rome during the 5th century (c. 476 CE) to the invention of movable-type printing. The precise dates vary from region to region, but this was a time when literacy was low and books were rare and cost a king's ransom. In the era before movable type, most documents were hand-written, so if you were a wealthy, educated Blue Blood or church leader and you wanted to read a book, you got your scribes to hand copy the book. Most Western folklore originated here, often echoing earlier tropes. Chivalric Romance and Courtly Love developed in this era.
Note: this is older than Johannes Gutenberg's printing press (1439 CE), not metal movable-type characters (ca. 1230 CE, Korea), movable-type printing (1040 CE, China), and certainly not wood-block printing (220 CE or earlier, China again). These earlier printing methods could be used to cut down the cost of reproduction to 90 percent lower than hand-copying, but they each had drawbacks. Wood blocks used for printing had to be laboriously carved by hand, and then they'd wear out and have to re-carve the entire page.
In short, the Middle Ages — assuming you don't take Petrarch's definition for it, as he lived in the 1300s. Even all things Shakespeare, Don Quixote, and many late medieval and high Renaissance era books are only Older Than Steam.
Specific works from this time period include:
- The Arabian Nights, mostly (though "Aladdin" and "Ali Baba" have no known source before Galland's Older Than Radio French translation.)
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
- Almost everything we know of Celtic Mythology and Norse Mythology was first written down during this period.
- Giovanni Boccacio's Decameron
- The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
- The Ghent Altarpiece
- The Icelandic Sagas
- Most sources of Arthurian Legend, from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (12th century) to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
- The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
- The Tale of Genji
- Various versions of Reynard the Fox
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms (though set in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE)
- The Song of Roland
- The Shahnameh by Ferdowsi
- The Hindu Puranas were composed in more-or-less their present form during the centuries before about 1000 CE, although their origins and some portions of the texts go back to at least 300 BCE.
- The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, which chronicle most of Japanese Mythology and the nation's early history, were first compiled in 711-712 and 720 CE respectively.
- The Qur'an. It was orally transmitted throughout the Prophet's lifetime and was only codified by his successors. Final canonization was done during the reign of caliph Uthman (644-656 CE).
Tropes from this time period:<!—index—>
- Abhorrent Admirer: Seen in the Wife of Bath's Tale in The Canterbury Tales.
- Above the Influence: Kamar and Budur in The Arabian Nights.
- Accidentally Correct Zoology: While dragon myths are Older Than Dirt, depictions of winged dragons first appeared around this time, long before pterosaurs were discovered.
- Adjective Animal Alehouse: European High Middle Ages practice.
- The Ageless: The Norse gods are unaging, so long as they continue to eat the Apples of Idun.
- Alas, Poor Yorick: St. Catherine of Siena did this, supposedly.
- All Witches Have Cats: 'A woman with a black cat is a witch' dates to this time period.
- Anatomically Impossible Sex: Works by Duke William IX of Aquitaine.
- The Anti-Nihilist: A major theme of Norse Mythology. Everyone dies, but how one meets one's death is up to them, and the fame they have earned in life will live on afterwards.
- Arrow Catch: Odin in Norse Mythology and Jiang Wei in Romance of the Three Kingdoms can both do this.
- Ascended Fanboy: Back in 12th century Europe, a lot of knights Jumped at the Call of the Second Crusade. Why? They were raised on stories of the First Crusade.
- Attending Your Own Funeral: One year after his uncle Feng has sent Amleth to England with the intent of having him killed, Amleth is presumed dead and his obsequies are being held. Just the same day Amleth returns to the royal palace. Later the same night he executes vengeance on Feng (Gesta Danorum).
- Attractive Bent-Gender: "Prince Camaralzaman and Princess Badoura" in The Arabian Nights.
- Behemoth Battle: St. Brendan and his crew in The Voyage of St. Brendan witness two sea-monsters as well as a two giant birds fight each other to the death. Both times a "good" monster sent by God defeats and kills a "bad" monster that had tried to harm the voyagers.
- Berserk Button: Liu Bei in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
- Beware Of Hitch Hiking Ghosts: Mi Zhu picks up a hitchhiking fire spirit in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
- Bishōnen: Prince Genji.
