Web Theoi
HESPERIDES
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Ἑσπερις
Ἑσπεριδες
Hesperis
Hesperides
Hesperis
Hesperides
Of the Evening
(hesperos)
Hesperides, nymphs of the golden apples | Athenian red figure hydria C5th B.C. | British Museum, London

Hesperides & the golden-apple tree, Athenian
red-figure hydria C5th B.C., British Museum

THE HESPERIDES were the goddesses of the evening and golden light of sunset. The three nymphs were daughters of either Nyx (Night) or the heaven-bearing Titan Atlas. They were entrusted with the care of the tree of the golden apples which was first presented to the goddess Hera by Gaia (Earth) on her wedding day. They were assisted in their task by a hundred-headed guardian drakon named Ladon. Herakles was sent to fetch the apples as one of his twelve labours, and upon slaying the serpent, stole the precious fruit. However, Athena later returned them to the Hesperides.

The Hesperides were also the keepers of other treasures of the god. Perseus obtained from the artifacts he required to slay the Gorgon Medousa.

The three nymphs and their golden apples were apparently regarded as the source of the golden light of sunset, a phenomena celebrating the bridal of the heavenly gods Zeus and Hera.

PARENTS

[1.1] NYX (no father) (Hesiod Theogony 215)
[1.2] EREBOS & NYX (Hyginus Pref, Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.17)
[2.1] ATLAS & HESPERIS (Diodorus Sicululs 4.26.2)
[2.2] ATLAS (Pherecydes Frag, Hyginus Astronomica 2.3)
[3.1] HESPEROS (Scholiast on Euripides Hippolytus)
[4.1] ZEUS & THEMIS (Servius on Virgil's Aeneid 4.484)
[5.1] PHORKYS & KETO (Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius 4.1399)

NAMES
[1.1] AIGLE, ERYTHEIA, HESPERETHOOSA (Hesiod Doubtful Frag 3)
[1.2] AIGLE, ERYTHEIS, HESPERIE, ARETHOUSA (Apollodoros 2.113)
[1.3] AIGLE, ERYTHEIS, HESPERE (Apollonius Rhodius 4.1390)
[1.4] AIGLE, HESPERIE, AERIKA (Hyginus Preface)
[1.5] ASTEROPE, KHRYSOTHEMIS, LIPARA (Vase Painting N14.1)
OFFSPRING ERYTHEIA
[1.1] EURYTION (Stesichorus Geryoneis Frag S8)

ENCYCLOPEDIA

HESPE′RIDES (Hesperides), the famous guardians of the golden apples which Ge had given to Hera at her marriage with Zeus. Their names are Aegle, Erytheia, Hesperia, and Arethusa, but their descent is not the same in the different traditions ; sometimes they are called the daughters of Night or Erebus (Hes. Theog. 215; Hygin. Fab. init.), sometimes of Phorcys and Ceto (Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. iv. 1399), sometimes of Atlas and Hesperis, whence their names Atlantides or Hesperides (Diod. iv. 27), and sometimes of Hesperus, or of Zeus and Themis. (Serv. ad Aen. iv. 484; Schol. ad Eurip. Hipp. 742.) Instead of the four Hesperides mentioned above, some traditions know only of three, viz. Hespere, Erytheis, and Aegle, Arethusa, and Hesperusa or Hesperia (Apollon. Rhod. iv. 1427; Serv. l. c.; Stat. Theb. ii. 281); whereas others mention seven. (Diod. l. c.; Hygin. Fab. init.) The poets describe them as possessed of the power of sweet song. (Hes. Theog. 518; Orph. Fragm. 17; Eurip. Herc. Fur. 394; Apollon. Rhod. iv. 1399.) In the earliest legends, these nymphs are described as living on the river Oceanus, in the extreme west (Hes. Theog. 334, &c., 518; Eurip. Hipp. 742); but the later attempts to fix their abodes, and the geographical position of their gardens, have led poets and geographers to different parts of Libya, as in the neighbourhood of Cyrene, Mount Atlas, or the islands on the western coast of Libya (Plin. H. N. vi. 31, 36; Virg. Aen. iv. 480; Pomp. Mela, iii. 10), or even to the northern extremity of the earth, beyond the wind Boreas, among the Hyperboreans. In their watch over the golden apples they were assisted or superintended by the dragon Ladon.

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


PARENTAGE & NAMES OF THE HESPERIDES

I) DAUGHTERS OF NYX

Hesiod, Theogony 211 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"And Nyx (Night) bare hateful Moros (Doom) and black Ker (Violent Death) and Thanatos (Death), and she bare Hypnos (Sleep) and the tribe of Oneiroi (Dreams). And again the goddess murky Nyx, though she lay with none, bare Momos (Blame) and painful Oizys (Misery), and the Hesperides who guard the rich, golden apples and the trees bearing fruit beyond glorious Okeanos. Also she bare the Moirai (Fates) and the ruthless avenging Keres (Death-Fates) . . . Also deadly Nyx bare Nemesis (Envy) to afflict mortal men, and after her, Apate (Deceit) and Philotes (Friendship) and hateful Geras (Old Age) and hard-hearted Eris (Strife)."

Hesiod, Doubtful Frag 3 (from Servius on Vergil's Aeneid 4. 484) :
"Hesiod says that these Hesperides . . . daughters of Nyx (Night) , guarded the golden apples beyond Okeanos : `Aigle and Erytheia and ox-eyed Hesperethoosa.'"

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 114 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"The Hesperides (Evenings) . . . by name Aigle, Erytheis, Hesperie, and Arethousa."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Nox (Night) and Erebus [were born]: Fatum (Fate), Senectus (Old Age), Mors (Death), Letum (Dissolution), Continentia (Moderation), Somnus (Sleep) [Hypnos], Somnia (Dreams) [Oneiroi], Amor (Love)--that is Lysimeles, Epiphron (Prudence), Porphyrion, Epaphus, Discordia (Discord), Miseria (Misery), Petulantia (Wantonness), Nemesis (Envy), Euphrosyne (Good Cheer), Amicitia (Friendship), Misericordia (Compassion), Styx (Hatred); the three Parcae (Fates), namely Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos; the Hesperides Aegle, Hesperie and Aerica." [N.B. Aerica is an adjective not a name, literally "aerial."]

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 17 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"Their [Aether and Hemera's] brothers and sisters, whom the ancient genealogists name Amor (Love), Dolus (Guile), Metus (Fear), Labor (Toil), Invidentia (Envy), Fatum (Fate), Senectus (Old Age), Mors (Death), Tenebrae (Darkness), Miseria (Misery), Querella (Complaint), Gratia (Favour), Fraus (Fraud), Pertinacia (Obstinacy), the Parcae (Fates), the Hesperides, the Somnia (Sleep, Dreams) [Hypnos & the Oneiroi]: all of these are fabled to be the children of Erebus (Darkness) and Nox (Night)."

II) DAUGHTERS OF ATLAS

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 26. 2 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Now Hesperos (Evening) begat a daughter named Hesperis (Evening), who he gave in marriage to his brother [Atlas] and after whom the land was given the name Hesperitis; and Atlas begat by her seven daughters, who were named after their father Atlantides, and after their mother Hesperides."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 3 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Pherecydes [C5th B.C. Greek mythographer] says that . . . Atlas’ daughters [the Hesperides] kept picking the [golden] apples from the trees."

Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Αιγλη Aiglê Aegle Sun-Light,
Radiance (aiglê)
Ερυθεια Ερυθεις Erytheia, Erytheis Erythea Red
(erythros)
Αρεθουσα Arethousa Arethusa War-Swift
(arês, thoos)
Ἑσπερεqουσα Hesperethousa Hesperethusa Evening-Swift
(hesperos, thoos)
Ἑσπερα Hespera Hespera Evening
(hesperos)
Ἑσπεριη Hesperiê Hesperia Evening
(hesperos)
Χρυσοθεμις Khrysothemis Chrysothemis Golden Custom
(khrysos, themis)
Λιπαρα Lipara Lipara Perseverence,
Earnest (lipareô)
Αστεροπη Asteropê Asterope Starry-Faced
(astêr, ops)

CHILDREN OF THE HESPERIDES

The Hesperis Erytheia was the mother of Eurytion, the herdsman of Geryon who lived on the island of Erytheia near the home of the Hesperides.

Stesichorus, Geryoneis Fragment S8 (from Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2617) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (C6th to 7th B.C.) :
"Over the waves and the waves and the deep brine they [the infant Eurytion and his mother Erytheia, one of the Hesperides] came to the beautiful island of the gods, where the Hesperides have their homes of solid gold."

Stesichorus, Geryoneis Frag S7 (from Strabo Geography 3. 2. 11) :
"The ancient writers seem to call the Baetis [a river in southern Spain, now called Guadalquivir] Tartessos, and Gadeira [Gades, now Cadiz] and the nearby island Erytheia. This, it is supposed, is why Stesikhoros would say of Geryon's herdman [Eurytion] that he was born : 'almost opposite famous Erytheia . . . by the limitless silver-rooted waters of the river Tartessos in the hollow of a rock."


HESPERIDES GODDESSES OF EVENING & SUNSETS

The Hesperides were goddesses of the garden of the golden apples in the west. It was the golden glow of these apples that was probably thought to be the source of brilliant sunsets.

Greek Lyric V Anonymous Fragments 1023 (from Berlin Papyrus) (trans. Campbell) :
"The choir-leaders of the Hesperides (Evenings) driving their two-horse chariot along the path of night to the new turning-point, where Nyx (Night) passes through the light-bringing radiance in the eastern air; and she brings the day’s light, flying over the misty wave, a guide for sailors."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 2. 418 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Memnon addresses Akhilleus :] `Of birth divine am I, Eos' (Dawn's) mighty son, nurtured afar by lilly-slender Hesperides (Evenings), beside the River Okeanos.'"

For the MYTH of the origin of the sunset see :
The Hesperides & the Bridal Apple of Hera (below)


HESPERIDES HERALDS OF THE BRIDAL NIGHT

The Hesperides as the goddesses of evening were also the heralds of the bridal night. They were depicted in art attending the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, and serving the gods ambrosia at the bridal feast.

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 4. 128 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Singing of Peleus' Bridal of Delight [the wedding of Peleus & Thetis], which all the blest Immortals brought to pass by Pelion's crests; sang of the ambrosial feast when the swift Horai brought in immortal hands meats not of earth, and heaped in golden maunds; sang how the silver tables were set forth in haste by Themis blithely laughing; sang how breathed Hephaistos purest flame of fire; sang how the Nymphai [i.e. the Hesperides] in golden chalices mingled ambrosia."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 13. 333 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"There, as they say, by the Tritonian Lake [in Libya], Kadmos the wanderer lay with rosycheek Harmonia, and the Nymphai Hesperides made a song for them, and Kypris [Aphrodite] together with the Erotes (Loves) decked out a fine bed for the wedding, hanging in the bridal chamber golden fruit [apples] from the Nymphai’s garden, a worthy lovegift for the bride; rich clusters of their leaves Harmonia and Kadmos twined through their hair, amid the abundance of their bridechamber, in place of the wedding-roses. Still more dainty the bride appeared wearing these golden gifts, the boon of golden Aphrodite. Her mother’s [actually her stepmother Elektra] father the stooping Libyan Atlas awoke a tune of the heavenly harp to join the revels, and with tripping foot he twirled the heavens round like a ball, while he sang a stave of harmony himself not far away."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 38. 135 ff :
"The light that shone on that bridal bed [of Helios & Klymene] come from the starry train; and the star of Kypris, Eosphoros [the Star Venus], herald of the union wove a bridal song. Instead of the wedding torch, Selene (Moon) sent her beams to attend the wedding. The Hesperides (Sunsets) raised the joy-cry." [N.B. Helios the Sun's wedding had to be held after sunset since he could not attend his wedding and be present in the sky at the same time.]

