The large part of today's spiritual and intellectual ideas are the result of combining Greek and Norse mythology. Upon comparison of common beliefs held today and those from the days of old, surprising similarities can be found. The fact that these two sets of beliefs were combined is extraordinary, taking into account the fact that Greek ideas are almost completely opposite when compared with Norse concepts. Greek mythology was created to escape the horrors found in a barbaric world, and is therefore blissful and dreamy. Norse mythology, by contrast, is gloomy and full of impending doom. Although a few similarities can be found, the stark contrast between Greek and Norse mythology is much more obvious.
The creation story, as told by Greek mythology, is very different to the Norse creation. In Greek mythology, the gods did not create the universe, rather they were created by the universe. The first descendants of Chaos were Night, Day, Heaven, and Earth. The gods were then descendants of Mother Earth and Father Heaven. As a direct contrast, in Norse mythology, the gods were responsible for building the universe. In the Elder Edda, it is stated that, "of old there was nothing." Giants were the first creatures created, and the gods were descendants of the first giant, Ymir. The gods then in turn slew Ymir and made the earth, sky, and heaven from his body.
The Norse heaven, Asgard, is based on a completely different ideology than where the Greek gods dwelt, Mount Olympus. There is no joy or bliss in Asgard, merely a dismal sense of doom. Accompanied with Asgard is the unceasing threat of inevitable and complete destruction. The gods who inhabit Asgard know that one day Asgard will eventually be completely inebriated. Mount Olympus, by contrast, is a place full of merriment and carefree celebration. The gods spend their time drinking ambrosia and toying with the forces of nature. Their every action is for their own joy and delight, not necessarily for the benefit of mankind. Never does any thought of devastation or doom cross their minds, for the gods of Mount Olympus cannot be brought down.
Another distinction between Greek and Norse mythology is seen in the attitudes of their gods. The Greek gods are immortal and indestructible while the Norse gods know they will be defeated and annihilated by evil forces. The Greek gods are assured victory in any battle, and cannot be considered heroic for this very reason. Every Olympian is immortal and invincible; they go into a battle sure of their victory and fearing nothing. A drawback to this great advantage is that the Greek gods never know the exhilaration in overcoming astounding odds, or the adrenaline that comes from confronting danger. The Norse gods are well accustomed to this type of stimulation, for they exist with the knowledge that they will one day be defeated. In the end, when the forces of good and evil fight the final battle, evil will succeed over the Norse gods. There is nothing the gods can do to prevent their fate. The gods do not give up, but will put up a strong fight until the very end.
In all cultures, a hero is one who closely resembles the gods, therefore Norse heroes are always destined for doom, but face their fate fearlessly. Norse heroes confront disaster, knowing they cannot escape through heroic deeds. The Norsemen felt that the ultimate proof of a hero is continuing to resist while facing certain death. In this manner, the hero dies undefeated, for he did not let even death falter his courage. Signy, a Norse heroine, embodies these ideas. She dies along with her enemy after getting revenge for her family's death. Her heroic death is more of a triumph than avenging the wrong done to her.
Mark Twain stated that, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear." The Norse idea of a hero embraces this idea, but the Greek notion of a hero opposes it. Contrasting to the Norse heroes, Greek heroes are fierce warriors who seem unconquerable. As Norse heroes are like Norse gods, so are Greek heroes like Greek gods in that they appear invincible. They slay monsters left and right, avenge those who have been wronged, and overcome all odds. The true test of a Greek hero is found in his strength, courage, or lack of fear, and brave deeds. Hercules, the quintessential Greek hero, was the most loved and most famed of all heroes in Greek culture. The son of a mortal woman and Zeus, Hercules is half god and half human. Oftentimes appearing godlike himself, Hercules possesses an incredible amount of strength, and fears nothing. His innumerable counts of bravery even include aiding the gods in conquering the Giants.
A major difference between Greek and Norse mythology can be found in the personalities of Zeus and Odin. The Greek Zeus is Lord of the Sky and ruler over all the other gods. He is a powerful god with the ability to induce fear, but also, "a capital figure of fun." Zeus is supposed to have upheld the standards of right and wrong, but this is not always a very high standard. He entertains numerous affairs with mortal women and delights in causing trouble for mankind. Zeus is often pictured as amorous, joyful, and comic. Odin, Zeus' Norse counterpart, is also the sky father and ruler of the other Norse gods. Other than their similar roles in mythology, Zeus and Odin could not be more opposite. Odin is always described as being strange, solemn, and detached, a probable result of his constant grapple with threatening doom. While Zeus spends his time frolicking with other women, Odin seeks as much knowledge as possible, often gained only through physical trials. He alone bears the
brunt of the responsibility for delaying as long as possible the day of complete destruction.
The chasm between Greek and Norse mythology is huge. Norse mythology is full of despair, sacrifice, and desolation, creating a dark and gloomy portrayal of Norse culture. The only bright spot in Norse mythology is remarkable heroism, which is characteristically marked by the death of the protagonist. Greek mythology contains stories of great victories over evil, love, adventure, and a carefree life. The hero inevitably wins and mankind is always celebrated. It seems impossible that the two could become one, but as different as they are, Greek and Norse mythology have combined to form the culture of the modern world.