Greek mythology and Roman mythology are almost identical. This is an accepted fact, as it is widely known that the Romans stole the Greek myths. However, it is very interesting to note that the mythology of the Vikings (Norse) has many similarities with the Greek myths. These myths are, by no means, identical to the Greek ones (like the Roman ones are), but there are very distinct commonalties between the two. I see two possible reasons for this besides pure coincidence. The first has to do with the fact that Norse myths were codified during the Viking era: 780 - 1070. This gives the Norsemen many centuries to become exposed to the Greek (or Roman) myths. The Vikings did travel as Far East as the Caspian Sea, which is further east than both Italy and Greece. The Norse myths were fashioned after the fall of the Roman Empire. During the expansion of the Roman Empire, the Romans were able to get all the way to Britain, which is farther west than the Scandinavian countries where these myths originated.
The Vikings made many expeditions into Britain. So it is a very realistic thought that the Vikings could have been exposed to the stories of the Greek and Roman gods. It is also possible that the Vikings could have extrapolated parts of the Roman stories into their own. The only two existing primary sources of Norse mythology are the Prose (Elder) Edda, and the Poetic (Younger) Edda. These were written about one thousand to eight hundred years ago respectively. The second factor has to do with mythology as an extension of the society that fashions it. I see mythology as an attempt by a people to explain the powerful forces that affect and shape it, that are beyond its control, such as weather, the elements, and nature. I also see gods as being characters that have many similarities with the people within the society. The gods and goddesses are powerful beings capable of super-human powers, but nevertheless are characters fraught with very human frailties and flaws.
In this way they created gods that had similarities with the common man in the society. This made the gods more tangible and easier to identify with. I think that this was necessary because they were not yet at the societal maturity level to have a single god on a cosmic plane. Most of the comparisons will be examining the similarities between major Greek and Norse gods, as well as creatures, stories and specific symbols that are featured in the mythologies. Some of the gods do not have direct counterparts (Thor, Athena and Loki). However, I will provide possible similarities within the respective mythologies.
AEGIR -- POSEIDON POSEIDON Poseidon is the brother of Zeus and Hades. After the overthrow of their father, Cronos, he drew lots with Zeus and Hades to decide who would rule over what part of the world. Poseidon's prize was to become the god of the sea, and therefore he was widely worshipped by seamen. Poseidon was the second most powerful of the gods, second only to Zeus. He was very quarrelsome, greedy, and had many disputes with other gods when he tried to take over their cities. Poseidon was known for creating the horse. Poseidon's weapon and symbol is the trident, which can shake the earth and shatter any object. He was well liked by some, but not all. AEGIR Aegir is the god of the sea. He is also known as Hler. Aegir was often called the ruler of the sea in the Poetic Edda. He was a personification of the ocean, be it good or evil. He caused storms with his anger, and the Skalds (Viking poets) said a ship went into "Aegir's wide jaws" when it wrecked.
Aegir was often said to have been crowned with seaweed and always surrounded by nixies and mermaids while in his hall. Aegir's wife (and sister) was Ran. Ran and Aegir had nine daughters who were the waves; all of their names are poetic names for waves. Aegir brewed ale for the gods. Every winter the gods would drink beer at Aegir's home. He was, therefore, famed for his hospitality. Gold was put onto the floor of the hall to provide light, instead of lighting a fire. Gold is therefore called Aegir's fire. The cups in Aegir's hall were always full, magically refilling themselves. Sailors feared Aegir, and thought he would sometimes surface to destroy ships. Early Saxons made human sacrifices to a god of the sea, possibly connected with Aegir. DIRECT COMPARISON Aegir and Poseidon, both being the gods of the sea in their respective mythologies, had some other similarities. Sailors feared both of them. This goes back to the thesis that one of the main functions for myths was to explain the unexplainable.
Since both of these societies were sea going, these gods must have been very important. This is the case with the Greek myths, but in the Norse, Aegir does not seem to be as major a figure. The Norse also had a god for the beach and shore waters: Njord, who seemed more important in the myths. So, did the Vikings find Aegir important, or did they feel that they had enough control over the seas and the vessels that they did not need to fear Aegir? This could be very true, as the Vikings did manage to reach North America well before Columbus, so they had to have some control over the seas. The Atlantic Ocean, which the Vikings crossed, is larger and much more formidable than the Mediterranean, the largest body of water traveled by the Greeks. It is also important to note that Aegir was considered a very hospitable god, whereas Poseidon was considered very harsh and greedy. Another similarity between the two is the fact that both of them had a very large and elaborate palace on the ocean floor.
One last thing of importance is that Poseidon is sometimes displayed as being bad or evil; this is not the case with Aegir.
GOLDEN APPLES -- AMBROSIA THE GOLDEN APPLES The Golden Apples were kept in a basket by the Norse goddess, Idun, and were fed to the gods and goddesses whenever they started aging, thus receiving rejuvenation. This is an image of Idun holding the Golden Apples. AMBROSIA Ambrosia is the food of the gods. If it wasn't the actual source of their immortality, it certainly had some influence, for it was fed to mortals in an attempt to confer immortality on them. DIRECT COMPARISON Both these items were special food, available, for the most part, only to the gods. It provided sustenance, but in the case of the Norse, did not provide immortality, for the Norse gods were doomed to extinction at the time of Ragnorok. The Greek gods, in contrast, were immortal by definition and thus did not seem to depend on Ambrosia.
The fact that in both mythologies the gods and goddesses were "human" enough to require sustenance is one more example of how easy it would be for the people of these cultures to relate to them. In both cases, these foods were sometimes available to mortal men, thus making the gods closer and somehow attainable.