- Black Knight: The two black knights from Arthurian Legend.
- Blade Below the Shoulder: In the Icelandic Saga of Egil One-Hand and Asmund the Berserkerslayer, the young warrior Egil loses his right hand in combat, but later he earns the gratitude of a dwarf who heals his wound and then forges a special sword for him which can be fixed on Egil's arm stump. With this device Egil can fight as before, and in fact becomes a feared swordsman.
- Blade Spam: Gunnar Hámundarson, one of the heroes of Njal's Saga, "could deal blows so swiftly that three swords seemed to flash through the air at the same time."
- Bolivian Army Ending: The game of Chess ends when the king is surrounded with no chance of escape, but has not yet been killed or captured.
- The Call Left a Message: The Sword in the Stone and the Siege Perilous from the Arthurian legends.
- The Captivity Narrative: There was a particular brand of fiction in Medieval Europe wherein Christian travellers were captured by Muslim corsairs and imprisoned for lengthy periods, tortured and offered to convert to Islam, then dying in the name of the faith.
- Catch and Return: Catching a spear from mid-flight and throwing it back is a feat mastered by various heroes of The Icelandic Sagas.
- Chain of Deals: The Japanese legend of the straw millionaire, a poor man who prayed to the goddess of mercy. She granted him a piece of straw, which he traded through his travels until he managed to win the heart of an heiress.
- Changeling Tale: Supernatural beings enticing humans away into the Otherworld is a trope of Irish Mythology, though this is not done from malice. The folk belief (common to most of Western Europe) that malicious supernatural beings outright kidnap people (especially babies) and substitute them with changelings is documented from the the Late Middle Ages onwards.
- Character Name and the Noun Phrase: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 14th century.
- Chess Motifs: Chaturanga existed by the 7th century CE.
- Chivalric Romance: Hallmark of High Middle Ages literature.
- Chromatic Arrangement: The Ghent Altarpiece, painted before 1432, demonstrates this trope in its depiction of God the Father, St. John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary, demonstrably bringing it in just before the dividing line.
- Cold Iron: The traditional bane of The Fair Folk.
- Coitus Uninterruptus: The travel writer Ahmad Ibn Fadlān who visited the land of the Volga Bulghars in 921-22 CE says of slave traders from the Rūs visiting the Bulghars that they frequently have sex with the girls they offer for sale, and if a customer happens to come into their quarters to buy slaves from a slaver who is just having intercourse, the man won't attend to his customer "until he has satisfied himself".
- Content Warnings: Chaucer uses them in "The Miller's Prologue" of the The Canterbury Tales.
- Cool Boat: Norse Mythology gives us Skíðblaðnir, ship of the god Freyr, made by dwarves. It was a full-sized ship, big enough to carry the entire Norse pantheon, that you could fold up and store in your pocket when you were done. Also, whenever you opened the sail, a favorable wind for taking you where you wanted to go would spring up.
- Corrupt Church: Medieval Western Europe allegedly got it bad enough to be commented on in several contemporary sources. The most notable of these is Dante, who puts several popes in Hell for corruption in the Inferno, and the one pope we meet in the Purgatorio is also there for being too greedy before he repented. The same complaint is also what sparked the Protestant Reformation in the first place, which closely follows Gutenberg's invention of the Western printing press.
- The Corpse Stops Here: "The Story of the Hunchback" from the Arabian Nights.
- Country Matters: The Canterbury Tales
- Courtly Love: A staple of Chivalric Romance.
- Damsel Errant: In Arthurian myths, such as in the Forest of Arroy.
- Dangerous Backswing: Examples of fighters killing an attacker that stands behind them by swinging their weapons over their head occur in various Icelandic sagas, such as Njal's Saga, The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal, and Heimskringla.
- The Dead Can Dance: The danse macabre motif in art (first in 1425), and various morality plays.
- Demon of Human Origin: In the "Tale of Thorstein Shiver", an Icelandic short tale from the Book of Flatey (c. 1390 CE), the Christian Thorstein encounters an imp from Hell who introduces himself as a certain Thorkel the Thin, a warrior of the pagan times who died in the famous Battle of Bravellir.
