Thursday, February 2, 2012

Iris (Greek Goddess)

Iris, goddess of the rainbow | Athenian red figure lekythos C5th B.C. | Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, New York
(above) Iris, Athenian red-figure lekythos C5th B.C., Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design

In Greek mythology, Iris (Ἶρις) 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, and into the depths of the sea and the underworld.

According to Hesiod's Theogony, Iris is the daughter of Thaumas and the air nymph Electra. Her sisters are the Harpies; Aello, Celaeno 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 an ewer of water from the River 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 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.

Morpheus and Iris by Houasse

Iris is married to Morpheus the god of dreams and fantasies, or in other accounts to Zephyrus, who is the god of the west wind. Their son is Pothos ("Longing"). According to the Dionysiaca of Nonnos, Iris' brother is Hydaspes.

In Euripides' play Heracles, Iris appears alongside Madness, cursing Heracles with the fit of mania in which he kills his three sons and his wife Megara. In some records she is a sororal twin to the Titaness Arke (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 Arke 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 Arke'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 podarkes (feet like [the wings of] Arke.)

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. 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.

Derivations

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, where "Arco" means "arch" in English.



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