Older Than Feudalism

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

All of The Oldest Ones in the Book[1] first recorded after the invention of the Greek alphabet (c. 800 BCE) and before the fall of Rome (c. 476 CE). Works from this period include:

Note: Tropes originating in other mythologies/religions almost never belong in 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


Jesus: Beware the yeast of the Pharisees.
Apostles: He's upset that we didn't bring any bread!

  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: In addition to physical tortures, Greek Mythology features a variety of less physical tortures such as those inflicted upon Tantalos and Sisyphos (in The Odyssey) and Atlas (in Theogony). The biblical Cain's punishment for killing his brother was to be shunned by all people for the rest of his life.
  • Cool Horse: Laomedon and Achilles both own immortal horses in The Iliad; Alexander the Great had the amazing Bucephalus; Helios has fire horses; and Poseidon has half-fish hippokampoi.
  • Cool Sword: Perseus's sword was a gift from the gods, according to Aeschylus and Apollodorus.
  • Could Say It, But...: This trope was known as "evasio" to Roman rhetoricians like Cicero, and it was used in law courts and speeches.
  • Country Mouse: From Aesop's "The City Mouse and the Country Mouse". Trope Namer.
  • The Creon: Creon of Thebes was a recurring character in early Greek drama, right hand of Oedipus Rex who avowed that he had no intention or desire to become king. He was later forced into the position anyway, much to Thebes' regret.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Roman Legionnaires were trained to fight as a cohesive unit, not as individuals. While this strategy worked them quite well most of the time, it hit a massive snag during the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. The thick woods and rough terrain of the region forced the Romans to split into smaller groups, which enabled the Germanic tribesmen, who were better fighters individually, to overwhelm and defeat them. The defeat proved to be psychologically devastating for Rome, bringing an abrupt halt to its then-relentless expansion.
  • Crossover: The Argonautica (3rd century BCE).
  • Crowd Song: The chorus in Greek drama.
  • Crying Wolf: The original is one of Aesop's Fables.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: In Aesop's Fables.
  • Cutting the Knot: The original Gordian Knot.


  • 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.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Genesis 38 is the source for an outdated term for masturbation, Onanism.[5]
  • 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 Takes a Holiday: Sisyphos tied up Thanatos in Greek Mythology, and nobody could die until Ares rescued him.
  • 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 Greek mythology is the alternate trope namer.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Tantalos killed his son and tried to trick the gods into eating him. Punished 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.
  • Different As Night and Day: Artemis and Apollo became this quite literally after the Greeks and Romans started regarding them as sun god and moon goddess.
  • 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.
  • Dishing Out Dirt: Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, is also the Earth-shaker who causes earthquakes.
  • Damsel in Distress: Andromeda and Hesione, 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!
  • Don't Look Back: In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Book of Genesis), looking back got Lot's wife turned into a pile of salt. Orpheus lost his wife Eurydice (again) because he looked back when leading her out of Hades.
  • 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 ignominous 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.
  • 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). When 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 The Birds (in the "canonical" myths, he is reasonably clever).
  • Dystopia: Prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
  • 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 literally goes through Hell, 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 the 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Everything's Worse with Bears: In The Bible (2 Kings 2) when a group of children mocked Elisha for his baldness, he cursed them, whereupon two bears came out of a forest to maul them.
  • 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.
  • 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: Potiphar's wife, after failing to rape the biblical 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.
  • 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 Axe 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.
  • Flash Back: 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.
    • Cerberus (Kerberos), the name of Hades' monstrous three-headed dog, translates as "Spot".
  • Food Chains: Eating some pomegranate seeds in The Underworld forced 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.
  • 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 were bizarre Eldritch Abominations.
  • 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.
  • Gag Penis: The Trope is at least this old. The original Greek dramas would often feature comedic actors dressed as satyrs who wore costumes with exaggerated genitalia. Which is, incidentally, where the word "satire" derived from.
  • 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 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: Hephaestus was a crippled god, yet a brilliant craftsman who created magnificent works, including weapons, armor, and 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 and Satan Are Both Jerks: The Book of Job: God bets Satan that Job won't ever lose faith, regardless of how Satan messes the man up.
  • 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.
  • 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 Roman authors often inserted Greek quotations into their works.
  • Gray Eyes: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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's 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.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Despite the name, this shows up at least as early as the book Hayy ibn Yaqzan.
  • 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: The olive branch was the sign to Noah that the flood waters were receding.
  • Hot Amazon: In Aethiopis, Achilles falls in love with Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons.
  • Hot Librarian: The Greek goddess Athena was 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...
  • Identical Stranger: Menaechmi, by the Roman author Plautus.
  • Idiot Plot: Menaechmi, in which the characters take way too long to realize both twins are present.
  • I Fell for Hours: In The Iliad, when Hephaestus recalls being flung off of Olympus by Zeus he says that he fell all day.
  • 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.
  • I Gave My Word: 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...
  • 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 throw the handle-rings of twelve axes in The Odyssey.
  • Improbable Food Budget: The seven years of plenty before Joseph's drought.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Samson killed an entire army of Philistines using a donkey's jaw.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Invisible Jerkass: Plato's The Republic recounts the myth 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.
  • 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.



  1. Including books themselves, which appear to have been invented in the First Century of the Current Era.
  2. Some of these stories may have originated before the Greeks invented their alphabet, but the only versions we have come from this period
  3. As the work page explains, some parts of the Torah/Pentateuch may originate from as early as 1000 BCE, but the dating is uncertain, and for simplicity's sake the whole Bible is included on this index.
  4. "For the love of money is the root of all evil." Meaning greed, not money itself.
  5. Some argue that, technically speaking, the sin in question, and thus the term, was Onan not impregnating his late brother's wife for him rather than what he did with his tonker instead, but in either case, the possibly wrong use of the term is older than dirt regardless.