For MYTHS of their role as goddesses of the wedding see :
(1) The Hesperides & the Bridal Apple of Hera
(2) The Hesperides, Eris & the Golden Apple of Discord


HESPERIDES & THE BRIDAL APPLES OF HERA

Gaia (the Earth) produced the golden apples of Hesperia (the West) to celebrate the bridal of the heavenly gods Zeus and Hera. These were entrusted to the care of the Hesperides, handmaidens and daughters of the goddess Nyx (Night), who heralded the onset of night and bridal of these two gods with the golden glow of sunset. Apples, in Greek tradition, were a symbol of love.

Euripides, Hippolytus 742 ff (trans. Vellacott) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"The apple-bearing Hesperian coast, of which the minstrels sing. Where the Lord of Okeanos denies the voyager further sailing and fixes the solemn limit of Ouranos (Heaven) which Giant Atlas upholds. There the streams flow with ambrosia by Zeus's bed of love and holy Gaia (Earth), the giver of life, yield to the gods rich blessedness."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 113 - 4 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"The golden apples of the Hesperides . . . These apples . . . Gaia (Earth) had given them to Zeus when he married Hera. An immortal serpent guarded them . . . With it the Hesperides (Evenings) themselves were posted as guards, by name Aigle (the Radiant), Erytheis (the Red), Hesperie (the Evening), and Arethousa (War-Swift)."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 17. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"In the temple of Hera is an image of Zeus, and the image of Hera is sitting on a throne with Zeus standing by her . . . The figures of the Horai (Seasons) next to them, seated upon thrones, were made by the Aiginetan Smilis . . . The [statues of the] Hesperides (Evenings), five in number, were made by Theokles, who like Dorykleidas was a Lakedaimonian."

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 3. 83c (trans. Gullick) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to C3rd A.D.) :
"As for the so-called apples of the Hesperides, Asklepiades [writer C2nd A.D.], in the sixtienth book of his Egyptian History, says that Ge (Earth) brought them forth in honour of the nuptials, as it was called, of Zeus and Hera."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 3 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Constellation Serpent . . . He is said to have guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides, and after Hercules killed him, to have been put by Juno [Hera] among the stars. He is considered the usual watchman of the Gardens of Juno [Hera]. Pherecydes says that when Jupiter [Zeus] wed Juno, Terra [Gaia] came, bearing branches with golden apples, and Juno [Hera], in admiration, asked Terra (Earth) [Gaia] to plant them in her gardens near distant Mount Atlas. When Atlas’ daughters [the Hesperides] kept picking the apples from the trees, Juno [Hera] is said to have placed this guardian there."


Heracles & the Hesperides | Greek vase painting
N14.1 HESPERIDES,
HERACLES, LADON
Heracles & the Hesperides | Roman mosaic
Z26.1A HESPERIDES,
HERACLES, LADON
Themis & the Hesperides | Greek vase painting
T8.3 THEMIS,
HESPERIAN NYMPHS
 

HESPERIDES, PERSEUS & THE TREASURES OF THE GODS

The Hesperides were the keepers of the treasures of the gods. Perseus obtained from them the artifacts he required to slay the Gorgon.

Hesiod, Theogony 270 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"The Gorgones who dwell beyond glorious Okeanos in the frontier land towards Nyx (Night) where are the clear-voiced Hesperides."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 38 - 39 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Perseus said he would return them [the eye and tooth of Graia] after they had directed him to the Nymphai [probably the Hesperides]. These Nymphai had in their possession winged sandals and the kibisis, which they say was a knapsack . . . They also had the helmet of Haides. When the daughters of Phorkys had led Perseus to the Nymphai, he returned them their tooth and eye. Approaching the Nymphai he received what he had come for, and he flung on the kibisis, tied the sandals on his ankles, and placed the helmet on his head. With the helmet on he could see whomever he cared to look at, but was invisible to others."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 46 :
"[Perseus] gave the sandals, kibisis, and helmet back to Hermes, and the Gorgon’s head to Athena. Hermes returned the aforementioned articles the the Nymphai."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 17. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Amongst the scenes depicted on the bronze walls of the temple of Athena in Sparta :] There are also represented Nymphai bestowing upon Perseus, who is starting on his enterprise against Medousa in Libya, a cap and the shoes by which he was carried through the air."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 31 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When he [the River Akheloos] fought with Hercules to win Dejanira in marriage, he changed himself into a bull. Hercules tore off his horn, presenting it to the Hesperides or the Nymphae, and the goddesses filled it with fruits and called it Cornucopia (Horn of Plenty)."


HERACLES & THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE HESPERIDES

Herakles was sent to fetch the golden apples of the Hesperides as one of his twelve labours. Upon completion of the task they were returned by Athene to their rightful place in the west.

Aeschylus, Fragment 109 Prometheus Unbound (from Galen, Commentary on Hippocrates’ Epidemics 6. 17. 1) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Prometheus directs Herakles to the far west in his quest for the golden apples of the Hesperides :] Follow this straight road; and, first of all, thou shalt come to the Boreades (north winds), where do thou beware the roaring hurricane, lest unawares it twist thee up and snatch thee away in wintry whirlwind."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 113- 114 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Eurystheus ordered Herakles to get golden apples from the Hesperides as an eleventh labour. These apples were not, as some maintain in Libya, but rather were with Atlas among the Hyperboreoi. Gaia (Earth) had given them to Zeus when he married Hera. An immortal serpent guarded them . . . With it the Hesperides (Evenings) themselves were posted as guards, by name Aigle, Erytheis, Hesperie, and Arethusa."

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 1390 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"[The Argonauts ported their ship across the Libyan desert :] They set her [the ship Argo] down from their sturdy shoulders in the Tritonian lagoon. Once there, it was their first concern to slake the burning thirst that was added to their aches and pains. They dashed off, like mad dogs, in search of fresh water; and they were fortunate. They [the Argonauts] found the sacred plot where, till the day before, the serpent Ladon, a son of the Libyan soil, had kept watch over the golden apples in the Garden of Atlas, while close at hand and busy at their tasks the Hesperides sang their lovely song. But now the snake, struck down by Herakles, lay by the trunk of the apple-tree. Only the tip of his tail was still twitching; from the head down, his dark spine showed not a sign of life. His blood had been poisoned by arrows steeped in the gall of the Hydra Lernaia, and flies perished in the festering wounds.
Close by, with their white arms flung over their golden heads, the Hesperides were wailing as the Argonauts approached. The whole company came on them suddenly, and in a trice the Nymphai turned to dust and earth on the spot where they had stood. Orpheus, seeing the hand of Heaven in this, addressed a prayer to them on behalf of his comrades : `Beautiful and beatific Powers, Queens indeed, be kind to us, whether Olympos or the underworld counts you among its goddesses, or whether you prefer the name of Solitary Nymphai. Come, blessed Spirits, Daughters of Okeanos, make yourselves manifest to our expectant eyes and lead us to a place where we can quench this burning, never-ending thirst with fresh water springing from a rock or gushing from the ground. And if ever we bring home our ship into an Akhaian port, we will treat you as we treat the greatest goddesses, showing our gratitude with innumberable gifts of wine and offerings at the festal board.'
Orpheus sobbed as he prayed. But the Nymphai were still at hand, and they took pity on the suffering men. They wrought a miracle. First, grass sprung up from the ground, then long shoots appeared above the grass, and in a moment three saplings, tall, straight and in full leaf, were growing there. Hespere became a poplar; Erytheis an elm; Aigle a sacred willow. Yet they were still themselves; the trees could not conceal their former shapes--that was the greatest wonder of all. And now the Argonauts heard Aigle in her gentle voice tell them what they wished to know.
`You have indeed been fortunate,' she said. `There was a man here yesterday, an evil man, who killed the watching Snake, stole our golden apples, and is gone. To us he brought unspeakable sorrow; to you release from suffering. He was a savage brute, hideous to look at; a cruel man, with glaring eyes and scowling face. He wore the skin of an enormous lion and carried a great club of olive-wood and the bow and arrows with which he shot our monster here. It appeared that he, like you, had come on foot and was parched with thirst. For he rushed about the place in search of water; but with no success, till he found the rock that you see over there near to the Tritonian lagoon. Then it occurred to him, or he was prompted by a god, to tap the base of the rock. He struck it with his foot, water gushed out, and he fell on his hands and chest and drank greedily from the cleft till, with his head down like a beast in the fields, he had filled his mighty paunch.’
The Minyai were delighted. They ran off in happy haste towards the place where Aigle had pointed out the spring."