ASGARD -- MT. OLYMPUS ASGARD Asgard is sometimes known as Asgarth. It is the realm of the gods and the home of both the Aesir and Vanir. Is ruled by Odin, the leader of the Norse deities. It is located in the heavens, but is connected to earth by a bridge, known as Bifrost, sometimes referred to as a rainbow. There is also a route from Asgard to the underworld, the domain of Hel. Valhalla, a hall within Asgard, was the palace for fallen kings, warriors who had died in battle and heroes. MT. OLYMPUS Mount Olympus was the home of the Greek gods. It was chosen, as their home because of its altitude, for Zeus, the king of the gods, was associated with the sky. Within the mythology, Mt. Olympus was large, foreboding and of considerable elevation, but the real Mt. Olympus is little more than a hill. DIRECT COMPARISON The comparisons between Asgard and Mt. Olympus are many. Both are in the sky or heavens.
In this sense, these mythologies are somewhat similar to understandings of "heaven" in later religions, which is often visualized as being above the earth. However, both Asgard and Mt. Olympus have direct connections with the earth (via the bridge or up the slopes of the mountain.) This connectedness to the realm of man is again another example of the needed tangibility of the gods by these peoples. The supreme god of the respective mythological supreme gods, Odin and Zeus ruled both Asgard and Mt. Olympus. Odin, from his throne, Hlidskialf, was able to see all of the nine worlds of Norse mythology, while Zeus could also see all of the earth from Mt. Olympus. Both sites were the domains of the gods, forbidden to ordinary humans, although their inhabitants often left to interact with the common people. Even though the gods did not always live in Asgard or Mt. Olympus, they were the places for conferences and councils of the gods.
ATHENA Athena is the daughter of Zeus and Metis. There was a prophecy that Metis would bear a child equal to Zeus in wisdom, so he ate his pregnant wife, Metis, and unborn daughter. The story goes that, one day Zeus claimed that he had the worst headache in history, and ordered Hephaestos, the craftsman god, to split his head open with an axe. He did so and Athena sprang -- full-grown and in armour -- from his forehead. She is fierce and brave in battle but only fights to protect the state and home from outside enemies. She is the goddess of the city, handicrafts, and agriculture. She invented the bridle, which permitted man to tame horses, the trumpet, the flute, the pot, the rake, the plow, the yoke, the ship, and the chariot. She is the embodiment of wisdom, reason, and purity. She was Zeus' favourite child and was allowed to use his weapons including his thunderbolt. Her favorite city is Athens. Her tree is the olive. The owl is her bird. She is a virgin goddess.
COMPARISON Athena does not have a direct counterpart in Norse mythology. However, she is a major figure in Greek mythology and cannot be ignored. Athena was the most worshipped of the Greek gods and goddesses, and in this respect can be compared to Thor. As Thor had amulets of his hammer made for him, Athena had her likeness put on the staters (coins) of Alexander the Great. Because of her great wisdom, a comparison can be drawn between her and Odin. Odin also had great wisdom. However, it seems that Athena was held in higher esteem than Odin, as Odin was not born with this great wisdom, but had to go through many tasks and tricks to gain the knowledge. Another similarity between Odin and Athena is the fact that both are known for helping mortals. Athena helped Odysseus, Perseus, Jason and Herakles. In this same light, Odin is the protector of Sigmund, for example.
Athena was a warrior goddess, as Odin was a warrior god, although Athena was a strategic figure, and most of the Norse figures, including Odin, were not known for being strategists. An interesting difference between Norse and Greek mythology is exemplified in the popularity and importance of Athena, because she is female. Although a line in the Poetic Edda states that the goddesses were no less important than the gods, in fact no Norse goddess approached the stature or popularity that Athena had with the Greeks. In the various stories of Norse mythology, the goddesses, while being mentioned, have no major impact, yet Athena is a prime mover in many Greek legends.
APOLLO -- BALDER APOLLO Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto. His twin sister is Artemis. He is a god with many attributes. As ruler over the nine Muses -- the source of inspiration to humans in all the arts -- he is identified with the arts but particularly music. He is known as the god of music, often portrayed playing a golden lyre. He is also called the Archer, often depicted shooting long distances with a silver bow. He is also the god of healing, who taught man medicine, and the god of light, sometimes referred to as the sun god. One of Apollo's more important daily tasks is to harness his chariot with four horses and drive the sun across the sky. He was not supposed to be able to tell lies and was thus the god of truth. He is famous for his oracle at Delphi. People traveled to it from all over the Greek world to divine the future. He is thus also known as the god of prophecy and divination. He was a patron of Troy and was instrumental in the killing of the Greek hero, Achilles.
His tree is the laurel and the crow his bird. The dolphin is the animal identified with him. BALDER Balder, the favourite son of Odin and Frigg, is described as a very handsome and wise god. His name means "The Glorious." Some consider him to be a god of light since he was so bright with light shining from him. He was also called the "god of tears." His blind twin brother, Hod, killed him. Balder's wife was Nanna and they had a son named Forseti. Balder and Nanna lived in Breidablik [The Broad-Gleaming], where nothing unclean could be and there were "fewest baneful runes." Breidablik had a silver roof on golden pillars. Saxo (one of possible authors of the Prose Edda) gave a very different picture of Balder: he was a vicious god who fought with Hod to marry Nanna. Balder's name rarely occurs in place names, therefore, it is thought that not many people worshipped him. The poets used his name to mean warrior.
DIRECT COMPARISON Both Apollo and Balder are known as the gods of light and both are considered to be beautiful, handsome gods. Apollo was known as the god of divination and one of the most common stories about Balder is his dream about his death. Both were sons of the supreme god in their respective mythologies and both had twins (Balder and Hod, Apollo and Artemis.) While Apollo was known as the sun god, Balder was usually thought to have light shining from him.
GARM -- CERBERUS GARM Garm was a huge, gigantic dog that guarded the gates to Hel's realm. He was the head of a pack of numerous dogs and wolves with this guard function. CERBERUS Cerberus is a ferocious dog, given to Hades to guard the entrance to the underworld. Usually depicted as three-headed, Homer described him as having fifty heads. Sometimes he is described as having a serpent for a tail and dragons on his back. As the guard of the underworld, his function was to prevent the living from entering, and the dead souls from returning to the land of the living. Except for one occasion, he remains in the underworld, the one occasion being one of the Labours of Heracles. He is known to be the brother of the Hydra (a nine-headed serpent, whose destruction was another of Heracles' Labours) and the Chimera (a fire-breathing creature which is a mixture of a lion, a goat and a serpent).
DIRECT COMPARISON Perhaps in both these mythologies, the old saying "Beware of the dog" is more appropriate than "Dog is man's best friend." Needless to say, it is an obvious similarity that the guard to the underworld is a canine. In the case of the Norse, Garm is only one of many dogs; to the Greeks it was one dog with many heads that was the sentry.
APHRODITIE -- FREYIA APHRODITIE Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, reproduction, laughter and sexuality. She was born from foam, which is what her name means. She sprang fully-grown from this white foam as the severed genitals of Uranos fell into the sea. As she is the god of sexuality and reproduction she has mothered many children. One of her most famous lovers was Ares. It is interesting to note that she was the patroness of prostitutes. A special belt or girdle reinforced her power over the heart. FREYIA Freyia is the goddess of love, fertility, war, and wealth. She was the daughter of Njord, and the sister of Frey. Her daughter, by her husband, Od, is named Hnoss, who is so beautiful that whatever is valuable and lovely is named "treasure" after her. She lived in Folkvang (battlefield) and each day chose half of the slain warriors to split with Odin. She somehow lost her husband, Od, and cried golden tears for him. Many believe Od is Odin.
Cats drew her chariot and she owned the precious Brisinga-men's necklace, which she acquired by sleeping with four dwarves. She also owned a feather coat that she could use to fly between the worlds. She was also known as the goddess of magic and divination. Freyia was one of the few Norse female characters who had a major role, an exception to the general rule of lower status for goddesses compared to gods. Women revered her. Some sources say Friday is named after her. DIRECT COMPARISON Both Aphrodite and Freyia are goddesses of love and fertility/reproduction. In keeping with the apparent Norse acceptance of infidelity, Freyia is much more a goddess of lust, being identified with sexual freedom. In this way she was almost identical to Aphrodite, as both were well known for their numerous partners. While one of Freyia's prized possessions was her famous necklace, Aphrodite, similarly, was renowned for her girdle. In many stories, both goddesses were asked to "lend" these adornments to others.
Because of her association with divination, Freyia has some of the characteristics that the Greeks assigned to Apollo.
FRIGG-- HERA FRIGG Frigg is the wife of Odin, and the goddess of marriage. One of the things she was known for was weaving the clouds. She was, like most of the female deities in Norse mythology, a fairly minor player, having no myths to herself. She is known to be the grieving mother of Balder, and she is the one who sends Hermod to attempt to get Balder back from the underworld. HERA Hera is Zeus' wife and sister. She is the goddess and protector of marriage and takes special care of married women. Most of the stories concerning Hera have to do with her jealous revenge for Zeus' infidelities. She once attempted a revolt against Zeus and gathered many gods to help. This revolt was unsuccessful and in the end Hera had to promise that she would never again attempt to rebel. However, she often was intrigued by Zeus' plans and was able to outwit him on many occasions. Her sacred animals are the cow and the peacock. Her favourite city is Argos.
DIRECT COMPARISON Hera and Frigg are two very similar goddesses. Both are the wives of the supreme gods of the respective religions, and both are the goddesses associated with marriage. However, as in most of the Norse myths, Frigg plays a lesser role because she is female. This sets her apart from Hera. Hera had a fairly large role in the Greek myths, although most of her stories were about the same thing: the jealous revenge of Zeus' infidelities. This brings up an interesting point. Hera, being the goddess of marriage, is furious when people (especially Zeus) are adulterous. She takes many actions to try and stop these things from happening and if they do get by her, she does not make the lives of the offspring from the relationships easy. This is not the case, however, with Frigg. Odin is often unfaithful, but there seems to be no reaction from Frigg.
Frigg also does not seem to be in the position to either speak to Odin about these other relationships or to even have the slightest thoughts about a revolt. This seems to be a recurring theme: Norse goddesses are definitely in an inferior position. If a mythology is taken as a reflection of the society that worships it, that leads to the conclusion that the Norse women had less stature than Greek women. If this is the case, it is very sad, for the Norse culture was more recent and one would hope that things would have progressed rather than regressed. In studying ancient Greek societies, women were generally not treated with anything approaching equality with the men (with a notable exception, perhaps, of Sparta). Does this mean that it was even worse for the wives of the Vikings? Was adultery condoned in the Norse society? It seems that it is in the myths.
There were some instances in the Norse myths where people refused to indulge in extramarital affairs not because of their morals, but because they only had love for their husband/wife. They never said, "No I won't have relations with you, it's wrong!" Odysseus did say things like this in his adventures. So it would seem that adultery was more condoned among the Norse and it wasn't by the Greeks.
HEL -- HADES HEL Hel is the daughter of Loki and the giant, Angurboda. She is the sister of Fenrir (Fenris-wolf) and Jormungand (Midgard Serpent). She is the goddess of the underworld. Her realm was Niflheim, which was often referred to as Hel, and her hall was called Elvidnir [Misery]. In her hall her table was called Hunger and her bed Disease. She was described as half white and half black. HADES Hades is the brother of Zeus. After the overthrow of their father, Cronus, he drew lots with Zeus and Poseidon, another brother, for shares of the world. He won the worst draw and was made lord of the underworld, ruling over the dead. He is a greedy god who is greatly concerned with increasing the number of his subjects. Those whose calling in life increase the number of dead (such as warriors) are seen favorably. He is exceedingly disinclined to allow any of his subjects to leave his domain. He is also the god of wealth, due to the precious metals mined from the earth.
He has a helmet that makes him invisible. He rarely leaves the underworld. He is unpitying and terrible, but not capricious. His wife is Persephone whom Hades abducted. He is the king of the dead but death itself is another god, Thanatos. This is a painting of Hades' realm in the underworld. DIRECT COMPARISON The obvious congruence is that both were rulers of the underworld. In Norse mythology, Hel was female while Hades is a male figure. Typically, as a female she is not featured prominently in Norse myths. One major difference between them is that Hades ruled over all who died while Niflheim, Hel's kingdom, was the destination of only those who died of old age or disease; those who died in battle travelled to another place after death. Hades is a more important figure in Greek mythology than Hel in the Norse as he won lordship over one third of the "universe," although he is not featured too much either.
HERMOD -- HERMES HERMOD Hermod was the messenger of the gods. He rode to Hel's realm after the death of Balder to try and convince her to let Balder come back from the dead. He was not a major figure in the myths, but had a distinct role. HERMES Hermes was the messenger god in Greek mythology. He is the son of Zeus and Maia. He is the fastest of the gods. He wears winged sandals, a winged hat, and carries a magic wand. He is the god of thieves and of commerce. He is the guide for the dead on their journey to the underworld. He invented the lyre, the pipes, the musical scale, astronomy, weights and measures, boxing, gymnastics, and the care of olive trees. Hermes seen here with one of his many symbols: his magical wand. DIRECT COMPARISON Hermes and Hermod have much in common. Even their names are almost identical. Both are the messengers of the gods. It may seem, though, that Hermes had a larger role in the myths than Hermod.
Besides their obvious similarities, there is one that is particularly distinct. Hermes has sometimes been called Psychopompos, which means bearer of souls. Some say that Hermes would escort the souls of the dead to the underworld. This also seems to be a characteristic of Hermod and the main reason that Hermod volunteers to go to the realm of the dead to get Balder back. So what does this mean? What does a messenger god have to do with the dead? Maybe this goes back to the old saying "bearer of bad news." Being the messenger would often mean that they would bring the bad news of a death either to the recipient of the message or of someone they knew. So in this sense they would be the bearers of the dead souls. As cited above, one of the most famous Norse stories is about Hermod's trip to the underworld in an attempt to retrieve Balder. There is famous Greek story in which Zeus sends Hermes to the underworld to try and retrieve Persephone.
LOKI Loki is one of the giants, the enemies of the Norse gods. He became a member of the Aesir (the gods) when Odin made Loki his blood brother. He is the god of fire, mischief, a trickster, and very cunning. After causing the death of Balder, he was bound by the gods until the Ragnarok (the final battle or the twilight of the gods), at which time, he will be freed. Loki fathered Fenris, the wolf that is prophesied to kill Odin during Ragnorok; the Midgard Serpent, prophesied to kill Thor in the same battle; and Hel. This is a picture of Loki with two of his three "creature" sons: The Midgard-Serpent and Fenris the Wolf. COMPARISON Loki does not have an obvious counterpart in Greek mythology, although many other cultures -- such as North American aboriginal, Oceanic, West African and Chinese -- have myths which feature tricksters. There is one Greek god, however, that is considered somewhat of a trickster, although certainly not to the same extent as Loki -- Hermes.
As soon as Hermes was born, he displayed this trait by stealing Apollo's cows. He was taken for judgement to Zeus after this crime, but he used his cunning, offering the lyre he invented, to escape punishment. In many ways this is much like Loki's behaviour, in that Loki often was able to talk his way out of predicaments. He was also somewhat like Zeus, known for his shape changing. This was one of Loki's favourite "tricks." As god of fire, Loki could be compared to Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire. One of the major stories about Loki is his exile from Asgard for being indirectly responsible for the death of Balder. Odin meted out this punishment. Similarly, Zeus ejected Hephaestus from Mt. Olympus over an argument about one of Zeus' favourites, Heracles. However, these two gods cannot be considered direct counterparts because Loki is a major figure in Norse mythology, while Hephaestus is a much more incidental figure in the myths of the Greeks. There are many symbols present in Norse myths.
The giants represent the powerful forces of nature for example. One major symbol applies to Loki specifically. This is fire, both in its good and bad sense. Loki often helps out the gods (fire in the good sense). Loki also sets the gods very far back -- even to death (the bad sense of fire). This would sum up Loki's character perfectly, as Loki was both good and bad, just like the fire he was the god of. This is a stone carving of Loki found on an old stone stove. PROMETHEUS Before I go into the comparison of Loki and Prometheus, I must acknowledge Bob Fisher (email@example.com) -- as he was the one to point out this comparison to me. Thanks! The first obvious commonality between the two would be the association with fire: Loki being the god of fire, and Prometheus being the bringer of fire to the humans. Above I mentioned both the "good" and "bad" aspects of fire. This can be applied to Prometheus' stealing of the fire from the gods of Olympus.
Although the giving of fire to man aided humankind, and led to technological advance, the stealing of fire had repercussions: It taught men to cheat and steal, and of course Odin's blood brother. Prometheus was a Titan, but was admitted to Olympus for remaining neutral in the revolt of the Olympians against the Titans. Both of these gods were adopted into the respective races almost as to reward them, but both would be regretted. Prometheus knew who would be responsible for the death of Zeus. This can be looked at in the same light as Loki's both knowledge and responsibility of Odin's death, as he fathered the beast Fenris who would kill him. Another reason why the adoption of these two would be regretted was the role they would play in the harm and destruction of humanity. Loki is a major player and provokes Ragnorok, the final battle that will destroy everything including the gods. Prometheus caused the creation of Pandora therefore damming mankind.
However this was not enough punishment in the eyes of Zeus, so he caused a flood that destroyed mankind. However it is equally important to notice that in both myths, humanity renews itself. Fire also plays a very large role in the destruction of the world in the Norse myths, as Surtur engulfs the world in flame after the battle of Ragnarok. Some would say that Prometheus' association of fire destroyed mankind. In Norse myths too, fire destroyed mankind. Prometheus was also a trickster, as he stole cheated and lied. His name means "forethought", and in a lot of ways this is muck like Loki. As mentioned above one of Loki's strong qualities was his ability to outwit the gods. This too was a characteristic of Prometheus. Neither acted capriciously, which set both of them apart from the other gods in their respective mythologies. For indirectly causing the death of Balder, Loki was bound in chains with a serpent above him dripping poison to harm Loki. The gods for his actions likewise bound Prometheus.
He was chained to a rock in the Caucasian Mountains, with a vulture to tear away at his liver all day long -- an endless torture, as his liver would grow back every night. Very similar as both were chained to stone, with an endless torture. Loki was not freed until the twilight of the gods, or Ragnorok. Prometheus was also released by Herakles, and immediately had the interaction with Zeus, when he told him what would cause his death. So both were freed, and immediately became associated with the death of the gods. So these two adopted gods had characteristics that were very similar. Thanks again Bob Fisher!
NORNS -- THE FATES THE NORNS These maidens are sometimes considered giants, but are usually depicted as three goddesses. They were said to visit each being, god or human, immediately after birth, to determine his or her future. While sometimes there are said to be many Norns, there are usually three mentioned, named, Urd (Fate) Skuld (Being) and Verdandi (Necessity). They are associated with the Well of Fate. THE FATES The Fates are also known as the Moirae or Apparitioners. These three females determine the lifespan of every individual. It is questionable whether or not they were subject to Zeus' power as they were sometimes seen as being superior even to the gods. They were named Clotho (The Spinner), Lachesis (The Drawer of Lots) and Atropos (Inevitable). Clotho presides at birth and spins out the thread of life, Lachesis measures it and Atropos cuts it off. In later stories they were described as three old women.
DIRECT COMPARISON These are almost identical figures in the myths, in number, gender and purpose, even to the fact that in both mythologies, they can be considered to be independent of the gods. In fact, it is from the Norns that Odin learns of his fate -- being killed in battle with the wolf, Fenris. While the Greek Fates are often visualized as being around a cauldron or spinning wheel, the Norns position themselves around a well. This symbolizes the circle of life, a concept found in many mythologies beyond the Norse and Greek.
STORIES THE NORSE CREATION MYTH The Norse believed that at the beginning of time there was Niflheim, which was an icy region, Muspell, which was a fiery region and a large void, called Ginnungagap. Over time the fires and sparks of Muspell warmed the frozen vapours of Niflheim, condensed them into water and they started to drip. The drips collected in Ginnungagap and two gigantic beings were formed -- Ymir a frost giant and a huge cow called Audumla. Ymir drank Audumla's milk and grew bigger and stronger. One night while he was asleep, Ymir sweated. From the sweat from the soles of his feet a six-headed troll appeared. A male and a female frost giant grew from the sweat of his armpits. The cow was licking the salty ice and gradually a new creature came into being. The first day hair appeared; on the second, a head; and on the third the body of a new giant, called Buri. Buri's sons and grandsons became the gods, not giants. Odin led all of his kin against Ymir and killed him.
He dragged Ymir's enormous body into Gunnungagap. His flesh became the earth, his blood the sea, his bones the mountains, his hair the trees and his teeth became stones. Odin and the others discovered worms in the earth and turned them into dwarves and dark elves. The gods also discovered light elves. The blood (sea) drowned all of frost giants except two who started a new race of giants from which came all warlocks, enchanters and witches. Odin set Ymir's skull over earth as the sky. He put the brains around the sky and called them clouds. Sparks from Muspell formed stars. Ymir's eyebrows were turned into land called Midgard. The first two humans were created from trees -- a man from an ash, a woman from an elm. The gods then departed by the bridge to Asgard.
There were nine worlds: Niflheim (mist and dead), Muspell (fire), Midgard (humans), Jotunheim (frost giants), Alfheim (light elves), Nidavellir (dwarves), Svatalfheim (dark elves), Vanaheim (Vanir gods), Asgard (Aesir). Above all the worlds was a wondrous tree, Yggdrasil, the world tree. THE GREEK CREATION MYTH Chaos was the first thing to exist. He is sometimes called the oldest of the gods, but is also described as a shapeless void. From him sprang Ge (or Gaia), Tartarus, Eros, Erebus, and Nyx (Night). Ge brought forth Uranos, the sky and then the mountains and the sea. She had intercourse with her son, Uranos, to produce the first divine races (the Titans). Uranos didn't like his offspring and forced them back into Ge. This enraged Ge and she persuaded Chronos, the youngest of her children, to castrate Uranos during the next intercourse between Ge and Uranos. Uranos died and Chronos became ruler of heaven. Chronos feared his children and so after his wife/sister, Rhea, gave birth, he ate the children.
