A LOOK AT ODIN AND ZEUS

by N.C. , A.T., & A.S.

Odin and Zeus were both kings of gods. Odin was from what is now modern day Scandinavia. Zeus was from ancient Greece. In this paper, the similarities and differences of Odin and Zeus will be discussed.

Zeus

Zeus: The king of the Greek Gods

Zeus, ruler of gods, was worshipped by the ancient Greeks. According to Stassinopoulus and Roloff (1983), Zeus’s name comes from the Indo-European root ‘dru’ meaning ‘to shine.’ (p. 115) He was the son of Cronos and Reah, and he was born in Crete and kept hidden from his father in a cave on Mount Dicte according to Homer. However, according to Hesiod, he was born in Arcadia and taken to Crete and hidden on Mount Ida. He was nourished by the goat, Amalthea and guarded by the Curetes, young semi-divine men. Zeus had been sent into hiding by Reah, so Cronos would not swallow him as Cronos had done to his previous children. Cronos had swallowed them because he was afraid of a curse that said that one of his children would slay him.

When Zeus reached manhood, he overthrew his father with the help of his mother, Reah. He then drew lots with his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, to see who would rule the universe. Zeus won the draw and became the ruler of the gods. Hades received the rule of the Underworld, and Poseidon took control of the seas. Stassinopoulos and Roloff (1983) stated, The character of Zeus as a politician among gods is immediately established by means to gain supremacy. Zeus was not a creator; he was a maintainer of customary laws. Kings faded from the Greek mind but Zeus did not. (Stapleton, 1978, p. 212)

Zeus was more than just the ruler of the gods. As Long stated he is the lord of the sky, and the rain god. He was given a thunderbolt as a weapon, which was made for him by the Cyclopes under the direction of Hephaestus. Pinsett (1969) said, When the mighty Zeus was displeased he hurled his great thunderbolt at those who angered him. (pp. 29-30)

Zeus was invoked under a number of different names. As the father and savior of man, he was called Soter. As the protector of the house, he was called Herkeios. As creator of the rules of hospitality, he was called Xenios. As the guardian of property he was called Kteisos. As the god of marriage he was called Ganelios. As the god of earth and fertility, he was called Cthonius. In serpent form he was called Meilichios. As guardian of liberty, he was Eleutherios. As the highest civic god he was Zeus Poleius. (Stapleton, 1978, p.212)

Many of Zeus’s children are a reflection of his multiple love affairs with women, mortal and immortal. Schwab (1946) stated, Zeus once had an affair with a woman named Io. He came down in the form of a mortal, and she unhappily fell to his snares. (p.212). Zeus’s first consort was Metis, who conceived him a child, Eileithya. After Metis came Themis, and she bore the Fates and the Seasons. She was followed by Eurynome and his sister Demeter. Mneymosyne and Leto followed, then his sister Hera, his wife, who helped him rule Mount Olympus Zeus used symbiotic nature.

Odin

Odin was the king of the Norse gods. He was worshipped in what is now Scandinavia. He was often known as the Allfather. According to Branston (1995), the “Allfather is said to be ‘the oldest of the gods,’ to have been ‘there from the beginning of time’, to have ‘created heaven and earth and sky and all within them,’ to have ‘created man,’ to be the ruler ‘of his kingdom with absolute power.’ (p.47) He was known as the Sky Father, and it is said that he was the father and husband of the earth and created all within. Odin was especially the god of professional warriors and aristocrats, and as such, the snobbish regarded him in a higher social class than the rest of the gods.

ODIN

Besides being known as the Sky Father, Odin has several other names and nicknames. One of which was Annarr. Another is the Allfather because he is the father of all the gods. He was called Valfather, which means father of the slain, because he had adopted all of the warriors who died in battle. Odin was also called Hangatyr: God of the Hanged, or Galyatyr: the Gallows God. He was called the Gallows God because he was closely associated with death, and hanging was ritual sacrafice to him. He was also known as the Father of Victory, the Helmet Bearer, Host Blinder, Host Glad, Overthrower, and Father of the Slain. Some of his other nicknames were Swift in deceit, Wide in Wisdom, Terrible, Thunderer and more. Branston (1995) said, We find a god whose ancient name gave the various forms, Odin, Voden, Wuotan, and Wooden, a name meaning wild or furious; and that this god is made manifest in noisy, bellowing movement across the sky. (p.109)

Odin was said to be very wise, and there are many stories on how he gained this wisdom. One version that Branston (1995)gave was that, Odin discovered the secret of the runic wisdom by hanging himself of the World Ash and sacrificing himself to himself. The Ash Yggdrasill is thus shown to be a tree of knowledge also. The usual method of sacrifice to Odin is hanging. (p.79) Branston included in his book three stanzas that explained the myth:

I'm aware that I hung on the windy tree, swung there nights of all nine; gashed with a blade bloodied for Odin, myself an offering to myself knotted to that tree no man knows whither the root of it runs.
None gave me bread, none gave me drink, down to the depths I peered to snatch up runes with a roaring screech and fall in a dizzied faint!
Well being I won and wisdom too, I grew and joyed in my growth; from a word to a word I was led to a word from a deed to another deed.(p.115)