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: The first known example of copyright law comes from a dispute between St. Finian and St. Columba over whether the latter had the right to freely copy the former's books, which was one of the causes of the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne.
- Direct Line to the Author: The Tale of Genji and The Canterbury Tales both have this.
- Dirty Old Monk: The Friar, Summoner, Pardoner, and Monk, all from The Canterbury Tales
- Disposable Woman: Vitae Sanctorum Britanniae, before the 9th century. Also Shui Hu Zhuan, aka Outlaws of the Marsh or The Water Margin (mid-14th century).
- Draconic Humanoid: A few Old Norse sagas (for example, "The Tale of Styrbjorn") mention a monster called finngalkn, a gigantic creature with the head and shoulders of a man and the lower body of a dragon.
- Dragon Ancestry: Emperor Jimmu, the mythical first Emperor of Japan in Japanese Mythology, was the grandson of Otohime, the daughter of the dragon god of the sea Ryujin.
- Draw Sword, Draw Blood: From Norse Mythology, King Högni's dwarf-made sword Dáinsleif could not be sheathed until it had drawn blood or taken life. Another dwarf-forged sword, Tyrfing, was cursed so that it would kill a man every time it was drawn.
- The Dulcinea Effect: Chivalric stories, such as the 12th-century tale of the Troubadour Jaufre Rudel.
- Dying Deal Upgrade: In Gesta Danorum Sigurd, son of Ragnar Lodbrog, is mortally wounded in his first battle. Odin appears to him and offers to heal him if Sigurd in turn will dedicate all opponents he will defeat in his life to Odin. Sigurd accepts and is cured instantly.
- The Everyman: These were often the protagonists of medieval everyman plays.
- Everything's Better with Rainbows (Rainbows as solid objects): In Norse Mythology the rainbow is Bifrost, the bridge between Asgard and Midgard, a solid road on which the gods travel.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Historia Regum Britanniae, in which Merlin uses magic to disguise Uther as Gorlois but a dog is not fooled.
- Evil Tower of Ominousness: Kajebi fortress in ''The Knight in the Tiger's Skin'' (12th century).
- Eye Beams: The Fomor Balor from Irish Mythology had a magic eye that could burn men "like leaves cast into a forge" (The Battle of Magh Tuireadh). In the Matsya Purana, Shiva used his third eye to burn the love-god Kama to ash in wrath over being forced to fall in love with Parvati.
- Eye-Obscuring Hat: Odin from Norse Mythology.
- Eyepatch of Power: The god Odin in Norse Mythology.
- The Fair Folk: Ancient Irish Mythology, bleeding through into British folk tales.
- Fanfare: European practice heralding the arrival of a King.
- Family Eye Resemblance: In Völsunga saga, all the Volsungs have unusually bright, piercing eyes.
- Fantastic Foxes: Oral traditions in Europe and Asia.
- Fantastic Religious Weirdness: In Islamic tradition, jinn follow religions like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
- Faux Death: The Celtic precursor of "Sleeping Beauty".
- Fed to Pigs: Amleth in Gesta Danorum kills his uncle's spying courtier that tries to eavesdrop on Amleth's conversation with his mother, then cuts the body to pieces, boils it, and throws it into a sewer for pigs to eat.
- Fence Painting: The modus operandi of the West African trickster Anansi the Spider. It eventually backfires on him.
- Feuding Families: Many Sagas of Icelanders, such as Njáls saga, Laxdæla saga, and Eyrbyggja Saga.
- Fleur de Lis: European heraldry.
- Fiery Redhead: Thor, in spite of what later adaptations (and not just the Marvel Comics one) would have you believe, was always described as red-haired and red-bearded. As for his temper, his description in The Eddas is:
He was merry and blithe of spirit, but terrible in his wrath.
- First Contact Farmer: Kaguya in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is a princess of the moon who is found and raised by a lowly bamboo cutter until she decides to return to it after becoming an adult.
- Flying Saucer: A spaceship shaped like this is depicted in an illustration of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.
- Footsie Under the Table: In the Icelandic Saga of Bósi and Herraud, Bósi initiates his one-night stand with a farmgirl of Bjarmaland by "touching her foot with his toe" at table, "and she did the same to him".