This is a painting of Chronos devouring his children. However, Rhea hid one of her children, Zeus, on an island and substituted a rock to give to Chronos. Ge raised Zeus and plotted the overthrow of Chronos. The goddess Metis gave Chronos a drink that caused him to regurgitate Zeus' brothers and sisters. Zeus and his siblings fought and defeated their father. There is not one clear story of the origin of humans. One story tells of Hephaestos sculpting Pandora, who is considered the first woman. In other stories Prometheus sculpts humans from clay models and Athena breathes life into them. DIRECT COMPARISON In both mythologies there was a void at the beginning. In the Norse stories Gunnungagap, the void, was the eventual source of life. In the Greek creation myth, Chaos, a shapeless void, was all there was at the beginning and from him sprang all other creations. In both stories, the first gods revolted against their father or grandfather and by overthrowing him became the ruler of the worlds.
In both, humanity was formed from nature rather than through descent from the gods. It is interesting that there was a great deal of detail about the formation of earth in the Norse myth and many more types of beings than just gods and humans.
THOR Thor is the son of Odin and a member of the Aesir, the name for the collection of Norse gods. He is the god of thunder and the main enemy of the giants. He would smash their heads with his mighty axe-hammer, Mjolnir. To wield this awesome weapon he needed iron gloves and a belt of strength. Mjolnir would return to Thor's hand after being thrown and is symbolic of lightning. This is a depiction of Thor's magical hammer, Mjolnir. Thor rode around middle-earth in his wagon drawn by two goats. His abode is Thruthheim [Land of Strength] and his hall, Bilskinir. His wife is Sif. Thor was very well known for his quick and hot temper. This was often vented on the giants, the main enemies of the gods. This is Thor fighting a clay giant He was foremost of the gods to the common man, who would call on him to ensure fertility, and was widely worshiped.
Hammer-shaped amulets were popular, the hammer being a symbol of Thor because it was his weapon, and were worn about the neck well into the Christianization of Scandinavia. There are molds from that time, which contain both cross and hammer shapes, side by side. His name is found in numerous place names, and it was his statue, which was central in the great temple at Uppsala. Our day of the week, Thursday, is named for him. Donar was an early version of Thor among the early Germans. The Anglo-Saxons worshiped a thunder god named Thunor. This is a painting of Thor about to go on a journey. COMPARISON There doesn't seem to be a direct counterpart to this Norse god of thunder. However, some aspects of Thor can be found in some of the Greek gods. The first one is the parallel with Zeus. Zeus is the god of lightning and thunder. Thor is also the god of thunder but he is not the ruler of the gods.
In some ways, though, he was the most important god to the Norse, in the sense that Thor was the most worshipped and liked god. Thor, in this context, could be compared to Athena. Athena was the most beloved goddess of the Greeks. This is quite interesting, as Thor and Athena are very different. Thor is basically a brute while Athena is a wise, strategic goddess. She is reasonable and usually thinks her actions through. Thor usually acts on impulse. So, what does this say about the cultures which chose these two for their favourites? Were the Norse brutes themselves while the Greeks were more civilized? Were the Norse looking for a simplistic and impulsive god, who acted much like they did, while the Greeks were more strategic?
TYR -- ARES TYR Tyr is the Norse god of war. He is also known as being the bravest of the gods. This was exemplified when he put his right hand into Fenris the wolf's mouth when the gods were binding him with chains. Fenris then bit off Tyr's right hand, which is why Tyr is always depicted with one hand. There is much debate about his left-handedness. In the Norse culture the right hand was given for a pledge, which could be why the right hand was placed in the wolf's mouth. It has also been noted, however, that the offering of the right hand is to show that it is free of weapons. A left- handed person was sometimes considered evil because he could use a weapon with his left hand even though he shook with his right hand. He was thought to be either the son of Odin, or of a giant. Tyr had no myths all to himself, but he often accompanied Thor on many journeys. This may be why he was considered such a brave person.
Tyr was known by the Anglo-Saxons as Tiw or Tiu, and had Tuesday named for him. Another image of Tyr. Notice his handless arm holding the shield. ARES Ares is on of the few sons that Zeus and Hera had. It is important to note that both parents disliked Ares. He is the Greek god of war. Ares is considered murderous and bloodstained but, also a coward. He was never very popular in myth, and Athena constantly outwitted him. He was sent to trial for raping a daughter of Poseidon. He seemed to love the brutal aspects and the carnage of war. Ares, except for when he is on the battlefield, is usually displayed in myths as being Aphrodite's lover. He seemed hot-tempered and fell quickly to jealousy. It is thought that the golden boar that killed Adonis was actually Ares in disguise, acting on his jealousy. His bird is the vulture. His animal is the dog. DIRECT COMPARISON The main similarity between Tyr and Ares is their specific area: war. Both are gods of war and the same kind of war: battle and impulsive attack.
Barely any strategy comes into play with these two gods. However, while these two seem like the logical parallel for each other, in fact it seems that they are almost opposites. The main distinction is that Tyr is very well known for his bravery (the story of the loss of his hand). In this light, Ares is the opposite. He is known for being cowardly and unliked. Tyr was very well liked by the Norse even to the point of having Tuesday named for him. This goes back to the point that it seems that the Norse were fighters, but not in the strategic sense, and liked this type of god. The Greeks, on the other hand, really liked the strategic gods, and disliked the impulsive ones. It seems that Ares would fit in perfectly with the Norse gods. He has many of the typical characteristics of the Norse gods. Ares could be one of the best examples to show the differences that must have been present between the two societies. Ares is basically a Norse-style god in Greek myths.
