books mythology

A song of ice and fire Greek and Norse mythology parallels

I only really started learning about mythology by reading Greek myths and retellings last year, and one of the things I love to think about are parallels, particularly parallels between mythology and A Song of Ice and Fire. I LOVE asoiaf and game of thrones, reading the books in 2013 (I think I’ve read them two of three times since). I’m going off of memory and my still fairly limited knowledge of mythology- how can some of you retain so much information haha?- but I thought this would be a fun little place to ramble my thoughts about the (true or false) parallels I’ve observed. Please let me know of any you’ve thought of, this is honestly my favourite way to spend my time. I’ll also mention here, I know most about Greek mythology and a little about Norse but I haven’t spent time reading other world mythologies yet.

Greek Mythology

Trojan War/Roberts rebellion:

I’ve always had a basic knowledge of the trojan war (I think it’s just one of these things we all know about without knowing why), and when I read asoiaf the parallels between Roberts rebellion and the Trojan War struck me. I guess the rough similarities/roles would be Robert as Menelaus, Rhaegar as Paris, Lyanna as Helen, Ned as Odysseus and Catelyn as Penelope? I wondered about Agamemnon; Tywin strikes as a similar character with a similar part to play, but also has an Odysseus-like cunning and a sly part to play in the eventual ending of the War.  Rhaeger also reminds me a little bit of both Apollo and Achilles in personality depending on the depiction I’ve read 😊 The same variations of the story and perceptions of Helen/Paris and Rhaeger/Lyanna’s relationships are left to the reader and characters to perceive as they will.  I also love the cyclical nature of stories and the world that George R. R. Martin enjoys creating, interlinked with Greek and Norse stories. (I would like to say here, I believe GRRM to be a time traveling wizard, there is no other explanation for this masterpiece).

I’ve enjoyed thinking about the general parallels between the Targaryen’s and the recurring themes within Greek mythology- blood lust/madness, incest and the flip of the coin that seems almost fated from birth within the Targaryen blood lines. Daenerys also gives me a few little Helen vibes every now and again. I’ve also read theories linking Daenerys to Aeneas- I haven’t read the Aeneid yet but I’m really interested to look out for these themes when I do!

Again, I hadn’t yet noticed the parallels between Perspehone/Haydes and Sansa/Littlefinger, but since being pointed out it definitely makes lots of sense and I’ll be looking further into it 😊

When reading Song of Achilles, I thought about the character and role of Chiron and the maesters in Westeros- they play a very similar role for the ‘important’ characters, with traits of wisdom and knowledge of medicine, maintaining the knowledge, history and magic/myths of the worlds (particularly Chiron and Maester Aemon, I love both of their characters). The part that they play in almost keeping the balance of the worlds and guiding the characters reminded me of the elements of prophecy/sacrifice and ‘chosen one tropes’- I’m unsure if Jon’s life and ‘destiny’ are intentionally similar to Achilles in a number of ways? Ned hiding Jon’s identity for his safety, Thetis asking Achilles to hide among the daughters of Lycomedes and the eventuality of their essential part to play- and sacrifice of their own free will- in the Wars to save the world. I’m definitely going to look into this a lot more because I haven’t given it too much thought, but it really interests me. There are also lots of more general mini tropes like the depiction of Achilles/Patroclus as romantic couple (which I feel there’s lots of evidence for, I like this depiction), and the relationship between Renly and Loras (I watched two seasons of games of thrones before reading the books, I always wonder if I I would have known they were a couple in the books). Also, now I think about it Jon Connington’s feelings towards Rhaeger are quite similar to Patroclus and Achilles too.

Circe/Cersei:

Whilst reading Circe, I began to wonder if GRRM was intentionally inspired by Circe and took influence when visualising Cersei’s appearance and character. The depiction of Circe as the daughter of the God of son with a complicated father/daughter relationship and submission to the wishes of her domineering father is very similar to Cersei’s relationship to Tywin. Little things such as affinity to lions and the themes of gold/the sun can be seen. I’m taking everything I’ve read from the book ‘Circe’, but it appears that Circe was a loving, compassionate character who longed to be loved- the change in character of tendency for revenge occurred when this love was not returned- Glaucus chose Scylla and Circe became disillusioned and hardened. This is similar to Cersei’s account in her memories and depiction of her enthusiasm to marry Rhaegar. She instead spent years married to Robert who loved Lyanna. Both Circe and Cersei were raped, experiencing further horror, isolation and loneliness, driving the characters to their mistrust of men: in Circe’s case changing men to animals and in Cersei’s having Robert killed with poison (nice little Boar parallel thrown in). The exceptions to this hatred are Odysseus and Jaime, who both characters love and trust to an extent, becoming the father’s to Circe and Cersei’s children. Both characters refer to these children as the joy in their lives and become fiercely overprotective and wary. Circe becomes increasingly terrified that Athena will kill Telegonus whilst Cersei lives in constant fear of the valonqar prophecy resulting in the death of her children (didn’t actually realise how many parallels I noticed until writing this, very interested in other’s perspectives now). In a sense, Sansa’s characterisation and story is also very similar to Circe’s but this is to be expected as her story mirrors Cersei’s. Cersei also reminds me of Hera in a number of ways, with Robert portraying Zeus.

Norse mythology

I’m very new to learning about Norse Mythology and the vast majority of what I’m basing my knowledge on comes from Neil Gaiman’s book, but I was instantly struck by the Norse mythology universe and North of the wall.  The initial beginning of the world entirely mirrors Norse mythology- Odin defeating the frost giants to create a peaceful world with the knowledge that the world will one day end when they awaken is in complete synchrony with the long night and the building of the wall. Gjallarhorn or the ‘yelling horn’ are mirrored by the horn of Joramun and the inevitability that this story is going to be repeated. The wall was built to separate humans from north of the wall in the same way that the giant builder built the wall of Asgard. The long summers and Winters are very similar in both sources.

The happy, friendly and brave yet stoic individuals in the north- personified by Ned- display the same acceptance yet dread for the inevitable end to come with the words ‘Winter is coming’. The Norse Gods await the inevitable Ragnarok. I know that the mythical creatures from the dawn of time are also very similar with similar histories but I can’t remember enough to go into this, and I definitely need to look back at the history of Westeros (if you know what I’m rambling on about please feel free to enlighten me haha). I also wish I knew more about Odin, but I definitely see some parallels and characters with Ned and those beyond the wall from what I have read on Norse mythology. I enjoy thinking about the differences between the North and South of Westeros, with the dark harshness of the North and the beliefs that stem from the beginning of time- the Weirwood trees and the old Gods. Ned and Catelyn think about the difference between these Gods and the softer, ‘prettier’ and more decorative southern Gods- The North equates to ice and the South fire, both in Norse mythology and asoiaf. I like that these differences feel to me like the difference in tone between Norse mythology and Greek/Roman myths.

I’m very interested in the cyclical nature and patterns within the stories. In Norse mythology the the inevitable cycle of the world equates the Gods and humanity to chess pieces in a game- also prevalent themes in asoiaf.

‘That is how the worlds will end, in ash and flood, in darkness and in ice. That is the final destiny of the gods’.

Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman

This quote sums up far more eloquently that I could the intense similarity in themes that are paralleled in asoiaf. There are also a whole lot of exciting parallels between Odin and the runes/tree of Yggdrasil and Bran/three eyed raven and the weirwoods/children of the forest that I am not very good at explaining but I will give it a go: Both Odin and Bran undertook a physical sacrifice to gain the knowledge required for their important roles in the ‘end of the world’- Odin sacrificing his eye and Bran losing his ability to walk. Odin can shapeshift into animals, and travel within his own and other memories, in the ways that Bran can similarly warg and is learning the depth of his powers and time dynamics at the end of his story in the books (so far). I feel that I need to understand Norse mythology to a far greater extent and reread asoiaf to make more sense of the parallels, but this was fun to think about (and I hope it was a little bit interesting to read haha). I’m also really excited to see where GRRM takes the story and Brans role as I feel there are many more exciting parallels to be seen (I refuse to believe that the final books will never be out, I need to know what happens and delete season 8 of game of thrones from my brain).

What a life I lead, I really got carried away here hahaha, but I honestly have the time of my life thinking about and writing things like this. Please please share any of your perspectives of parallels that you’ve seen, I’m incredibly interested! 😊 I’d also like to think more about parallels between asoiaf and fairy tales in the future (although I know that many fairy tales are derived from mythology) as well as the history of monarchs such as the tudors. I’ve heard that GRRM is very interested in and influenced by Scottish history so I’d love to find out more about that! I hope you’re all doing okay in the crazy times, thank you for reading this!

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