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Iris, Ancient Greek Goddess of the Rainbow and Messenger of the Gods

In Greek Ίρις-Ίριδα, the messenger of the gods among themselves in Homer (Il.8.398), and Hesiod (Th.780). Her name comes from Indo-European ‘wei-1’, ‘To turn, twist’ and ‘rei-2’. ‘Striped and in various colors’. This is in contrast to the derivation which Plato gives where he says ‘Iris’ comes from ‘εἵρειν’, ‘To tell’ because she was a messenger.

Iris is goddess of the rainbow and a messenger of the gods. She
is often carrying messages for Hera. She is the daughter of Thaumas and Electra, one of the Oceanids and not the daughter of Agamemnon. Her sisters were the fearful harpies. She had no cult following and no temples dedicated to her. In some legends she is the mother of Eros by Sephyrus.

The goddess Iris with her wand flying through the air.
Goddess Iris

The wand of Iris indicates she is a herald. The name of the staff, caduceus, is more related to its function than its shape. The origin of the shape is two intertwined snakes whose detail is lost in the wand of Iris. The name comes from the Indo-European ‘kar-2’, ‘To praise loudly, extol’ and is related to the greek word for herald’s wand ‘κηρύκειον’. In her other hand she holds an oinochoe jug. This may be needed to speak with spirits. In the Odyssey 11.23 Homer writes: “(Odysseus) poured a libation to all the dead, first with milk and honey, thereafter with sweet wine, and in the third place with water,” Later he poured blood. The idea is to give the spirits liquid substance to animate them as blood animates mortals. This may be the idea of a libation.

Homer in the Iliad Book XXIV indicates that Zeus desires to speak to Thetis and he states, “Storm-swift-footed Iris started at once on this mission. Halfway between Samos and rugged Imbros she dived into the dark bosom of the sea with a resounding splash and sank to the bottom as quickly as the bit of lead that an angler attaches to his ox-horn lure with fatal consequences to the greedy fish. She found Thetis in her valuted cavern, …. Fleet-footed Iris went up to the goddess and said: ‘Come, Thetis; Zeus in his unending wisdom calls you to his side.'”

Even in classical times high government officials depended upon messengers to deliver messages. But in classical times they were male runners who supported themselves by running messages. It has been said that the patriarchal Indo-Europeans imposed their male dominated religion on a culture with a religion dominated by goddesses. Yet the vast majority of deities in the Ancient Greek pantheon are women and the vast majority of these have names with Indo-European roots. So there is no good explanation as to why Iris, a goddess, is a messenger. Nor is there any reason why there should be a goddess of the rainbow. After all one would expect that the rainbow might be better associated with the maleness of the sky god. It may be that it is the ability of light to carry a message that makes Iris a messenger. But this would suggest that the ancient Greeks believed light is a substance that moves through space to carry messages and this seems at odds with contemporary beliefs.

Then Homer in the Iliad Book XXIV states, “With that, the gracious goddess (Thetis) took a dark-blue shawl … and set out on her journey, preceded by swift Iris of the storm-swift feet. The waters of the sea made way for them and they came out on the shore and darted up to heaven,….”

Here Iris takes on another role of a herald, one who preceeds. In this was Iris has a role that is similar to the one that Hermes often takes

Hesiod II To Demeter: (ll. 301-320) “First he
sent golden-winged Iris to call rich-haired Demeter, lovely in
form. So he commanded. And she obeyed the dark-clouded Son of
Cronos, and sped with swift feet across the space between. She
came to the stronghold of fragrant Eleusis, and there finding
dark-cloaked Demeter in her temple, spake to her and uttered
winged words:”

(ll. 321-323) “Demeter, father Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting,
calls you to come join the tribes of the eternal gods: come
therefore, and let not the message I bring from Zeus pass

(ll. 324-333) “Thus said Iris imploring her.”

Hesiod, Theoginis: (ll. 775-806) “And there dwells the goddess loathed by the deathless gods, terrible Styx, eldest daughter of back-flowing
(23) Ocean. She lives apart from the gods in her glorious house
vaulted over with great rocks and propped up to heaven all round
with silver pillars. Rarely does the daughter of Thaumas, swift-
footed Iris, come to her with a message over the sea’s wide back.
But when strife and quarrel arise among the deathless gods, and
when any of them who live in the house of Olympus lies, then Zeus
sends Iris to bring in a golden jug the great oath of the gods
from far away, the famous cold water which trickles down from a
high and beetling rock.”

In Heracles by Euripides, Iris has a speaking part that may reveal something of her character. See line 822

Possibly the most humorous appearance of Iris is in The Birds of Aristophanes, line 1199. She is intercepted in her messenger duties as she attemps to deliver messages from Zeus to mortals.

Pictures of Iris:

The British Museum has a statue of Iris from the West Pediment of
the Parthenon.


Questions and Answers



Answer: A Rainbow

Question: some references say that iris was the goddess of the
rainbow, others the messenger of the gods, which was her
duty and how did she live out her promises?

Answer: Iris used the rainbow as the path of her messages. She was a messenger and very good at it. She was faster than Hermes. She did not make promises, she delivered messages.

Question: In one of these pictures, Iris has wings. Does she really?

Answer: The ancient Greeks believed that the deities could fly without wings but they sometimes drew them to signify they could fly.

Question: Did she have a Roman name?

Answer: Iris was her Roman name.


Answer: Iris was her Greek name as well.

Question: when was iris born and when did she pass a way?

Answer: All the goddesses were born before historic time and all are
immortal and still as alive as ever.

Question: Are there any myth’s involving iris where she plays a major part?

Answer: She may have been the mother of Eros.

Question: What were here flaws?

Answer: Goddesses are perfect and have no flaws.

Question: how did iis help rebulid mt. olympas???

Answer: I have no information on this.

Question: Why was a river named the Iris (now the Yesil Irmak in Turkey)?

Answer: I have no information on this. A number of things are named Iris: Iris of the eye, flowers, a rainbow of colors. These may or may not be related.

Question: how does the story of iris or iris herself relate to modern society today?

Answer: Rainbows are still a joy to behold and are often considered as
a message. Now many of our messages travel at the speed of light.

Question: when was iris born

Answer: All the goddesses were born before historic time.

Question: was iris ever married?

Answer: It is said that Iris was the mother of Eros by Zephyrus.

Question: did iris have anything to do with zeus?

Answer: Iris carried messages for Zeus.

Question: Where did iris live?

Answer: The major goddesses all have accommodations in the palace of Zeus but she spends as much time as she can in the broad arch of the sky.

Question: can i get a physical description of Iris

Answer: It is hard to describe someone who is always moving. And besides all the goddesses are shape shifters and can change appearances. If she wants Iris will appear to you in a guise that you expect.

Question: where was iris born and how?

Answer: She was the daughter of Thaumas and Electra and was born in the mists of the sky just when the sun came out.

Question: is iris related to zeus in any way

Answer: All the gods and goddesses are related in some way. Thaumas is the son of Gaia and Pontos while Electra is the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. Pontos (sea) is a son of Gaia. Both Oceanus and Tethys are Titans, children of Uranus and Gaia. Zeus is the son of Cronus and Rhea, both Titans.

Question: Does Iris Have anything to do with River Styx?

Answer: From Hesiod’s Theogony: Loathed by the immortals, Styx makes her home in the underworld. When a dispute erupts on Olympos, Zeus will send wind-footed Iris to Styx for a pitcher of water. Any immortal who pours the waters of Styx, and swears an oath, is solemnly bound to tell only the truth. The punishment for breaking such an oath is one year without ambrosia, nectar or AIR! If that’s not enough, for nine additional years, the oath-breaker is not allowed to attend the festivals or share the company of the other immortals.

Question: what does Iris mean?

Answer: Rainbow.

Question: Did Iris have any other children besides Eros?

Answer: I have no information on this.

Question: Did Iris serve Hera?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What is Iris’s astrological sign?

Answer: I have no information on a birthday for Iris.

Question: did iris have anything to do with the rebuilding of Mt Olympus?

Answer: I am not aware that Mt. Olympus needed rebuilding.

Question: How did she feel about love?

Answer: As with most of the goddesses, Iris was subject to the powers of Aphrodite.

Question: What was her philosophy of life?

Answer: Philosophy is a quest that mortals do after the knowledge that the deities generate. Iris, as the mesenger of the gods and goddess of the rainbow, generates knowledge about light and communication with light.

Question: What does iris look like?

Answer: We assume she is a beautiful young women but all we ever see is a rainbow.

Question: what is the most important thing iris has done?

Answer: Everything a goddess does is very important.

Question: Who wass Iris’ brothers and sisters?

Answer: The Harpies were the sisters of Iris. She has no brothers.

Question: Why does Iris hold a pitcher and a herald’s rod?

Answer: Which picture are you referencing here?

Question: What weaknesses does Iris have?

Answer: Goddesses do not have weaknesses but rather realms with properties over which they rule. Anything like a weakness would be identified among the properties of the realm.

Question: Is iris popular

Answer: There was not cult of Iris but she is often mentioned by playwrights. Artists depicted her a number of times. Since she is often depicted with wings she was one of those goddesses that inspired the depiction of angels later.

Question: did Iris have an lovers?

Answer: Goddesses lead perfect lives consistent with their realm. If
a perfect life requires a lover she would have had one, otherwise no.

Question: Why does Iris hold a Herald’s rod?

Answer: She is a herald.

Question: What does the Harold’s rod look like?