And not only is he displayed as being unliked and not a "good" god, as Athena was, he was barely worshipped. This shows what the Greeks were looking for in the gods they liked and worshipped. However, had Ares appeared in the Norse myths, he would have been brave, valiant and great. This is seen in the acclaim that both Tyr and Thor received from the society that worshipped them. So it would prove that the Norsemen wanted this type of god.
ULL -- ARTEMIS ULL Ull is the goddess of archery and the hunt and according to some she is also the patron goddess of skiers and the snowshoe. Her weapon is a longbow made out of yew. She lived in Ydal (Yew Dales.) She was called upon for help in duels. She was the daughter (or stepdaughter) of Thor and Sif (or Ovandrill, depending on the source). Her name, which means glorious, is a part of many place names, therefore, she is considered to be an ancient goddess who was widely worshipped. It is believed that at one time she was one of the highest gods. ARTEMIS Artemis is the goddess of the hunt and childbirth. She is the twin sister of Apollo. She is the daughter of the Titan, Leto, and Zeus. Artemis, like her brother Apollo, possessed a wide range of divine attributes. She was a virgin and very protective of her chastity. She was also famous for her wrath. This was usually displayed when someone tried to seduce her.
Artemis is also known as the goddess of the moon, as her brother is the god of the sun. DIRECT COMPARISON Artemis is the goddess of the moon, and of the hunt. Ull is also identified with hunting, but not the moon. Both mythologies, interestingly enough, identified females for the deity associated with hunting. But again, Ull is not a major player in the Norse myths, especially in comparison with Artemis, who had a fairly large role. Ull is not known as being a virgin, but she is known for her vengeful thoughts. This is displayed in her constant hatred for Loki, for killing her father even after they had made a truce. This is in many ways a lot like Artemis and her wrath. She would not forgive anyone that tried to seduce her. A longbow symbolized both of these goddesses. Le was also known for skiing and snowshoeing. It is not a surprise that Artemis was not identified with these, as there just isn't a lot of snow in Greece. The important fact is that it seems that both are powerful women characters.
This is especially important in the case of Ull because of the usual lesser status of female figure women in Norse myths. However, to reinforce the dominance of males, in some of the sources, Ull was displayed as being male. It may have been too problematical for the Norse to have a deity that was both powerful and female.
ZEUS -- ODIN ZEUS Zeus is the ruler of the Greek gods. He is the son of Cronos and Rhea, in fact the only son of these two to survive to adulthood. Rhea had hid Zeus so that Cronos would not swallow him like he had all of his other offspring; he had been warned that one of his children would eventually overthrow him. Rhea sent Zeus to the island of Crete where he was raised. Zeus eventually killed his father. After he killed Cronos, he restored life to his brothers and sisters. He then drew lots with his brothers Poseidon and Hades to see who would become ruler of the various parts of the universe. Zeus won the draw and became the supreme ruler of the gods. He is lord of the sky, the rain god. His weapon is a thunderbolt, made for him by the Cyclopes under the direction of Hephaestus, which he hurls at those who displease him. He married a succession of spouses with whom he had many children including: Athena, The Fates, Ares, Apollo, Artemis, and Hermes.
His last and most well known wife is Hera but he is famous for his many affairs. ODIN Odin is the leader of the Norse gods and has a myriad of names including Allfather, Ygg, Bolverk (evil doer), and Grimnir. He also has many functions within the myths including being a god of war, poetry, wisdom, and death. However, he is not considered the "main" god of each of these functions. Odin's symbol is his magical spear named Grungir that never misses its mark. He also owns a magic ring called Draupnir that can create nine of itself every night. It was this ring that Odin laid on his son Balder's funeral pyre and which Balder returned to Odin from the underworld. Odin also has two wolves, Geri and Freki, and two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory). He sends his ravens out every day to gather knowledge for him. Odin was destined to die at Ragnarok; Fenris-Wolf swallowed him. Knowing his fate, he still chose to embrace it and do battle, showing the true warrior ethic.
He is the god of warriors and kings, not the common man. Among his children are:Thor, Hermod, and Balder. He is married to Frigg, the goddess of marriage. This is Odin with his two ravens: Memory and Thought. DIRECT COMPARISON The first obvious similarity between Zeus and Odin is in their appearance. Both are very large men, but they are not depicted as fat men. Both look very powerful and foreboding. They also are both shown as having beards. A beard represents manliness, in a very basic way, as facial hair is something that every man can have. In this sense the beard as a signature feature of these gods brings in a sense of attachment to the people within the societies that worshipped them. If they had a different signature feature, for example wings, this would remove the gods from the common man. The beard is something ordinary people can relate to. It may also be of note that the stereotypical view of Vikings and Norsemen almost always includes beards on the men.
Maybe they were trying to emulate their head god or maybe the god was "created" in the image of the ordinary man. Zeus and Odin were respective rulers over the gods in their mythologies. Zeus was known for upholding the law and social order. In fact, one of his titles was Zeus Horkios, which literally means "the Guarantor of Oaths." This is quite similar to Odin's recording of all the laws, contracts and agreements onto his spear which he was bound to uphold. They both had their palaces in the sky to some extent. Mt. Olympus was very high (in the mythologies; the real Mt. Olympus is a mountain, but not very high.) It is also important to note that when the three brothers (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades) were deciding which part of the world each would get, Zeus chose the sky. There are many stories of Zeus looking down from Mt. Olympus into the lives of other men. This is also the case with Odin.
He could watch other people, gods and mortals alike, from his throne Hlidskialf in Asgard, Asgard being the palace in the sky where the gods met. So there are distinct similarities between Asgard and Mt. Olympus: both were in the sky, both allowed for the observation of the rest of the world, both were the meeting place for the gods in their respective mythologies. The actions of the two gods are very important to look at as well. Zeus is well known for going off into the world of mortals and trying to have "relations" with the mortals. Often times he would change shape in order to accomplish this. He took such forms as a bull, swan, golden shower, and a quail, for example. This shape shifting was also a typical action of Odin. He changed himself into animals occasionally, such as a snake or an eagle. (Interestingly, Zeus is often depicted as an eagle!) But, more often than not, Odin changed himself into "The Wanderer."
In this form he was known to wear a long grey cloak and a wide brimmed hat that covered or cast shadows over his missing eye. In this form he attempted, on many occasions, to have "relations," often spawning offspring. There is one story of Odin and Rind where Odin must change his shapes multiple times to meet the needs of Rind who he is wooing. He transforms from captain of her father's army to a smith to a warrior and finally is accepted into her arms only after taking his natural form as a god. This raises one important difference between the two: the attitudes of the two respective wives of the gods, Hera and Frigg. Hera is well known for her jealous and vengeful reactions to Zeus actions. However, Frigg does not have the same reaction. To see the development of this thought, see the wives' page. Another commonality of the two gods is their interaction with mortals.
In both their visiting and aiding of these mortals Zeus and Odin identified certain people that they considered great and offered them their assistance. This supports the theory that these mythologies, because they were serving generally less-advanced societies (industrially, socially and intellectually), created gods who would come down and physically interact with mortals, gave the gods a sense of tangibility to the society. At this point could a society have been able to accept a flawless, omnipotent being, especially one on a cosmic level, rather than a physical level? If a god could come to a man and physically aid him, that would be an incentive to believe and worship. Both of these gods have a specific symbol of power. Zeus has his lighting bolt, and Odin has his spear. Both of these items have a somewhat negative interpretation.
Lighting is a destructive force and a spear is a weapon used to kill. In our society, gods are usually displayed to have a very positive light surrounding them and a weapon may seem strange to us as a symbol of a god. We must also see that the gods both used their respective weapons by throwing them. Maybe this is the beginning of the thoughts of a cosmic entity -- the gods did not have to be physically there, but could project their intentions from afar. The fact that both of these symbols were destructive in one form or another raises a few questions: Were these cultures looking for a destructive god? Were they still at a state that a primitive personification of man was desired as a god? Were these societies looking at chaos and destruction as being more important in the society than order? It may be that the fear that they invoke will have people thinking that they can be punished, and if they are punished it will not be a simple slap on the wrist, but rather a spear or lightning bolt hurled at them.
So I believe that this fear was used when the myths were being originally fashioned so that one would be intimidated to believe and worship. One last thing to be considered about these two gods, and their manliness, is that both of them were very fertile. They were both fathers to many offspring, thus spreading their wonderful qualities around to other beings. What I think these societies needed was a powerful man, one who was warlike, strong, large, intimidating and prolific. This was they type of god that one in those times could fear and respect, and therefore worship fairly easily.
CONCLUSION In the samples I chose to illustrate, there are a number of parallels between the Greek and Norse mythologies. Some deities, for example, are very similar, even though not identical. A major difference, however, I believe, was caused by the very different environments in which the two cultures developed. The land and climate in which the Norsemen lived was much harsher than that of the Greeks. Life was difficult compared to the gentler climate of Greece and its more abundant sources of food. With a milder climate, agriculture was not as tenuous, from one year to the next, as it would have been in northern Scandinavia. It would seem that the Norse myths reflect this harshness, with characters and tales that embody this arduous life. There are not the same nuances about music and many of the arts in the Norse legends, as people would have had a lot less leisure time to develop these pursuits, being consumed with sustenance.
Most of the Norse gods were war-like in nature; while the Greeks had deities who affected war, it was certainly not to the same extent as the Norse. Again this was because the Greek culture had developed somewhat beyond that of the Vikings, where accomplishments in war were not the only things to be pursued and admired. The Greeks definitely gave more importance to females than did the Norse. Although the Poetic Edda states that goddesses are of the same importance as gods, this is not borne out by a review of the Norse myths. In this treatment, I have not been able to research in great detail the societies that developed these mythologies; a thorough study of them would, I believe, lead to more evidence that the differences in the societies resulted in the variances in the mythologies.
By the same token, it would be interesting to determine, in greater detail, to what extent the similarities in the societies led to the parallels in the myths, or what evidence there is that the stories and characters in Norse mythology were "borrowed" from the Greeks and/or Romans.
Bellows, Henry Adams (translator), The Poetic Edda, American-Scandinavian Foundation, London, England, 1923 Bently, Peter (principal editor), The Dictionary of World Myth, Facts On File, New York, New York, 1995 Brodeur, Arthur Gilchrist (translator), The Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturluson, American-Scandinavian Foundation, London, England, 1923 Hodge, Jessica, Who's Who in Classical Mythology, Bison Books Ltd. London, England, 1995 Osborne, Mary Pope, Favorite Norse Myths, Scholastic Inc. New York, New York, 1996 Picard, Barbara Leonie, Tales of the Norse Gods and Heroes, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 1953.
I would like to make a special mention to Marvel Comics, who provided several images contained within this assignment. Gruenwald, Mark, (Editor) & Pollard, Keith (art), The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Master Edition, Marvel Comics, New York, New York, 1994-5 Gruenwald, Mark, (Editor), The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition, Marvel Comics, New York, New York, 1988-90