- For Want of a Nail: The proverb first appeared during this period, though the concept may be older. There's also the Arabian Nights tale "What a drop of honey caused" (it caused a war.)
- Generational Saga: Various Icelandic sagas, such as Laxdæla saga, Eyrbyggja Saga, or Völsunga saga (all 13th century).
- Gene Hunting: Máel Dúin, the hero of The Voyage of Máel Dúin, is the son of a nun and a noble who raped her, but is raised by a local king and queen as their own son. As a young adult, he learns that he is adopted, and insists on learning the truth about his birth parents. Eventually he leaves his adoptive parents to live with the family of his birth father (who has been killed by pirates years ago), and after a while makes it his mission to avenge his birth father.
- Genie in a Bottle: Arabian myth and legend.
- Gentle Giant: Saint Christopher, post Character Development, in the Golden Legend c. 1260 CE.
- Greedy Jew: Medieval European prejudice.
- The Grim Reaper: The personification of Death as a skeletal figure with a scythe was common in the middle ages in Europe, starting in the 14th century.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: The mobility limitations of the Advisors/Guards in Xiangqi means they're often getting in each other's way.
- Hand Cannon: The Trope Namer was a late 13th-century Chinese invention, the precursor to all modern handheld firearms; the earliest models were literally miniaturised handheld cannons, hence the name. (In some cases it was also already called a handgun, sometimes spelled "handgonne".note ) It reached Europe around the early 14th century.
- Hammerspace: Thunder-god Thor of Norse Mythology could make his hammer shrink to an incredibly tiny size, and be pulled out of seemingly nowhere, and is both the first user and namer of this trope.
- Head Turned Backwards: In the Inferno, fortune-tellers have to walk forwards with their heads on backwards, unable to see what is ahead, because of their forbidden attempts to see the future in life.
- Holding the Floor: Scheherezade in Arabian Nights dragged this on a long time.
- Hollywood Atheist: Despite the name, this shows up at least as early as the Arabic Hayy ibn Yaqzan of the 11th and 12th centuries.
- Hormone-Addled Teenager: Serious scholarship says this about the narrators of Decameron.
- I Call Him "Mister Happy": "The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad" in Arabian Nights.
- IKEA Erotica: The gods Izanagi and Izanami, in the Japanese creation myth.
- Incredibly Conspicuous Drag: In the Poetic Edda, the extremely manly god Thor has to dress up as the beautiful goddess Freya in order to get his hammer back. Loki has to make many excuses to explain why "Freya" has an enormous appetite, is incredibly large, takes thunderous steps, and has a beard.
- Insubstantial Ingredients: The sound of a cat's footfall is one of several impossible ingredients in the unbreakable ribbon Gleipnir in Norse Mythology.
- Ironic Nickname: Little John from the Robin Hood legends (14th century)
- King in the Mountain: King Arthur in Cadbury Hill, Frederick Barbarossa in Kyffhäuser, King Wenceslas in Blaník, to only name a few.
- Knighting: Medieval European practice.
- Knight Errant: Chivalric Romance
- Knight in Shining Armor: Chivalric Romance
- The Lady's Favour: Chivalric Romance
- Lampshade Hanging: Dante's reaction to seeing so many Florentines he recognizes in Hell in The Divine Comedy. The narrator of The Tale of Genji concludes her glamorous description of Genji's awesomeness with the note that if she mentioned all the ways he was amazing, it would only look absurd.
- Land of Faerie: The Otherworld, inhabited by the Sidhe of Irish Mythology.
- Life/Death Juxtaposition: The goddesses Hel and Idunna (goddesses of death and rejuvination respectively) from Norse Mythology.
- Line-of-Sight Name: The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, 1300s
- Literal Ass-Kissing: "The Miller's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales, late 14th century
- Loon with a Heart of Gold: Many saints and blessed ones were extremely quirky, at least by today's standards (one can remember Frances of Assisi who talked to birds and animals, etc.)
- Mad Eye: Cuchulain, Irish folk hero, sucks one eye all the way into his skull while the other pops right out when he gets into a rage.
