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Mythical Profile: Iris the Messenger Goddess

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Come and take flight with Iris, the messenger goddess, and find out all about her life and the hidden messages of rainbows! Then, have a go at making your own messages in Iris' colourful style.

The Messenger by Sam Jinks on display at the Hellenic Museum
Iris as goddess of the rainbow by Gaetano Matteo Monti (1841), held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

DISCOVER


Today when we need to send a message to someone, we can use the internet, text, give them a call, or even write a letter! But what did people do before the invention of these things? The gods and goddesses of Olympia had a personal messenger to send their messages for them, and her name was Iris.


Iris was the goddess of the rainbow. In fact, the name “Iris” means “rainbow” in ancient Greek! To the Greeks, the rainbows in the sky looked like a connection between heaven and earth, and Iris was said to travel along them when delivering messages between gods and mortals.


Morpheus awakening as Iris draws near, by René-Antoine Houasse (1688-89), held at the Grand Trianon

Once, when the mortal Ceyx died in a shipwreck, the goddess Hera commanded Iris to visit Morpheus, the god of sleep and dreams. Hera wanted Morpheus to create a dream for Ceyx’s wife, Alcyone, telling her about the shipwreck.


Iris found Morpheus in his palace of clouds. The clouds were shaped into a dark cave, where Morpheus slept peacefully. Once Iris entered the palace, however, her wings were so bright that they lit up the clouds around her, and she saw that they were full of millions, perhaps billions, of floating dreams, which surrounded their god.


Iris left immediately after delivering Hera's commands, and just by being briefly close to the god of dreams, she began to feel sleepy. She had risked falling asleep and never coming back!

 

CREATE


Would you like to write a message to someone you love, and deliver it as Iris would? Let’s make some rainbows to send our letters! You will need:

  • Colouring pencils or crayons in all the colours of the rainbow

  • Pens, pencils or markers for writing your message

  • Paper

Do you know the colours of the rainbow? You can remember them with the acronym “ROY G BIV” – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet!

Instructions:

  1. Fold your piece of paper in half, so it looks like a card.

  2. Colour it in, making it look like a rainbow that Iris might use to deliver her messages.

  3. Write your message. When you’re done, pass the message on, and let them know that you’re using rainbows to deliver the message, just like Iris would. (You might also want to carry a pitcher of water from the river Styx while delivering the message!)

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