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The Wind-Footed Goddess


Goddess of the Rainbow
Iris and Styx
Iris and the Birth of Apollon
Iris and Demeter
Iris and the Trojan War
Text References
Immortals Index
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Goddess of the Rainbow

Iris flies on the wind and moves like a blast of bright air. She is called 'The Rainbow, Iris' thus implying that her presence is a sign of hope or perhaps symbolizing a bridge between heaven to earth.

Iris is the daughter of Thaumas [a son of the Sea] and the Okeanid, Elektra (Electra) … she is the sister of the Harpies, Okypete (Ocypete) and Aello. Iris is generally considered to be a "minor" goddess in that she is submissive to the Olympians and has no specific domain. Her primary role in The Iliad seems to be that of the faithful messenger of Zeus.

Iris's sisters, Okypete and Aello were described by the poet Hesiod as, "Harpies of the lovely hair, winged women soaring aloft like birds." That is contrary to their stereotypical visage as vile and hideous creatures … regardless of how the Harpies were perceived, the ancient Greeks never gave Iris a negative characterization.

Iris and the Harpies

A generation before the Trojan War, Jason and the Argonauts encountered Iris and her sisters, the Harpies … that would have been circa 1280 BCE.

When Jason and the Argonauts were seeking the Golden Fleece, they landed on the island of the blind seer, Phineus. Before the Argonauts met Phineus, he had been exiled to the island because he had offended Boreas [North Wind]. Phineus married the daughter of Boreas, Kleopatra (Cleopatra), and after her death married a cruel and vengeful woman. Phineus's new wife hated Kleopatra's sons induced Phineus blind the boys. Boreas was infuriated by the harsh treatment of his grandsons and demanded justice. As punishment for such a horrendous act, Zeus offered Phineus blindness or death … Phineus chose blindness … he was then exiled to a remote island in the Euxine [Black Sea].

Helios [Sun] was offended that Phineus would choose blindness rather than death so as further punishment, he sent the Harpies to torment Phineus by stealing his food … the Harpies did not steal all of Phineus's food … they would always leave reeking morsels so that he could sustain himself and thus his torment could continue.

Two of the Argonauts were the winged sons of Boreas, Kalais (Calais) and Zetes … Phineus's plight was pitiable to Kalais and Zetes so they promised to help rid him of the Harpies … the two young gods set a trap for the Harpies but they were very swift and the winged brothers could only claw at the fleeing women with their fingertips. Iris rushed into the fray and chided the brothers for trying to harm the Harpies because they were there to punish Phineus with the consent of Zeus. Iris swore a sacred oath on the river Styx that if the brothers would stop their pursuit of her sisters, they woiuld no longer torment Phineus. Thus Phineus, although he was still blind, was freed from one aspect of his curse and allowed to eat once more in peace. In the Catalogues of Women, the author states that Hesiod credits Hermes, and not Iris, for turning Kalais and Zetes away from the Harpies.

Iris and Styx

The Immortals are often placed in situations where they don't know who they can trust … in order to protect themselves, they will sometimes demand that a sacred oath be administered … the most sacred and binding oath that the Immortals can swear is on the waters of the river Styx … Styx is therefore called The Oath River.

Styx resides in the Underworld near the halls of Hades and Persephone … she lives apart from the other Immortals in a glorious house with a stone roof supported by silver columns. Iris is the only Immortal allowed to enter Styx's home. When a dispute erupts on Mount Olympos (Olympus), Zeus sends 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.

Iris and the Birth of Apollon

Iris is not noted for taking sides in disputes between the Immortals but she is often called upon to relay messages between the conflicting deities … the birth of Zeus's son Apollon is a perfect example of this type of situation.

Zeus was married to his third wife Hera when he became infatuated with the goddess Leto … his union with Leto produced Apollon and Artemis. Hera could do nothing to stop Zeus's philandering but she could make Leto's life complicated and painful.

When Leto was looking for a place to give birth to Apollon she was rebuffed by the Nymphs and goddesses of every land and island she visited until she arrived on the island belonging to the goddess Delos … the Nymphs and goddesses who refused to accommodate Leto were justifiably afraid that Hera would punish them if they assisted Leto. Delos was aware of the risks but she was also confident that Zeus would protect her as long as Apollon maintained his residence on her island. Delos made Leto swear an oath on the waters of the river Styx that Apollon would never abandon her island … we are not told specifically that Iris retrieved Styx's waters for the oath but we can assume that she did.

After Leto had sworn the sacred oath and Delos was satisfied that Apollon would always have a shrine on her island, the birth process began but it was slow and painful. Iris and several other goddesses were attending Leto but Hera had purposely kept her daughter Eileithyia (Eilithyia) occupied so that she would not know of Leto's plight … Eileithyia is the goddess of Childbirth.

After nine days and nights of labor, Leto had still not given birth … the goddesses in attendance sent Iris to Mount Olympos to find Eileithyia. Iris was very discreet when she arrived on the sacred mountain … she carefully drew Eileithyia aside so that Hera could not overhear their conversation. After explaining the situation to Eileithyia, Iris took her to Leto … Apollon was born without further delay. Hera was satisfied with her interference and did not bother to hinder the birth of Artemis.

Iris and Demeter

When Zeus gives Iris a message to be delivered to one of the Immortals it was always implicit that his word is law and that whatever he demands will be unquestionably done without delay … on one important occasion, Iris delivered a message that was ignored and the entire human population of the earth was placed in peril.

Hades, lord of the Dead, abducted Persephone and took her to the Underworld … Zeus had given his permission for the kidnapping but neither he nor Hades had bothered to consult Persephone's mother, Demeter. When she finally found out the details of the abduction, it was too late to save her daughter … Persephone, the Maid, had became queen of the Dead … this was antithesis to Demeter's dominion which is goddess of the Harvest.

Demeter's grief at the betrayal was complete … she abandoned her earthly duties and took the guise of an elderly woman so that she could indulge her sorrow. The crops failed and the human inhabitants of the earth were facing genuine hardship. Zeus sent Iris to Demeter with instructions to give up her bitterness and restore her blessings to the orchards and fields … Demeter wasted no words on Iris … she refused to obey Zeus.

At Zeus's command, every god and goddess went to Demeter but it was her mother, Rheia (Rhea), who finally convinced her that her best chance of seeing Persephone again was to return to Mount Olympos as Zeus wished.

Iris and the Trojan War

Iris played a significant role in the Trojan War but not as a fighter or meddler … she faithfully relayed the will of Zeus to the other Immortals who were fighting and meddling. Sometimes she would assume the guise of a man or woman and at other times she would reveal herself in all her glory.

After Aphrodite had been wounded by the vicious attack of Diomedes, Iris rushed to her side and assisted her into Ares's war chariot so that the injured goddess might escape further harm.

Iris took no side in the war and advised both armies as Zeus commanded. She helped the Trojan commander, Hector and likewise his most hated enemy, Achilles with equal faithfulness … Iris relayed tactical information to Hector about how to best delegate authority in his diverse army … she also helped Achilles by going to the house of Boreas [North Wind] to ask the Winds to desist so Achilles could light the funeral pyre of his fallen companion, Patroklos (Patroclus).

The Greek Iris is often confused with a Roman goddess with the same name.

The Romans worshipped a goddess named Iris who was also identified with the rainbow but the Roman Iris had a distinctly negative countenance and was the portent of sadness and doom.

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