- Magic Is Feminine: In ancient Norse culture, men using magic were considered ergi, or unmanly, for doing so and greatly scorned. This is even brought up by the magical trickster god Loki in Lokasenna where Loki openly mocked Odin, the king of the Norse gods, for being a magic-user after Odin mocked him for shapeshifting into a female and bearing children.
- Magic Knight: The Norse god Odin.
- Martial Arts Staff: Little John, Robin Hood, 14th century
- Masking the Deformity: After the eponymous hero of The Saga of Arrow-Odd has torn off the face of his archenemy Ogmund, Ogmund adopts a new identity as Kvillanus and always wears a mask to hide his mutilated face. It is implied Ogmund's motive is not so much shame or vanity but that he does not want to be recognized because he knows that Odd is still seeking revenge on him.
- Merlin: The "modern" incarnation of him began in this time period, along with the modern Arthurian mythos.
- Merlin and Nimue (a relationship between two magic-users): The pair from Arthurian Legend are the Trope Namers and makers.
- "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name: The Divine Comedy, early 14th century
- Mineral MacGuffin: In Chivalric Romance, the magical jewel that shone of its own light is a stock magical item.
- Money Slap: In Gisli's Saga, Aud smashes the heavy purse with the silver money that Eyjolf offers her for betraying her husband Gisli into Eyjolf's face. In Fridthjof's Saga, Fridthjof, upon discovering that King Helgi has treacherously broken their peace agreement, slams a bag full of silver money he has collected for Helgi full-force into Helgi's face.
- Mono no Aware: While the term was first used in Heian-era literature, it's mostly known for its use by Motoori Norinaga in the 18th century.
- The Mourning After: The Chivalric Romance Floris and Blanchefleur.
- Murder, Inc.: The Hashshashin, the original assassins, come from this period.
- Name and Name: "Troilus and Criseyde", Geoffrey Chaucer.
- Naughty Nuns: Decameron, c. 1350
- Nerf: Generals in Xiangqi.
- Nice to the Waiter: In The Tale Of Gamelyn, c. 1350.
- Off on a Technicality: When Njál's friends and relations sue the Burners of Njál and his household with the purpose of having them outlawed, the Burners succeed twice in invalidating a verdict disfavorable to them because their legal advisor has tricked the persecution into making technical errors: The first time the lawsuit was not instituted before the legally competent court, the second time the jury contained more than the allowed number of judges (Njal's Saga).
- Once Upon a Time: Per Webster's, started around 1380.
- One-Hit-Point Wonder: Pieces in Chaturanga.
- Our Genies Are Different: The varying portrayal of genies in the Arabian Nights are often quite different from what the Western world expects of genies.
- Outlaw: Outlawry was a common punishment in many ancient and medieval societies. In fiction, outlaws and their precarious situation are frequently represented in the Sagas of Icelanders (13th-14th century), where outlaws can play villainous, ambiguous or even heroic roles. Sympathetic outlaws are also the heroes of Outlaws of the Marsh.
- "Pop!" Goes the Human: There's a Celtic yarn about a boy who is mad at his brother for being a glutton, and makes a Chain of Deals so he can hang him. When he finally gets the materials to build a gibbet, he returns home to discover that his brother burst.
- Privately Owned Society: Real Life Gaelic Ireland, between 650 and 1650, and the Icelandic Commonwealth, between 930 and 1262.
- The Promise: In the Chivalric Romance Sir Orfeo.
- Proxy War: The 6th century conflict between the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and its chief rival the Sassanid (Persian) Empire saw one of these play out over Yemen, with both powers sending rival missionaries to convert the Yemenis and gain their allegiance. The Romans supported efforts by their East African ally Axum to convert Yemen to Orthodox Christianity,note while the Sasanids encouraged the spread of Judaism (not because they were Jewish—they were actually Zoroastrians—but because they had a strategic alliance with the Jewish leadership to oppose Christian/Roman power and there was a longstanding Jewish community in Yemen). When the Sassanids succeeded, the Romans got Axum to invade and conquer Yemen.
- Random Events Plot: Apollonius Of Tyre, a Chivalric Romance.
- Rage Against the Reflection: In Romance of the Three Kingdoms Xiahou Dun, after getting his Eyepatch of Power, is said to have a "wanting to break things" expression on his face whenever he got near a mirror.
