Norse Gods vs Greek Gods: Similarities and Differences


Among the world’s belief systems, Norse and Greek mythologies may rank as the two with the most fascinating and legendary figures. The Norse people worshipped deities like the omnipotent all-father Odin and the god of thunder Thor. The Greek pantheon includes the almighty Zeus along with the goddess of love, Aphrodite.

Norse gods and Greek gods are similar in their diversity, with various facets of life falling under the auspices of individual gods. In one significant aspect, however, there is a big difference between them; whereas Greek gods are immortal, their Norse counterparts are fated to perish at Ragnarok.

Both the Norse and Greek gods’ purpose is to maintain order in their respective universes, suppressing chaos and doling out punishment for acts of evil.

While there are similarities between these deities, the people over whom they ruled lived in different times and under vastly different circumstances. These disparities are perhaps best reflected in the attributes, and even flaws, of the gods they worshiped.

Interested in Norse Mythology? See 14 Great Books on Norse Mythology that explain the gods, heroes, and villains of these ancient stories of Scandinavia.

A modern-day depiction of Thor

Similarities Between Norse Gods and Greeks Gods

Even though they were worshiped centuries, if not millennia ago, Norse and Greek gods are familiar, and in some cases, borderline celebrity-like characters in modern mainstream culture and media.

As evidenced by popular books, movies, and television series, these larger-than-life figures are as well-known and revered today as they were during their heyday over a thousand years ago.

Though their origins are as distinct as the ancient civilizations from which they sprouted, Norse gods and Greek gods have several key attributes in common.

Odin and Zeus are fascinating figures in mythology. See Would Odin beat Zeus in a fight? to learn more.

A modern depiction of Zeus, the all-father, god of weather, law, and fate

Differences Between Norse Gods and Greek Gods

While there are significant parallels to be drawn between Norse gods and their Greek counterparts, there are also fundamental differences between these deities, starting with their own mortality.

Norse Gods are not Immortal

Unlike Greek gods, the Norse gods, despite ruling over the cosmos and having supernatural abilities at their disposal, are mortal. The fact that, like the humans they created, Norse gods would someday have to face their own mortality seems contrary to the very notion of attaining god status.

Still, it reflects the harshness and difficulty that the people of Scandinavia faced in their everyday lives during the Viking Age.

For most Norse gods, the end comes with the arrival of Ragnarok, the apocalyptic end of days during which the ultimate battle between order and chaos will take place.

The death toll among Norse gods during Ragnarok is devastating, with but a few survivors to usher in a new beginning from the ashes and rubble that remain. Among those who will perish are the most venerated and revered of Norse deities [6]:

  • Odin – will be swallowed by the mighty wolf Fenrir
  • Thor – will slay the giant serpent Jormungandr but succumb to its venom
  • Heimdall – locked in a battle with the trickster god Loki, the two will slay each other
A modern depiction of Thor’s hammer

Norse Gods Cannot Alter Fate

Another major difference between Norse gods and Greek gods is how fate is intertwined into the very fabric of Norse mythology. Not even Odin and his peers can alter what has already been predetermined.

Not only did Odin suffer the incomparable grief and agony of losing a child, but Baldur’s (his son’s) death was laid out in a prophecy. Despite his best efforts, Odin and his fellow gods could do nothing to change the tragic outcome.

The events of Ragnarok, which foretold of the violent deaths of nearly all members of the Norse god pantheon, were also known to the Aesirs and Vanirs well before the events began to unfold. And yet, for the sake of honor and legacy, they prepared for a battle they knew they would not survive. [7]

Thor is one of the most well-known figures in Norse mythology. See Who can lift Thor’s hammer? The secrets of Mjolnir to learn more.

There are Many Norse and Greek Gods

The most basic similarity between Norse and Greek mythologies is that they are polytheistic, meaning their respective followers believe in more than one god.

  • In the case of Norse mythology, the pantheon of major gods consists of no less than ten deities of noteworthy stature.
  • At the same time, their Greek counterparts number an even dozen (even more depending on the source or the authority).

Whether Norse or Greek in origin, each god or goddess has a particular domain they oversee or over which they exercise dominion. There is considerable overlap between Norse and Greek gods as far as the categories of specialization.

Norse Gods: Aesir and Vanir

There are two factions of Norse gods, the Aesir and Vanir, with each having their fair share of representation among the upper echelon of Nordic deities [1].

OdinGod of wisdom, enlightenment, poetry, death
ThorGod of lightning & thunder, war
FreyjaGoddess of love, lust, fertility, magic
LokiGod of trickery, deceit (half-god, half-giant)
FreyrGod of fertility, peace, health
HeimdallGatekeeper to the nine realms
FriggGoddess of marriage, prophesy
BaldrGod of light, beauty, renewal
TyrGod of justice (war), truth, morality
IdunGoddess of fertility, beauty, youthfulness

Norse mythology has giants? Yes, it does! See The Giants of Norse mythology to learn more.

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of beauty and love

Greek Gods

The pantheon of Greek gods is a who’s who of familiar names and legendary attributes led by an elite group known as the Olympians who rule from their domicile high up on Mt. Olympus [2].

ZeusThe all-father, god of weather, law, fate
HeraGoddess of women and marriage
AphroditeGoddess of beauty and love
ApolloGod of prophecy, music, poetry, knowledge
AresGod of war
ArtemisGoddess of hunting, animals, childbirth
AthenaGoddess of wisdom and defense
DemeterGoddess of agriculture and grain
DionysisGod of wine, pleasure, festivity
HephaestusGod of fire, metalworking, sculpture
HermesGod of travel, hospitality, trade
PoseidonGod of the sea

Norse and Greek Gods Have Flaws

Another similarity that pertains to the gods of Norse and Greek mythology themselves is the fact that they are flawed and far from perfect.

While in many cases they have supernatural abilities, superhuman strength, and in some cases absolute immortality, Norse and Greek gods are vulnerable to the same emotional frailties as their far weaker human progeny.

On the Norse side of the aisle, one needs to look no further than the two greatest Norse mythology icons, the all-father Odin and the god of thunder Thor, for examples of character weaknesses and flaws in Norse gods.

  • Odin – he is considered, among many things, to be the god of wisdom, enlightenment, and poetry. However, these qualities are not innate; rather, they result from tremendous struggle and yearning. Odin gave up one of his eyes to drink water from the Well of Wisdom and had to resort to shape-shifting and trickery to steal the mead of poetry from its owner.

To unlock the mystery of ancient runes, Odin hung himself from Yggdrasil, the Norse tree of life, for nine days and nights and even impaled himself with his spear as a symbolic gesture of the sacrifice he was willing to make to gain enlightenment [3].

  • Thor – as the designated protector of Asgard (the realm of the gods) and the human realm, Thor is without peer in terms of might, courage, and ferocity in battle. However, when it comes to matters requiring mental sharpness and intellect, Thor is often overmatched and victimized by cunning and deceit.

Add Thor’s legendary hot temper to the mix, and the makings for a volatile situation arise every time the god of thunder is teased, mocked, or insulted. [4]

The almighty Zeus is the supreme commander of the Greek Olympians. Throughout humankind’s history, he is widely considered to be one of the most recognizable figures of all the world’s mythologies.

Even so, Zeus’ flaws and weaknesses are as much a part of his legend as the bolts of lightning he hurls at his enemies.

  • Zeus is ill-tempered and easily provoked to violence 
  • He gets drawn into petty disputes that would, on the surface, be seemingly far beneath and unbefitting a preeminent being of his stature 
  • Much of his energy and powers are utilized to satisfy his seemingly insatiable sexual appetite, as evidenced by his countless affairs and interludes (and also resulting in numerous offspring) [5]

Final Thoughts

Norse and Greek gods are powerful but flawed and burdened with weaknesses, and in the case of the former, they must face their own mortality.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source
[6] Source
[7] Source

Christian Christensen

Christian's fascination with Scandinavia began when he traced his family history to several countries in the region. As a college professor who has taught about the history of Northern Europe, he wishes to respectfully promote, not just the region's history, but its culture and people as well.

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