Iris, the Greek Goddess

Statue of Iris Carrying Fallen Hero to Mt Olympus.
Jared I. Lenz Photography / Getty Images

Iris was a swift messenger goddess in Greek mythology and a popular subject for vase painting, but better known as the goddess of the rainbow because Hermes (Mercury) is known as the messenger god.

Iris is shown with wings, a (kerykeion) herald's staff, and a pitcher of water. She is a beautiful young woman described as wearing a multi-hued gown.

Family of Origin

Thaumas, son of the sea (Pontos), and Elektra, an Oceanid, are possible parents of Iris. Her sisters are the Harpiea Aello and Okypetes. In Early Greek Myth. Timothy Gantz (Early Greek Myth, 1993) says a fragment of Alcaeus (327 LP) says Iris mated with the west wind, Zephyros, to become the mother of Eros.

Iris in Roman Mythology

In the Aeneid, Book 9, Hera (Juno) sends Iris to incite Turnus to attack the Trojans. In Metamorphoses Book XI, Ovid shows Iris in her rainbow-hued gown serving as a messenger goddess for Hera.

The Homeric Epics

Iris appears in the Odyssey when Zeus sends her to convey his orders to the other gods and to mortals, when Hera sends her to Achilles.

Iris also appears when she seems to act on her own to convey information while appearing disguised as a human—unlike the other times. Iris also helps a wounded Aphrodite from the battlefield and to carry Achilles' prayer to Zephyros and Boreas.

Iris seems to have revealed to Menelaus the fact that his wife, Helen, left with Paris in the Kypria.

In the Homeric Hymns, Iris serves as ​a messenger to bring Eileithuia to help with Leto's delivery and to bring Demeter to Olympus to deal with famine.

Iris and the River Styx

According to the Greek poet, Hesiod, Iris went to the Styx to bring water back for another god to swear an oath by.

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Gill, N.S. "Iris, the Greek Goddess." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 27). Iris, the Greek Goddess. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Iris, the Greek Goddess." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).