A while back I read the Sage of the Volsungs which renders the adventures of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer into prose. Its very cool and gives one a good idea of the bearing the gods had on our ancestors. The tales told to understand the world around them, or more likely, to give meaning to a life both brutal and too often short.
(Aside, I'm not sure life was that much shorter, people lived to ripe old ages, but infant mortality was much higher then, keeping populations in check. Natural diseases, of which there were no cure in those days, played their part, whereas today we can check, slow or cure it. So in short, as a biological organism we lived just as long, but the circumstances of death were far greater.)
There tales of ancient gods...Odin, Thor etc...are fascinating reflections of the people who told them.