Fragrant Iris. Guillaume Seignac (1870-1924). Public domain.
In the mythology of ancient Greece Iris was the personification and goddess of the rainbow with which she is identified. Isis was the daughter of Thaumas and the Oceanid nymph Electra (Elektra) according to Hesiod (1981). The wife of Zephyrus, the God of the West Wind, she was the mother of Eros, and some say Pothos. Other sources claim her brother was Hydaspes. Her sisters were the Harpies or Harpiae , the ‘Storm Winds’ called Aello and Ocypete.
Iris portrayed on a Greek vase. Public domain.
In Homer’s Iliad (1871) she is described as the messenger of the gods and meaning she could journey at will to and from the Underworld, through the heavens and the deep seas. As the agent and winged messenger of Hera (Hesiod, 1981) and Zeus (Homer, 1871), she carried the caduceus or herald’s staff.
Statue of Iris in Bedford. Public domain.
As Hera and Zeus’s winged herald Iris had a number of epithets. These were: Chrysopteron or ‘Golden Winged’; Podas Okea or ‘Swift Footed’; Podaemor Okea or ‘Wind-Swift Footed’ or ‘Wind Footed’; and Thaumantos or ‘Daughter of Thaumos’ and ‘Wondrous One’.
Morpheus and Iris (1811). Pierre-Narcisse Guerin. Public domain.
Portrayed as a winged maiden Isis could travel with the speed of the wind, like the ‘Storm Winds’, as she carried an urn or pitcher of Stygian water to Olympus in order to put perjurors to sleep and for the solemn oaths of the gods.
Iris carrying the water of the Styx to Olympus. Guy Head (1762-1800). Public domain.
For Isis the rainbow was a bridge and the highway she used on her travels and errands between heaven and earth. When not delivering messages Isis was the ‘bedmaker’ who slept under the bed of Hera and Zeus. As the goddess of the rainbow Isis was the link, the mediator with the gods, who restored peace to nature, and who joined the heavens to the mortal world.
Midsummer Night, Iris. Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893). Public domain.
Called a Virgin Goddess she was the source of the high waters who supplied the clouds with rain. Isis was also referred to as a ‘Mother of Love’ who gathered the souls of women as the carrier of the divine will to mankind. This suggests a close association or affinity to Hecate and indicates a duality, a darker side to her role as a goddess of hope.
References and sources consulted.
Hesiod, (1981). Theogony, Works and Days. Penguin.
Collins, W. L. (1871). Homer – The Iliad. William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh.