Greek and Roman mythology are almost identical. It is very interesting, however, that the mythology of Vikings has many similarities with Greek myths. These myths are not identical to the Greek ones, but they are very distinct commonalities between the two. The god of all gods in the Greek myths is Zeus and the god of all gods in Norse myths is Odin.
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. Zeus had been hidden by Rhea 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. (Hodge, 97)
Odin is the leader of the Norse gods and has a myriad of names including Allfather, Ygg, Bolverk, and Grimnir. He also has many functions within the myths including being a god of war, poetry, wisdom, and death. Odin’s symbol is his magical spear named Grungir which never misses its mark. He also owns a magic ring called Draupnir which 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. (Picard, 29)
Zeus and Odin were respective rulers over the gods in their mythologies. Zeus was known for upholding the law and social order. 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. It is also important to note that when the three brothers 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.
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. But, more often than not, Odin changed himself into “The Wanderer.” In this form he was known to wear a long gray 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 shape 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.
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. Also the way these gods interact with mortals in another commonality. In both their visiting and aiding of these mortals Zeus and Odin identified certain people that they considered great and offered them their assistance.
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 in those times could fear and respect, and therefore worship fairly easily.
o Hodge, Jessica, Whos Who in Classical Mythology, Bison Books Ltd. London, England, 1995
o Picard, Barbra Leonie, Tales of the Norse Gods and Heros, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 1953.