Davidson (1964) gave another version:
This world had for its centre a great tree, a mighty ash called Yggdrasill. So huge was this tree that its branches stretched out over heaven and earth alike. Three roots supported the great trunk, and one passed into the realm of the Aesir, a second into that of the frost-giants, and a third into the realm of the dead. Beneath the root in giant-land was the spring of Mirmir, whose waters contained wisdom and understanding. Odin had given one of his eyes for the right to drink a single drop of that precious water.(p.26)
Branston(1995) gave still another version on the way he received his wisdom:

Odin, chief of the gods has spirited from her grave a Volva (translated spaewife, sybil or seeress), who tells him of the past during which the world was created, of the first man’s woman...She then tells of the future, prophesying the doom of the gods and the destruction by fire and flood of heaven and earth. This is not quite all: a new and beautiful universe is to arise with new men and women and both new and old gods.(p.42)

Odin had two younger brothers, Vili and Ve. They are the sons of Bor. Bor’s father was Buri who was licked from the primeval ice by the mythical cow, Audhumla. It was said that the three sons of Bor created the ear. Odin, Vili, and Ve felt the giant Yimir was ugly, and this fact irritated them. The quarreled with the giant and killed him. They hacked him into pieces. There was so much blood that Yimir’s entire family drowned in it except for his brother, Bergelmir and his wife. Together they created an entire race of frost-giants. There was so much blood that all of the oceans, streams, rivers, lakes ,ponds, and waterfalls were created. The remains of his body, bones, and teeth created the earth. After they killed the giant they created the sky, the giant land humans and finally Asgard.

Branston (1995) stated that shortly after Odin and his brothers killed Yimir and created the earth, they walled along the sea. Odin was watching the shadows of their arms and legs and how they made it look as if the logs the shadows were falling on were moving. Odin stopped and dropped to one knee next to the log of a fallen elm tree. He leaned over it and breathed life into it. He stood up and the three brothers stood back and watched as the log began to move and crack and soon the figure of a woman appeared. Her eyes opened, but she remained still. Odin then breathed life into a nearby log of an old ash tree. Soon the figure of a man had appeared the same way as the woman. Ve gave the new humans their five senses and Vili gave them the ability of understanding.(p.20)

Zeus Vs. Odin

Two different times, different places and different kinds of people, yet the gods they believed in carried many similar traits. ODIN, the father of the Norse gods, and ZEUS, the father of the Greek gods, did have many similar qualities; however, differences do exist creating two distinct deities.

Appearance seemed to be one of the things the two gods had in common. Both Odin and Zeus were described as being large men, but never fat, and they always had a beard. As Long (1998) stated, A beard represents manliness, in a very basic way as facial hair is something that every man can have.(p.12) The physical features that these gods possessed gave them a realistic, common feeling, something easy to believe in.

One of the most conflicting myths between the Greeks and the Vikings is how Zeus and Odin became the rulers of the universe. On one hand Odin, as Branston (1995) said, was there from the beginning of time. He is said to have, created heaven and earth and sky and all within them.(p.47) Odin also created man at this time so that man could rule over the earth. On the other hand, Zeus, after being hidden away by his mother, returned and killed his father, Cronos, as was prophesied earlier in Cronos’s life. In doing this, he brought his brothers and sisters back to life after Cronos had swallowed them in order to avoid his own fate. After these events, Zeus drew lots with his brothers to see who would rule over what. Zeus was the winner, so he become the ruler of the gods. They did have their differences, but they also had some similarities.

Both Odin and Zeus had two brothers. In Odin’s case, his brothers, Vili and Ve, took part in creating the universe, but they took no part in ruling it. Zeus’ brothers, however, were able to take part in ruling. Posiedon become ruler of the seas and Hades became ruler of the underworld.

The realm in which the gods lived had their similarities, and of course, their differences. Asgard was the realm of Odin and the Norse gods. It was described by Long (1998) as being somewhere in the heavens with a connection to the earth through a rainbow and another connection to the underworld. Mount Olympus was the home of the Greek gods. It, too, was in the heavens and had a connection to the earth. This connection was important. From their realms, both gods were able to look down on man. There were many cases when both Zeus and Odin disguised themselves and walked the earth among the common man.

Zeus was most well-known for going to earth and having relations with mortal women. In order to have these relations, he’d often change his physical forms. Some of his most common forms were a bull, an eagle, a swan, a golden shower and a quail. Odin also changed form when he interacted with mortals. Often he became a snake or an eagle. The most common was an old man that Long (1998) described as wearing, “a long gray coat and a wide brimmed hat that covered or cast shadows over his missing eye.” (p.12) Both of the gods had children due to these interactions with mortals. However, they did not only interact with mortals for their own. personal gain. Often times, they would go to give assistance to the mortals.

Even though they were from different times, different places, and were the gods of different people, Zeus and Odin had quite a few similarities. Despite their differences, they will always be the fathers of the gods and the creators of their universes.


Works Cited


This webpage was created by N.C., A.T.,& A.S. on 5/28/98 for History and Thought of Western Man. Rich East High School.

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