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H-Nilas: Stories for the Seasons

"Iris's Birthday,"
based on a Greek myth, and retold by Cathy S. Mosley

Iris, one of the Messengers to the Gods, rarely had time to rest. Her life was spent speeding across the world wrapped in the guise of a rainbow to carry out the will of her rulers, particularly that of Hera; her only rest was when she could steal sleep beneath Hera's throne. Yet such devotion was not forgotten by the Queen of the Gods, and she ordered a birthday celebration for her faithful messenger.

A rare time......A time to see the fragile beauty of the swift messenger.....a time for the other gods and goddesses to remember that lovely Iris dwelt amongst them.

Presents of great rarity were brought to her; amongst them were flowers that had been created just for the occasion, but these flowers had not been named. An embarrassed silence filled the alabaster hall.

Until Hera lifted the dainty flowers up and said, "It is apt that they come to us fresh and unnamed. For what better way to honor our trusted messenger?" She held the delicate blooms to Iris, and said, "They shall be named for you. A living manifestation of the many splendid, but fleeting, hues of your cloak."


One of the most notable mentions of Iris is in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The Roman legend goes that Alycone, the wife of King Ceyx, prayed to Juno daily for her husband's safe return to shore. Her prayers disturbed the Queen of the Heavens for Ceyx lay chill beneath the waves, and at last Juno sent Iris to the halls of Sleep. Once roused Sleep sent one of his thousand sons, Morpheus, to carry a dream to Alycone. And when the poor wife saw the visage of her drowned husband she tore her hair with grief - her grief as loud as her prayers; until the gods took mercy and turned the souls of both she and her husband into birds.

Other stories claim that she joined with the West Wind and gave birth to Eros; while others tell of her intervention on behalf of Jason and Argonauts - that she called back the Harpies so that seer Phineus would no longer be plagued and would speak of the Golden Fleece.

In the mortal world irises are classified by plant height: dwarf, intermediate, and tall; these can range between 4 and 24 inches. They are further subdivided by flower size and season. All irises have complex flowers that last one to three weeks, and which are made up of: three drooping outer petals known as "falls," and three erect inner petals known as "standards." And while most falls have contrasting color at their bases not all of them have the raised protrusions called, "horns." The standards can appear in complimentary or contrasting colors, and can be frilled, wavy, or curled.

The bulbs are classified as "rhizomatous bearded iris hybrids." Rhizomes consist of a fleshy root stock, which grows horizontally; the new plant growth emerges from the eye at the side of the rhizome, and the new roots shoot from around or beneath the eye. True bulbs have the shoots emerging from the top, and roots coming from the bottom.

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths: Complete Edition. London: Penguin Books. 1992.

Humphreies, Rolfe. Ovids Metamorphoses. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1983.

Miller, Candace. Tales From the Plant Kingdom. Lima: Pourquoi Press. 1995.

The Big Book of Flower Gardening. Alexandria: Time-Life Inc. 1996.

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