Answer: The herald’s staff or rod is a caduceus.


Iris with Caduceus

Question: Why do you like Iris?

Answer: Iris is easy to like because she is so colorful. She is, after all, the rainbow.

Question: what was iris’s parents greatest schievements?

Answer: Gods and goddesses exist out of time so it is not proper to
ascribe achievements to them. They only seem to have achievements because they can be personified.

Question: What does she wear?

Answer: A gossamer gown the color of the rainbow.

Question: What is Iris’ emblem

Answer: A rainbow.

Question: What is another name for Iris the Greek Goddess (11 letters) Iris was the goddess with a thousand names. I am looking for one that reads: –a-m-n-i– Thank you for your help!

Answer: I only know a few names for Iris, Rainbow, Aellopus, perhaps Prophorikos and Drakontes.

reply: It looks as if the answer was “Thaumantias”.

reply: Thanks. the reference might be – “Thaumantias [Iris daughter of Thaumas]. The cousin of Aiolos Hippotades (son of Hippotes).” – Greek Lyric III Stesichorus, Frag 222B

Question: Topic: creating a myth story: why we have rainbows? Questions: a.) What is the name of my god? b.) What is his or her domain?

Answer: Warning: You cannot write your own myth. All you can do is write what you think is true. Later someone will find out your story is no longer true and it becomes a myth.

The Greek goddess of rainbows is Iris. The Greeks do not seem to have a myth of the creation of rainbows but they do realize its nature: The rainbow, everlying just beyond reach, even suggests the whole world of myth, hovering just beyond imagination, just beyond history (Bell, 267). Iris is the goddess of light. She is a messenger of the gods, and as light, for mortals as well. Iris is the daughter of Thaumas and Electra. Goddesses are always born intentionally as a result of the creative thought of the parents. If you study the myths of her parents you probably will gain insight into the reason for the birth of Iris.

Question: 1. Emotional description of Iris? 2. Was Iris’s birth and early life normal or unusual in some way?

Answer: Bell (Women of Classical Mythology) makes a very emotional statement about Iris: Iris can almost be regarded as the personification of personifications, The rainbow is the epitome of personifications, delicately beautiful, evanescent. As messinger of the gods, fleet footed Iris. even exceeding Hermes, used her own symbol as a path of delivery. The rainbow, ever lying just beyond reach, even suggests the wole world of myth, hovering just beyond imagination, just beyond history.

The mother of Iris is Electra. Her name is translated as shining but not shining like sunlight but rather like amber. The father of Iris is Thaumas and his name means wonder. Iris must have been born in the wonder that amber brings. When it is rubbed it has a mysterious attractive force. We now know this force as electricity which is named afer the Greek word for amber. The rainbow is another wonder, but it is a wonder of air, waterdroplets and light. Light was not well understood by the ancient Greeks. Some thought light originated in the eye, hense the name Iris for the part of the eye through which light travels. Some thought the air was a source of light. They did not realize that light always has a source which produces light energy.

Interestingly the Ancient Greeks knew light could be used for communication. Clytemnestra speaks of a series of beacons that she used to communicate with Agamemnon. But her position with the gods reflect the more standard means of communication in the culture of the times. People had to send messengers between each other to communicate on many personal matters. These messengers would either memorize the message or it could be written on a clay or wax tablet. During the Classical perieod there were runners who made a living going between the Greek cities in this way. For more public matters there were traveling bards who carried the news, mixed in with myths. The name Iris is derived from wei, an Indo European word. This would suggest that Iris had long been associated with Zeus, even before he came to Greece with the Indo-Europeans. But it is interesting that Iris is female. Messengers in ancient Greece do not ever seem to have been female. This conflicts with the Indo-European patriarchal past.

Question: I am doing and assignment on iris a goddess. The whole assignment is a resume on a Greek god. I need a few things on iris I need a major story on iris, areas of power, who she was a lover of, who she fears or needs the traits of her character/ personality and some thing called A.K.A. know as if applicable?

Answer:Resumes are not well suited to goddesses so you have to be creative. Goddesses do not have personalities so much as they have realms. It is the character of their realm that determines their personality. So you have to look at the nature of their realm. Iris is the goddess of the rainbow so you must think about the nature of the rainbow to determine her personality. There are a number of stories about Iris. These are referred to as myths because the truth of the stories cannot be proved and these stories are found in various kinds of poetry. A lot of information is found in the page above. A. K. A. means ‘as known as’. A goddess can be known by many names and you need to list many of these. Sometimes different names reference different stories so you may have to check out all the names to get all the stories. And books are not the only source of information. You can study the rainbow in your back yard to find out about Iris and her personality.

Question: I would just like to ask if what would be the advised costume to wear my friend is going to portray Iris and I’m helping her with it. And would you suggest any props and what would be the advisable improvisation for a rainbow coloured cloth since we think it’ll be to hard to search for one.

