Soon Heracles was heading out once more for the setting sun, this time to fetch golden apples sacred to Hera from a magical garden tended by the Hesperides (‘Daughters of Evening’) and guarded by the hundred-headed dragon, Ladon. Heracles was warned not to pick the apples himself, but to secure the aid of Atlas (the Titan who carried the skies on his shoulders as punishment for warring with the Olympian gods). After shooting Ladon from afar, Heracles easily persuaded Atlas to let him hold the skies while Atlas stole into the orchard and picked the golden fruit.
The Apples of the Hesperides Photo Gallery
But Atlas was loath to resume his duties. Surprisingly, Heracles agreed to the suggestion that Atlas take the apples back to Tiryns – but first he asked Atlas to relieve him for a moment, while he placed a cushion on his shoulders to ease the burden. Atlas agreed – and immediately regretted it. Now liberated, Heracles swept up the golden apples and, leaving the helpless Titan behind, strode off in triumph.
Again his journey home was tortuous, taking him west along the coast to visit Zeus’ Egyptian oracle at Siwah (which later recognized Heracles’ descendant Alexander the Great as a god) and found Egyptian Thebes (named after Heracles’ Greek birthplace and now called Luxor), before returning to Tiryns and his final task. Heracles presents Eurystheus (still cowering in his bronze amphora) with the three-headed dog Cerberus. (Black figure vase, c. 530 BC, from Cerveteri in Etruria, Italy.)