The Apples of the Hesperides

The eleventh of the Twelve Labors of Heracles.

This was particularly difficult, since Heracles did not know where to find them. They were the apples which Hera had received at her wedding from Gaea, and which she had entrusted to the keeping of the Hesperides and the dragon Ladon, on Mount Atlas, in the country of the Hyperboreans.1 In other accounts the apples are described as sacred to Aphrodite, Dionysus, or Helios; but the abode of the Hesperides is placed by Hesiod, Apollodorus, and others, in the west, while later writers specify more particularly certain places in Libya, or in the Atlantic Ocean. The mention of the Hyperboreans in this connection renders the matter very difficult, but it is possible that the ancients may have conceived the extreme north (the usual seat of the Hyperboreans), and the extreme west to be contiguous.

Heracles, in order to find the gardens of the Hesperides, went to the river Echedorus. in Macedonia, after having killed Termerus in Thessaly. In Macedonia he killed Cycnus, the son of Ares and Pyrene, who had challenged him. He thence passed through Illyria, and arrived on the banks of the river Eridanus, and was informed by the nymphs in what manner he might compel the prophetic Nereus to instruct him as to what road he should take. On the advice of Nereus he proceeded to Libya. Apollodorus assigns the fight with Antaeus, and the murder of Busiris, to this expedition; both Apollodorus and Diodorus now make Heracles travel further south and east: thus we find him in Ethiopia, where he kills Emathion, in Arabia, and in Asia he advances as far as Mount Caucasus, where he killed the vulture which consumed the liver of Prometheus, and thus saved the Titan.

At length Heracles arrived at Mount Atlas, among the Hyperboreans. Prometheus had advised him not to fetch the apples himself, but to send Atlas, and in the meantime to carry the weight of heaven for him. Atlas accordingly fetched the apples, but on his return he refused to take the burden of heaven on his shoulders again, and declared that he himself would carry the apples to Eurystheus. Heracles, however, contrived by a stratagem to get the apples and hastened away.

On his return Eurystheus made him a present of the apples, but Heracles dedicated them to Athena, who, however, did not keep them, but restored them to their former place. Some traditions add to this account that Heracles killed the dragon Ladon.

Previous labor: The Cattle of Geryon.
Next labor: The Capture of Cerberus.



  1. Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library ii, 5.11.


  • Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica iv, 1396 ff.
  • Diodorus Siculus, iv, 26 ff.
  • Eratosthenes. Catasterismi, 3.
  • Hesiod. Theogony, 215 ff.
  • Hyginus. Fabulae, 31; Poetical Astronomy, ii, 6.
  • Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia vi, 31, 36.
  • Plutarch. Theseus, 11.
  • Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library ii, 5.11.
  • Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.

This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.