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apples the hesperides

Hesperides

[he-sper-i-deez]
In Greek mythology, the Hesperides (Greek: Ἑσπερίδες) are nymphs who tend a blissful garden in a far western corner of the world, located near the Atlas mountains in Libya, or on a distant blessed island at the edge of the encircling Oceanus, the world-ocean.

According to the Sicilian Greek poet Stesichorus, in his poem the "Song of Geryon", and the Greek geographer Strabo, in his book Geographika (volume III), the Hesperides are in Tartessos, a location placed in the south of the Iberian peninsula.

By Roman times, the garden of the Hesperides had lost its archaic place in religion and had dwindled to a poetic convention, in which form it was revived in Renaissance poetry, to refer both to the garden and to the nymphs that dwelt there.

The Nymphs of the Evening

Ordinarily the Hesperides number three, like the other Greek triads (the Three Graces and the Moirae). "Since the Hesperides themselves are mere symbols of the gifts the apples embody, they cannot be actors in a human drama. Their abstract, interchangeable names are a symptom of their impersonality," Evelyn Harrison has observed; nevertheless, among the names given to them, though never all at once, are Aegle ("dazzling light"), Arethusa, Erytheia (or Erytheis), Hesperia (alternatively Hespereia, Hespere, Hespera, Hesperusa, or Hesperethoosa). Lipara, Asterope and Chrysothemis are named in a Hesperide scene of the apotheosis of Heracles (romanised to Hercules) on a late fifth-century hydria by the Meidias Painter in London They are sometimes called the Western Maidens, the Daughters of Evening, or Erythrai, the "Sunset Goddesses", designations all apparently tied to their imagined location in the distant west. Hesperis is appropriately the personification of the evening (as Eos is of the dawn) and the Evening Star is Hesperus. In addition to their tending of the garden, they were said to have taken great pleasure in singing.

They are sometimes portrayed as the evening daughters of Night (Nyx) and Darkness (Erebus), in accord with the way Eos in the farthermost east, in Colchis, is the daughter of the titan Hyperion. Or they are listed as the daughters of Atlas, or of Zeus and either Hesperius or Themis, or Phorcys and Ceto.

Erytheia ("the red one") is one of the Hesperides. The name was applied to the island close to the coast of southern Hispania, that was the site of the original Punic colony of Gades (modern Cadiz). Pliny's Natural History (4.36) records of the island of Gades: "On the side which looks towards Spain, at about 100 paces distance, is another long island, three miles wide, on which the original city of Gades stood. By Ephorus and Philistides it is called Erythia, by Timæus and Silenus Aphrodisias, and by the natives the Isle of Juno." The island was the seat of Geryon, who was overcome by Heracles.

The Garden of the Hesperides

The Garden of the Hesperides is Hera's orchard in the west, where either a single tree or a grove of immortality-giving golden apples grew. The apples were planted from the fruited branches that Gaia gave to her as a wedding gift when Hera accepted Zeus. The Hesperides were given the task of tending to the grove, but occasionally plucked from it themselves. Not trusting them, Hera also placed in the garden a never-sleeping, hundred-headed, dragon, named Ladon, as an additional safeguard.

The Eleventh Labour of Heracles

In order to make twelve out of ten Labours of Heracles, it was suggested that Eurystheus discounted those where Heracles was aided or paid, and so two additional labours were given. The first of these was to steal the apples from the garden of the Hesperides. Heracles first caught Nereus, the shape-shifting sea god, to learn where the Garden of the Hesperides was located.

In some variations, Heracles, either at the start or at the end of his task, meets Antaeus, who was invincible as long as he touched his mother, Gaia, the earth. Hercules killed Antaeus by holding him aloft and crushing him in a bearhug.

Herodotus claims that Heracles stopped in Egypt, where King Busiris decided to make him the yearly sacrifice, but Hercules burst out of his chains.

Finally making his way to the Garden of the Hesperides, Heracles tricked Atlas into retrieving some of the golden apples for him, by offering to hold up the heavens for a little while (Atlas was able to take them as, in this version, he was the father or otherwise related to the Hesperides). Upon his return, Atlas decided that he did not want to take the heavens back, and instead offered to deliver the apples himself, but Heracles tricked him again by agreeing to take his place on condition that Atlas relieve him temporarily so that Heracles could make his cloak more comfortable. Atlas agreed, but Heracles reneged and walked away. According to an alternative version, Heracles slew Ladon instead.

According to some, Heracles was the only person to steal the apples, other than Perseus, although Athena later returned the apples to their rightful place in the garden. They are considered by some to be the same "apples of joy" that tempted Atalanta, as opposed to the "apple of discord" used by Eris to start a beauty contest on Olympus.

On Attic pottery, especially from the late fifth century, Heracles is depicted sitting in bliss in the Gardens of the Hesperides, attended by the maidens.

The Hesperides in the Renaissance

With the revival of classical allusions in the Renaissance, the Hesperides returned to their prominent position, and the garden itself took on the name of its nymphs: Robert Greene wrote of "The fearful Dragon... that watched the garden called Hesperides". Shakespeare inserted the comically insistent rhyme "is not Love a Hercules, Still climbing trees in the Hesperides" in Love's Labours Lost (iv.iii) and John Milton mentioned the "ladies of the Hesperides" in Paradise Regained (ii.357).

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