IRIS was the goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the Olympian gods. She was often described as the handmaiden and personal messenger of Hera. Iris was a goddess of sea and sky--her father Thaumas "the wondrous" was a marine-god, and her mother Elektra "the amber" a cloud-nymph. For the coastal-dwelling Greeks, the rainbow's arc was most often seen spanning the distance beteween cloud and sea, and so the goddess was believed to replenish the rain-clouds with water from the sea. Iris had no distinctive mythology of her own. In myth she appears only as an errand-running messenger and was usually described as a virgin goddess. Her name contains a double meaning, being connected with both the Greek word iris "the rainbow" and eiris "messenger." Iris is depicted in ancient Greek vase painting as a beautiful young woman with golden wings, a herald's rod (kerykeion), and sometimes a water-pitcher (oinochoe) in her hand. She was usually depicted standing beside Zeus or Hera, sometimes serving nectar from her jug. As cup-bearer of the gods Iris is often indistinguishable from Hebe in art.
IRIS (Iris), a daughter of Thaumas (whence she is called Thaumantias, Virg. Aen. ix. 5) and Electra, and sister of the Harpies. (Hes. Theog. 266, 780; Apollod. i. 2. § 6; Plat. Theaet. p. 155. d; Plut. de Plac. Philos. iii. 5.) In the Homeric poems she appears as the minister of the Olympian gods, who carries messages from Ida to Olympus, from gods to gods, and from gods to men. (Il. xv. 144, xxiv. 78, 95, ii. 787, xviii. 168, Hymn. in Apoll. Del. 102, &c.) In accordance with these functions of Iris, her name is commonly derived from erô eirô; so that Iris would mean "the speaker or messenger:" but it is not impossible that it may be connected with eirô, "I join," whence eirênê ; so that Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, would be the joiner or conciliator, or the messenger of heaven, who restores peace in nature. In the Homeric poems, it is true, Iris does not appear as the goddess of the rainbow, but the rainbow itself is called iris (Il xi. 27, xvii. 547): and this brilliant phenomenon in tile skies, which vanishes as quickly as it appears, was regarded as the swift minister of the gods. Her genealogy too supports the opinion that Iris was originally the personification of the rainbow. In the earlier poets, and even in Theocritus (xvii. 134) and Virgil (Aen. v. 610) Iris appears as a virgin goddess; but according to later writers, she was married to Zephyrus, and became by him the mother of Eros. (Eustath. ad Hom. pp. 391, 555; Plut. Amat. 20.) With regard to her functions, which we have above briefly described, we may further observe, that the Odyssey never mentions Iris, but only Hermes as the messenger of the gods: in the Iliad, on the other hand, she appears most frequently, and on the most different occasions. She is principally engaged in the service of Zeus, but also in that of Hera, and even serves Achilles in calling the winds to his assistance. (Il. xxiii. 199.) She further performs her services not only when commanded, but she sometimes advises and assists of her own accord (iii. 122, xv. 201. xviii. 197. xxiv. 74, &c.). In later poets she appears on the whole in the same capacity as in the Iliad, but she occurs gradually more and more exclusively in the service of Hera, both in the later Greek and Latin poets. (Callim. Hymn. in Del. 232; Virg. Aen. v. 606; Apollon. Rhod. ii. 288, 432; Ov. Met. xiv. 830, &c.) Some poets describe Iris actually as the rainbow itself, but Servius (ad Aen v. 610) states that the rainbow is only the road on which Iris travels, and which therefore appears whenever the goddess wants it, and vanishes when it is no longer needed: and it would seem that this latter notion was the more prevalent one in antiquity. Respecting the worship of Iris very few traces have come down to us, and we only know that the Delians offered to her on the island of Hecate cakes made of wheat and honey and dried figs. (Athen. xiv. p. 645; comp. Müller, Aegin. p. 170.) No statues of Iris have been preserved, but we find her frequently represented on vases and in bas-reliefs, either standing and dressed in a long and wide tunic, over which hangs a light upper garment, with wings attached to her shoulders, and carrying the herald's staff in her left hand; or she appears flying with wings attached to her shoulders and sandals, with the staff and a pitcher in her hands.
AELLOPUS (Aellopous), a surname of Iris, the messenger of the gods, by which she is described as swift-footed like a storm-wind. Homer uses the form aellopos. (Il. 409.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
A goddess named “Iris” personified the rainbow in the mythology of ancient Greece. Most works of art depict her either in the form of a beautiful rainbow, or as a lovely maiden. She wore wings on her shoulders and usually carried a pitcher in one hand. Her name combined the Greek words for “messenger” and “the rainbow” to signify her dual role. Some accounts depict her as one of the goddess Hera’s assistants. (Hera carries associations with the sky.)
The ancient Greeks considered Iris the female counterpart of Hermes. She served as a messenger from Mount Olympus. She would use her pitcher to scoop up water from the ocean and carry it into the clouds. Some legends also hold she used her pitcher to collect water from the River Styx, the shadowy river separating the world of human beings from the underworld. Many Greeks viewed Iris as an important link between mortals and the realm of the gods.
The Family Life of Iris
Most sources describe Iris as the daughter of the Oceanid cloud nymph Elektra and Thaumas, a minor god sometimes associated with the sea. She would have been one of the Titan Oceanus’ granddaughters. Her rainbow frequently appeared in the sky over bodies of water.
Legends differ about her life as an adult. Some stories describe her as unmarried and primarily a messenger for the Olympian gods. In other accounts, she fell in love with Zephyros, the god of the West Wind. They had a son named Pothos, who personified Desire.
Iris as a Messenger
Iris would frequently use her pitcher to serve nectar to the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. When these major ancient Greek deities needed to send messages to other gods or to human beings, they would sometimes ask Iris to transmit their words. She could travel very quickly from Mount Olympus to Earth, and could even journey quickly into Hades.
Many ancient Greeks considered Iris one of the most beautiful goddesses. The ancient Greeks described her as “swift footed”, suggesting she could respond rapidly to requests. In legends, she carries symbolic associations with messages and communication.