The Eleventh Labor
Source: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.
At the celebration of the marriage of Jupiter and Juno, when all the
gods were bringing their wedding gifts to the happy pair, Mother Earth
did not wish to be left out. So she caused to spring forth on the
western borders of the great world-sea a many-branched tree full of
golden apples. Four maidens called the Hesperides, daughters of Night,
were the guardians of this sacred garden, and with them watched the
hundred-headed dragon, Ladon, whose father was Phorkys, the parent of
many monsters. Sleep came never to the eyes of this dragon and a
fearful hissing sound warned one of his presence, for each of his
hundred throats had a different voice. From this monster, so was the
command of Eurystheus, should Hercules seize the golden apples.
The hero set out on his long and adventurous journey and placed
himself in the hands of blind chance, for he did not know where the
He went first to Thessaly, where dwelt the giant Termerus, who with
his skull knocked to death every traveler that he met; but on the
mighty cranium of Hercules the head of the giant himself was split
Farther on the hero came upon another monster in his way--Cycnus, the
son of Mars and Pyrene. He, when asked concerning the garden of the
Hesperides, instead of answering, challenged the wanderer to a duel,
and was beaten by Hercules. Then appeared Mars, the god of war,
himself, to avenge the death of his son; and Hercules was forced to
fight with him. But Jupiter did not wish that his sons should shed
blood, and sent his lightning bolt to separate the two.
Then Hercules continued his way through Illyria, hastened over the
river Eridanus, and came to the nymphs of Jupiter and Themis, who
dwelt on the banks of the stream. To these Hercules put his question.
"Go to the old river god Nereus," was their answer. "He is a seer and
knows all things. Surprise him while he sleeps and bind him; then he
will be forced to tell you the right way."
Hercules followed this advice and became master of the river god,
although the latter, according to his custom, assumed many different
forms. Hercules would not let him go until he had learned in what
locality he could find the golden apples of the Hesperides.
Informed of this, he went on his way toward Libya and Egypt. Over the
latter land ruled Busiris, the son of Neptune and Lysianassa. To him
during the period of a nine-year famine a prophet had borne the
oracular message that the land would again bear fruit if a stranger
were sacrificed once a year to Jupiter. In gratitude Busiris made a
beginning with the priest himself. Later he found great pleasure in
the custom and killed all strangers who came to Egypt. So Hercules was
seized and placed on the altar of Jupiter. But he broke the chains
which bound him, and killed Busiris and his son and the priestly
With many adventures the hero continued his way, set free, as has been
told elsewhere, Prometheus, the Titan, who was bound to the Caucasus
Mountains, and came at last to the place where Atlas stood carrying
the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Near him grew the tree
which bore the golden apples of the Hesperides.
Prometheus had advised the hero not to attempt himself to make the
robbery of the golden fruit, but to send Atlas on the errand. The
giant offered to do this if Hercules would support the heavens while
he went. This Hercules consented to do, and Atlas set out. He put to
sleep the dragon who lived beneath the tree and killed him. Then with
a trick he got the better of the keepers, and returned happily to
Hercules with the three apples which he had plucked.
"But," he said, "I have now found out how it feels to be relieved of
the heavy burden of the heavens. I will not carry them any longer."
Then he threw the apples down at the feet of the hero, and left him
standing with the unaccustomed, awful weight upon his shoulders.
Hercules had to think of a trick in order to get away. "Let me," he
said to the giant, "just make a coil of rope to bind around my head,
so that the frightful weight will not cause my forehead to give way."
Atlas found this new demand reasonable, and consented to take over the
burden again for a few minutes. But the deceiver was at last deceived,
and Hercules picked up the apples from the ground and set out on his
way back. He carried the apples to Eurystheus, who, since his object
of getting rid of the hero had not been accomplished, gave them back
to Hercules as a present. The latter laid them on the altar of
Minerva; but the goddess, knowing that it was contrary to the divine
wishes to carry away this sacred fruit, returned the apples to the
garden of the Hesperides.
Next: The Twelfth Labor
Previous: The Tenth Labor