12 Labors of Heracles: Apples of Hesperides

In Greek myths, the Hesperides were nymphs that lived in a far western corner of the world , close to the Atlas mountains in North Africa. They were also known for tending an idyllic garden. After the first ten Labors of Heracles were completed, Eurystheus sent the hero to retrieve the apples of the nymphs.

Heracles was originally supposed to complete ten Labors, but Eurystheus would not count all of the tasks he had already accomplished. He claimed that the Hydra did not count because Iolaus helped Heracles. The task of the Augean Stables was also discounted because he received payment for the job and he used the rivers to clean up the mess. Eurystheus felt that the hero needed to complete two extra labors. The first was to steal the apples from the garden of the Hesperides, but first he had to learn where the Garden of the Hesperides was located. He asked the Old Man of the Sea (the shape-shifting sea god) about the Garden.

There are different accounts of the myth. Some say that Heracles meets Antaeus (a son of Poseidon) either at the beginning or at the end of his task. The half-giant was known for being invincible as long as he was touched by his mother, Gaia (the earth). Heracles killed Antaeus by holding him in the air and crushing him with a bearhug. According to Herodotus, Heracles stopped in Egypt where King Busiris wished to make him a sacrifice, but the hero burst out of his chains and survived.

After encountering a few obstacles, Heracles finally reached the Garden of the Hesperides. First, he tricked Atlas into retrieving some of the golden apples. He did so by offering to hold up the heavens for a bit of time. However, if this were true, then the task would not have counted since this meant that he received help.

The myth goes on to say that Atlas did not want to take the heavens back. He offered to deliver the apples himself, but Heracles tricked him once again. He told Atlas that he needed to make his cloak more comfortable and got Atlas to switch positions with him. When the heavens were back in Atlas’ care, Heracles walked away with the apples. Another variation of the myth says that Heracles became the only person to steal the apples besides Perseus.

The scene of Heracles sitting in the Gardens of the Hesperides in total bliss with maidens attending to his every need is a popular feature on Attic pottery dating back to the late 5th century.