- "Rediscovering Roots" Trip: According to Heimskringla, King Sveigdir, the fourth successor of Odin as ruler of Sweden, went looking for Godheim (the "land of the Gods") from whence his ancestors came to Sweden four generations earlier. He spends five years in Asgard and Vanaheim and there "met many of his relatives".
- Reforged Blade: The Trope Maker is the Icelandic Saga of the Volsungs: When no other blade meets his requirements, the hero Sigurd makes the dwarf Regin forge the pieces of his father's sword into a new weapon of superior quality.
- Revealing Reflection: Thorkel Eyjolfsson in The Saga of the People of Laxardal attempts to sneak up on the outlaw Grim with a drawn sword while the latter is fishing at the brink of a lake. At the last moment, Grim sees Thorkel's reflection in the water und manages to fight off Thorkel.
- Robe and Wizard Hat: The Norse god Odin invented it.
- Roll in the Hay: A popular pastime for couples on the countryside.
- Rump Roast: In The Miller's Tale
- Sand Is Water: According to Mandeville's Travels (14th century), there is a "Sea of Sand" in India which consists of sand that flows like water, and which even has fish that are "different from other fishes" but still edible.
- Sand Necktie: Domenico I Contarini, doge of Venice, captured the patriarch of Aquileia, Poppo of Treffenand, in 1045, and let him be buried up to his neck, and left guards to watch over him until he died.
- Sapient Ship: In Fridthjof's Saga, Fridthjof's ship Ellidi is enchanted "so that she had learned to understand human speech", and one time Fridthjof's life is saved in a sea-storm because the ship seemingly reacts to his call.
- Sassy Black Woman: Brunhild the Moor in Die Mörin by Hermann von Sachsenheim, 1453
- Secret Identity: The protagonist of the Chivalric Romance Roswall And Lillian.
- Secret Stab Wound: In one Arthurian story, Sir Gareth inflicted one of these on a Black Knight in a joust; said knight abruptly fell dead during the ensuing swordfight.
- Self-Insert Fic: Dante's The Divine Comedy
- Shapeshifting Lover: Japanese kitsune and tanuki, Irish selkies, European swan maidens, and others.
- Shapeshifter Showdown: The Welsh myth of Cerridwen and Taliesin. The Tale of the Kalandar Prince in The Arabian Nights.
- Shapeshifting Squick: Foxes in Japanese folklore who seduced men, then turned back into foxes after a one night stand.
- Short-Lived, Big Impact: The Canterbury Tales were never finished yet have influenced all of Western literature.
- Shut Up, Kirk!: In the Chanson de Roland, Charlemagne calls on the Pagan leader Baligant to repent and be baptized, and then the Emperor his "first friend will be." Baligant tells him, "Your sermon's but ill preached." Of course, the medieval belief that being non-Christian necessarily makes Baligant the villian of the piece hits modern Values Dissonance.
- Side Effects Include...: The 6th-century Chinese medical text Records of the Rock Chamber list the following side effects for an alleged elixir of immortality, and suggests that this means the elixir is working:
- After taking an elixir, if your face and body itch as though insects were crawling over them, if your hands and feet swell dropsically, if you cannot stand the smell of food and bring it up after you have eaten it, if you feel as though you were going to be sick most of the time, if you experience weakness in the four limbs, if you have to go often to the latrine, or if your head or stomach violently ache—do not be alarmed or disturbed. All these effects are merely proofs that the elixir you are taking is successfully dispelling your latent disorders.
- One problem: As any modern toxicologist would tell you, these are classic signs and symptoms of acute mercury poisoning—and indeed, cinnabar (mercury (II) sulfide) is a primary ingredient in most Chinese "elixirs of immortality" of the era.
- Single Tear: In The Divine Comedy, "Purgatory" part, Dante meets a soldier who was spared damnation because he wept a single tear of repentance in his dying moments. Aslaug in Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok weeps a single tear of blood over the death of her stepsons.
- Situational Hand Switch: When the eponymous hero of Waltharius gets his right hand cut off in combat, he draws his backup sword with his left hand and fights the battle to a draw.
- Sky Pirates: Agobard of Lyon's "On Hail and Thunder", written around 815 CE, is centered around debunking the common belief that larcenous sailors from the cloud realm of Magonia would come on flying ships to steal crops damaged by storms.
- Slasher Smile: Skarp-Héðinn Njálsson in the Icelandic Brennu-Njáls Saga. Loki in Norse Mythology.
- Snake Pit: In Norse Mythology, Gunnar the Niflung as well as Ragnar Lothbrok are executed in this way.
- Sneaky Spider: Anansi of Akan oral tradition is a spider-trickster figure.
- Sorting Algorithm of Evil: In Beowulf, in the order in which he fights the three monsters.
- Spoiled Sweet: Kaguya-hime, the Shining Princess from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.
- Standard Fantasy Setting: The setting of most of Norse Mythology, most notably The Eddas. Long before the modern fantasy genre took shape, Norse Mythology envisioned a world where rugged warriors lived alongside semi-human elves, dwarves, and giants, questing for treasure and doing battle with monsters. Much of the standard vocabulary of fantasy is even ripped directly from the tales of the Norsemen, with terms like "Elf" and "Dwarf" derived from the Old Norse "Alfar" and "Dvergr"; even "Middle Earth" is a literal English translation of the Old Norse "Midgard". In short: the Standard Fantasy Setting was the Standard Norse Setting before the fantasy genre existed.
- Starving Student: The Clerk of Oxford from The Canterbury Tales.
- Strange Salute: In The Divine Comedy, some demons salute each other by farting.
- Stylistic Suck: The tale of Sir Thopas in The Canterbury Tales.
- Suicide as Comedy: The family of insane hillbillies in Gautrek's Saga is so shaken by trivial or imaginary mishaps that all except one daughter decide to "go to Odin" by jumping from a high rock called the 'Family Cliff'.
- Suicide Attack: The Hashshashin, the original assassins.
- Talking Weapon: The Battle of Magh Tuireadh from Irish Mythology mentions Oghma's talking sword Orna, formerly owned by the Fomor king Tethra, which, when taken out of its sheath, tells every deed that has been done with it.
- Tear Off Your Face: In The Saga of Arrow-Odd, the half-troll Ogmund tries to get away from Odd by sinking into the earth (as trolls can). Odd gets hold of Ogmund's beard and rips "off the whole beard with the skin underneath right down the bone, including the entire face and both cheeks".
- Tears of Blood: A common trope in Heian era Japanese literature, for example The Tale of Genji. Also shed by Kriemhild for her husband Siegfried in Nibelungenlied, and by Aslaug for her stepsons in The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok.
- The New Rock & Roll: In the 12th century, the Church denied all sacraments, including last rites, to all minstrels and street performers, effectively damning them all to Hell. The reason? Supposedly, what they did was unproductive and seduced people away from a "proper" Christian life. During the Middle Ages, musicians were seen as corruptors of youth who presumably learned their skills in Hell.
- Thieving Magpie: The Arabian Nights story "the Stolen Necklace".
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, the poetic form of Hijaa', although called satire by more polite historians, is actually a kind of insult poetry directed at an enemy, explaining all the reasons why he was an awful, terrible, dishonorable, no-good human being. Like satire, Hijaa' is supposed to be funny to the general audience, but it was mostly supposed to be read or heard by its target, who would be gravely insulted. Essentially the world's first diss tracks.
- Third Eye: The Hindu Matsya Purana tells of the fear of the gods when Shiva mourned unceasingly for his dead wife Sati, because a prophecy stated that a new son of Shiva was needed to save the gods from a coming catastrophe. Kama, god of love, shot Shiva to make him fall in love with Parvati, so Shiva grew a third eye and burnt him to a crisp with Eye Beams.
- Throwing Off the Disability: Thórhall Ásgrimsson of Njal's Saga is so infuriated that the Burners of Njál and his household have evaded a sentence of outlawry by exploiting a technicality that he drives a spear through the boil on his foot which made him walk with a cane, then storms off without a cane and without limping and kills the first man of the Burners he meets.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: From Norse heroic legend: When the hero Sigurd is stabbed in his sleep, he throws his sword after the fleeing murderer that cuts him clean in two. The incident is related identically in the Prose Edda, Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga.
- Trading Bars for Stripes: One of the earliest known examples comes from the Ottoman Empire in Real Life. The bashi-bazouk were a type of irregular soldier dating back to the 1300s who were recruited from criminals, vagrants, and the homeless. Instead of being salaried, their pay consisted solely of whatever they could steal.
- Translation with an Agenda: Many translations of The Bible are accused of this.
- Trick-Taking Card Game: Records of such games existing in China date back to the early second millenium.
- Turn Out Like His Father: Some variants of Percival, from Arthurian Legend.
- Unable to Cry: In the "First Lay of Gudrun" of the Poetic Edda, Gudrun does not weep over her murdered husband Sigurd. Several women attempt to console her by relating her own sad stories, but fail to get a reaction. Only when Gudrun's sister uncovers the dead Sigurd's face does Gudrun weep.
- Uptown Girl: Prince Justinian I married Theodora, a low-class actress/prostitute. As emperor he actually abolished the laws prohibiting their marriage.
- Valkyries: May have dated from earlier, but the age of Vikings was in full-swing during this period, and most Norse Mythology was codified and recorded during this period.
- Viking Funeral: The first instances are the funerals of King Scyld Scefing of Denmark in Beowulf (no fire), of the god Baldur in Snorra Edda (fire), and of King Haki of Sweden in Heimskringla (fire. Probably neither variant represents real-life burial customs).
- Villainous Breakdown: In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Zhou Yu is completely unhinged by the failure of his last plan against Zhuge Liang. Zhou Yu's rage causes a wound to reopen and he sickens and dies shortly thereafter.
- Wacky Fratboy Hijinks: The first recognizable Western universities were founded in the High Middle Ages, as far back as the 11th–13th centuries... and already students were being condemned for drunkenness, getting into violent brawls, and engaging in all sorts of mistreatment of women, up to and including rape. It was worse in some ways because medieval university students in those days were younger on average than their modern descendants.
- We Named the Monkey "Jack": The Saga of Hrolf Kraki has Queen Olof of Saxony bearing a baby daughter after being raped. She names the girl Yrsa after one of her dogs and has her raised as a serf.
- Where da White Women At?: In the framing story of the Arabian Nights, as well as within more than one tale. The women in question are Persian, but the dynamic with black male slaves is the same.
- Who Needs Their Whole Body?: In the Arthurian story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Knight gets beheaded and then calmly talks and walks while carrying his head.
- Wife Husbandry: Hikaru Genji does this with/to Murasaki in The Tale of Genji. King Conchobar of Ulster tries to do this with Deirdre in The Exile of the Sons of Uisnech, but it doesn't work.
- The Wild Hunt: Unequivocal instances of this trope date to this era, the oldest probably found in the Bhagavata Purana of Hindu literature (9th or 10th century), where mention is made of a travelling army of ghosts, headed by Shiva. For Europe, this supernatural phenomenon is probably first described by the chronicler Ordericus Vitalis in the 1130s.note
- William Telling: The earliest instance is that of Palnatoki or Toko, recorded in the 12th century in Saxo Grammaticus' Danish History. William Tell, in contrast, is first described performing the feat in the 15th century in the White Book Of Sarnen.
- Wishplosion: In the original Arabian Nights a man's wife gets rid of an evil genie by wishing he would straighten out a single hair. (In today's age of salons, this wouldn't work.)
- A Wizard Did It: The Man of Law's Tale from The Canterbury Tales. Constance was alone on a ship, adrift at sea, for years. Why didn't the ship sink? Why didn't she run out of food or fresh water? Conclusion: Jesus did it.
- World of Funny Animals: Reynard the Fox features both anthropomorphic animals as well as plenty of stuff that would not be out of place in an actual city such as houses, churches and an actual court. Although the story is not funny in the slightest.
- You All Meet in an Inn: The pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, and Liu Bei and his (future) sworn brothers in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
- You Cannot Kill An Idea: Quoth Odin in the Poetic Edda (more specifically, in the poem Hávamál): "Cattle die, kinsmen die, you yourself will also die; but the fair fame never dies of him who has earned it."
- Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: In Beowulf, the eponymous hero describes his and his cousin's swimming across the sea as something they did when they were young and prideful.