Goddess of The Rainbow in Greek 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.
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