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PBP: Iris

May 4, 2012

Iris meaning rainbow or Eiris meaning messenger

Iris, although messenger of the gods, is not as well known as Hermes.  Myths describe her as often employed as an intermediary by Zeus or Hera, delivering messages to other gods or to mortals.  Swift as the appearance of the sky’s multicolored ribbon and just as likely to disappear, Iris can also be as tricky as Hermes.  As Hera’s handmaiden, she would often assume other forms when delivering her lady’s messages.  When delivering messages in her own form, she is generally considered the bearer of truth, conciliator and peace bringer.

As a goddess of the sea and sky, the ancients saw Iris as the replenisher of the rain clouds.  She is variously described as dressed in rainbow-hues, golden winged, storm-footed, of the rosy cloud, fashioner of clouds, rain bringer, rain’s comrade, glory of sky, herald, cup bearer (sometimes conflated with Hebe) and bearer of the golden pitcher of Styx.

Hesiod, Theogony 780 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :  “And seldom does the daughter of Thaumas, fleet-footed Iris, come her [Styx’s] way with a message across the sea’s wide ridges, those times when dispute and quarrelling start among the immortals, and some one of those who have their homes on Olympos is lying, and Zeus sends Iris to carry the many-storied water [of the Styx] that the gods swear their great oath on, thence, in a golden pitcher.

Some say the rainbow is her road that appears wherever she wishes.  Other’s say that she is the rainbow.  As daughter of Thaumos, she is called Thaumantias, the Wonderous One.  Sometimes called a maid and other times called wife of Zephyros (the west wind) and mother of Pothos (Desire).  Iris was not an only child.  She is sister of Arcos (the Titan’s messenger during that war)  and savior of the Harpies (also called the hounds of Zeus).

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2. 286 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :  “Yet even with Heaven against them [the Boreades], the long chase would certainly have ended with their tearing the Harpyai (Harpies) to pieces when they overtook them at the Ekhinades (Echidnades), but for Iris of the swift feet, who when she saw them leapt down from Olympos through the sky and checked them with these words: ‘Sons of Boreas, you may not touch the Harpyai with your swords: they are the hounds of almighty Zeus. But I myself will undertake an oath that never again shall they come near to Phineus.’
And she went on to swear by the waters of Styx, the most portentous and inviolable oath that any god can take, that the Harpyai should never visit Phineus’ house again, such being Fate’s decree . . . The Harpyai and Iris went their different ways . . . Iris soared up to Olympos, cleaving the air with her unflagging wings.

 Very few details of her worship survive.  No statues of Iris are known though there are many vase paintings.  See here, hereherehere and here for some nice examples.  We do know the Delians offered her cakes of wheat, honey and figs.

Statius, Thebaid 10. 80 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :  “Hither from the blue sky came in balanced flight the varicoloured maid; the forests shine out, and the shady glens smile upon the goddess, and smitten with her zones of radiance the palace starts . . . [Iris] the golden fashioner of clouds . . . Iris goes forth, and tricks out her beams, made dim by showers of rain.

“a year of exploring the Pagan world through blogging”

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2012 2:14 PM

    I’ve always loved Iris. Thanks for bringing my attention to that lovely Statius quote.


  2. May 4, 2012 6:03 PM

    This is very relevant to my interests! I’m really, _really_ enjoying your PBPs.


    • May 4, 2012 7:40 PM

      Thanks! I’m glad someone is getting something out of my efforts as I do work hard on these.


  3. May 5, 2012 1:25 PM

    I really enjoyed this


  4. Shaylee permalink
    July 28, 2014 9:41 PM

    Iris is my patron goddess. There is so little information about her out there i feel compelled to write a book about her. Maybe one day it will be finished. That is my favorite image of her.

    Liked by 1 person


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