Answer: The basic contume should consist of a peplos. This is easy to make out of two rectangles of cloth. The cloth need not be rainbow colored but it could be. Today we normally think of the peplos as white but this was not alway so. In ancient times the cloth might be embroidered with scenes important to Iris. If you study the picture of iris (Click here) you will notice she has a number of accessories: a crown, a staff, a jug, and wings. The crown or the jug, could be decorated with a rainbow. The staff shape should be as pictured. The wings symbolize that she can fly. They are on the goddess’s back. They could be on her feet. They do not need to be real wings as they are only symbolic. They could just be a picture of wings. The behavior of the goddess is important too. The staff could be used for getting attention by pounding it on the floor. But it also probably is a speaking stick. In a group the staff would be passed to the person who wants to speak and only the person with the staff is allowed to speak. Thus Iris gathers her message. When she has found the person who will receive the message she might pound the floor to get attention from that person. But before she delivers the message she pours from the jug a libation on the ground before person. This is especially important if the message is intended for the soul of a dead person or other spirit as the liquid gives substance to the spirit so it can listen or speak. Some deities might need this too. For a mortal person this would not be that important, but it still might assure that the soul of the person is alive enought to receive the message. The libation jug could contain blood, olive oil, wine or water. Wine is most likely but the main reason for wine rather than grape juice is that wine would not have spoiled. In ancient times any grape juice that was stored would be turned to wine. Instead of pouring the grape juice on the floor Iris could just pour it into a cup and hand it to the person who should receive the message.

Question: what was Iris’s latin name, her domain, and three interesting facts. And where can i find a 8 frame cartoon about one of her myths

Answer: Iris is the Latin name. Her domain is the rainbow and messaging. She is a messenger of the gods but there are no known female messengers of ancient Greece. Iris appears as a character in the Birds of Aristophanes. Zeus often uses Iris as a messenger in myth. The picture above could be considered a 1 frame cartoon. I could expand it to an 8 frame cartoon but I have no current plans. You can find illustrations of the Odyssey of Homer at Click Here.

Question: Would you be able to make it a 8 frame cartoon or do you know where i would be able to find one?

Answer: I could make such a cartoon but why? No myth about Iris contains 8 separate ideas that would suggest 8 images. No cartoons about Iris of this sort exist probably because her story is not complex enough. Perhaps a new story could be written to bring out some aspect of Iris. Perhaps the idea that she is a female doing the work normally given a male could be brought out. Or the idea that she is the mother of Eros might be interesting. Why do you think such a story should exist?

Response: I have to do a report on her and one of the things that it needs to include in a cartoon about Iris, so I have no clued of how of even start it


  1. How to draw a goddess.
  2. A line drawing of Iris like a cartoon.
  3. You then need to write a story about Iris. Why not take her through a typical day. She lives on Mt. Olympus in the palace of Zeus. What is her bed like? How does she wash after she gets up. Is there a bath house on Mt. Olympus or doe she bathe in her room? What does she wear? A peplos? She did not eat breakfast probably as this was not a Greek custom. But there was a small, late morning meal. The work that she does includes messaging and holding court. When does she do these? All goddesses hold court. She sits in a room and listens to petitions about her realm. She can either reject the petition or reject the petition and take some action. Prayers are petitions and answers to these prayers are actions taken. In ancient Greece Iris was more busy delivering messages because she had no cults as did Hera and Artemis. At the end of the day there is a big banquet. Stories are told about the happenings of the day. For the gods and goddesses ambrosia would be served. But like regular food it comes in all kinds of shapes, tastes and smells. What kind of food would Iris prefer and how would it taste? What does the banquet hall look like? Does she recline on a kline? Finally she went to bed. Think about what Iris would do in each of these situations to fill out your story.
  4. Remember that the Greeks believed Iris was an immortal goddess so she is just as alive today as she was in ancient times. Some of her activities, such as those during the Trojan War happened during historical times. But many, including her birth no date can be applied. And because she is immortal there is no death date either.
  5. In your story identify different scenes and significant actions in those scenes. Then you draw the images illustrating those actions. You should fill out the scene with furniture or other appropriate objects. There are many illustrations from ancient Greece that will give images of the furniture. Click Here for an image of wedding preparations as an example

Question: I’m doing an essay on Iris. Can you tell me a word or expression that is derived from the mythological reference?

Answer: Iris is the Greek word for rainbow. Iris is the messenger of the gods just as rainbow is seen a a messenger that the storm is over. But Iris is not seen as a messenger as we might use light as a messenger. The word “iris” is connected to other things because of their resemblance to the rainbow such as the iris of the eye and the flower of the same name. Also the circle of a peacock’s tail is an iris. So the goddess comes from an expression or an idea and not the other way around.