141. Hercules and the Apples of the Hesperides

Once upon a time, King Eurystheus of Mycenae and Tiryns, commanded a labor to Hercules, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, to fetch golden apples from the Hesperides.

The golden apples were given by Gaia to Zeus and Hera as their wedding gift. Hera requested Gaia to plant the apples on Mount Atlas, so that a golden apple tree may grow. Gaia obliged and a golden tree bearing golden apples blossomed. Hera placed the one hundred-headed dragon Ladon and the Hesperides to guard the tree.

Hercules was unaware of the location of the golden apples. In his search, he came to Mount Caucasus where the immortal Titan Prometheus was chained and tortured every day, as an eagle came to devour Prometheus’ liver, which again grew in the night. Hercules killed the eagle with an arrow dipped in the poison of the hydra. The grateful Prometheus told Hercules to ask Titan Atlas to fetch the apples for him.

Hercules approached Atlas, who was punished by the Olympian Zeus to hold the pillars of heaven and earth, since Atlas was a leader of the Titans during the war with the Olympians. Hercules asked Atlas to fetch the apples and Atlas agreed. Hercules took the burden from the shoulders of Atlas while Atlas went to fetch the apples.

Atlas returned carrying three golden apples, but refused to relieve Hercules of the burden. He declared that he himself would deliver the apples to Eurystheus. Hercules agreed, but begged Atlas to hold the burden just for a moment, so that he could place a pad on his head. Atlas laid the apples on the ground and just for a moment, took the burden from Hercules. But instead of placing a pad on his head, Hercules picked up the apples and left.

Thereafter, Hercules gave the apples to Eurystheus and Eurystheus gave them back to Hercules. Hercules gave the apples to Athena, and Athena delivered them back to their original place, as that was their lawful place.

Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani