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Iris, by Luca Giordano
Iris stands behind throning Juno at right in the Roman fresco from the eastern wall of the triclinium in the Casa dei vettii (VI 15,1) in Pompeii.

In Greek mythology, Iris (Ἴρις) is the personification of the rainbow and messenger of the gods. As the sun unites Earth and heaven, Iris links the gods to humanity. She travels with the speed of wind from one end of the world to the other[1], and into the depths of the sea and the underworld.

Contents

In myths

According to Hesiod's Theogony, Iris is the daughter of Thaumas and the air nymph Electra. Her sisters are the Harpies, Aello, Phineus and Ocypete.

Iris is frequently mentioned as a divine messenger in the Iliad which is attributed to Homer, but does not appear in his Odyssey, where Hermes fills that role. Like Hermes, Iris carries a caduceus or winged staff. By command of Zeus, the king of the gods, she carries a ewer of water from the Styx, with which she puts to sleep all who perjure themselves. Goddess of sea and sky, she is also represented as supplying the clouds with the water needed to deluge the world, consistent with her identification with the rainbow.

According to Apollonius Rhodius, Iris turned back the Argonauts Zetes and Calais who had pursued the Harpies (her sister-beings) to the Strophades ('Islands of Turning'). (This eventful 'turning' may have resulted in the islands' name.) The brothers had driven off the monsters from their torment of the prophet Phineas, but did not kill them upon the request of Iris, who promised that Phineas would not be bothered by the Harpies again.

Winged female figure holding a caduceus: Iris (messenger of the gods) or Nike (Victory)

Iris is married to Zephyrus, who is the god of the west wind. Their son is Pothos (Nonnus, Dionysiaca). According to the Dionysiaca of Nonnos, Iris' brother is Hydaspes (book XXVI, lines 355-365).

In Euripides' play Heracles, Iris appears alongside Madness, cursing Heracles with the fit of madness in which he kills his three sons and his wife Megara.

In some records she is a sororal twin to the Titaness Arkhe (arch), who flew out of the company of Olympian gods to join the Titans as their messenger goddess during the Titanomachy, making the two sisters enemy messenger goddesses. Iris was said to have golden wings, whereas Arkhe had iridescent ones. She is also said to travel on the rainbow while carrying messages from the gods to mortals. During the Titan War, Zeus tore Arkhe's iridescent wings from her and gave them as a gift to the Nereid Thetis at her wedding, who in turn gave them to her son, Achilles, who wore them on his feet. Achilles was sometimes known as podarkhes, or "wing-footed with Arkhe's wings". Not much is written about Iris' twin sister.

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Epithets

Iris had numerous poetic titles and epithets, including Chrysopteron (Golden Winged), Podas ôkea (swift footed) or Podênemos ôkea (wind-swift footed), and Thaumantias or Thaumantos (Daughter of Thaumas, Wondrous One). Under the epithet Aellopus (Αελλόπους) she was described as swift-footed like a storm-wind.[2] She also watered the clouds with her pitcher, obtaining the water from the sea.

Representation

Iris is represented either as a rainbow, or as a young maiden with wings on her shoulders. As a goddess, Iris is associated with communication, messages, the rainbow and new endeavors. She is the goddess of the rainbow.

Derivations and portrayals

In language

  • The word iridescence is derived in part from the name of this goddess.
  • "Arco iris" and "arco-íris" are the words for "rainbow" in Spanish and Portuguese, respectively.

Namesake

Artwork

  • In 1946, Iris was depicted on a 50-franc airmail stamp in France. This was accompanied the same year by a 40-franc airmail stamp depicting a centaur shooting an arrow into the sky.

Fictional adaptations

See also

References

  1. ^ The Iliad, Book II, "And now Iris, fleet as the wind, was sent by Jove to tell the bad news among the Trojans."
  2. ^ Homer uses the form Αελλόπος, Iliad viii. 409

External links


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