Strabo, Geography 3. 2. 13 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The poets who came after Homeros keep dinning into our ears similar stories [myths set in Iberia] : the expedition of Herakles in quest of the kine of Geryon and likewise the expedition which he made in quest of the golden apples of the Hesperides."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 11. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"At Olympia [in the temple of Zeus around his statue] there are screens constructed like walls which keep people out. Of these screens . . . parts show pictures by Panainos. Among them is Atlas, supporting heaven and earth, by whose side stands Herakles ready to receive the load of Atlas . . . [elsewhere in the painting] two Hesperides are carrying the apples, the keeping of which, legend says, had been entrusted to them."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 19. 8 :
"The third of the treasuries [at Olympia], and the fourth as well, were dedicated by the Epidamnians [text missing] It [a scene consisting of a series of wooden statues] shows the heavens upheld by Atlas, and also Herakles and the apple-tree of the Hesperides, with the Drakon coiled round the apple-tree. These too are of cedar-wood, and are works of Theokles, son of Hegylos. The inscription on the heavens says that his son helped him to make it. The Hesperides (they were removed by the Eleans) were even in my time in the Heraion (Temple of Hera); the treasury was made for the Epidamnians by Pyrrhos and his sons Lakrates and Hermon."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 26. 2 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"[Diodorus presents a late classical rationalisation of the Hesperides myth in which the drakon is a shepherd named Drakon, and the golden apples are sheep :] The last Labour which Herakles undertook was the bringing back of the golden apples of the Hesperides, and so he again sailed to Libya. With regard to these apples there is disagreement among the writers of myths, and some say that there were golden apples in certain gardens of the Hesperides in Libya, where they were guarded without ceasing by a most formidable Drakon, whereas others assert that the Hesperides possessed flocks of sheep which excelled in beauty and were therefore called for their beauty, as the poets might do, ‘golden mela' [mela meaning both apples and sheep], just as Aphrodite is called golden because of her loveliness. There are some, however, who say that it was because the sheep had a peculiar colour like gold that they got this designation, and the Drakon was the name of the shepherd of the sheep . . . But with regards to such matters it will be every man’s privilege to form such opinions as accord with his own belief. At any rate Herakles slew the guardian of the apples, and brought them to Eurystheus . . .
But we must not fail to mention what the myths relate about Atlas and about the race of the Hesperides. The account runs like this: In the country known as Hesperitis there were two brothers whose fame was known abroad, Hesperos and Atlas. These brothers possessed flocks of sheep which excelled in beauty and were in colour of a golden yellow, this being the reason why the poets, in speaking of these sheep as mela, called them golden mela. Now Hesperos begat a daughter named Hesperis, who he gave in marriage to his brother and after whom the land was given the name Hesperitis; and Atlas begat by her seven daughters, who were named after their father Atlantides, and after their mother Hesperides. And since these Atlantides excelled in beauty and chastity, Busiris the king of the Aigyptians, the account says, was seized with a desire to get the maidens into his power; and consequently he dispatched pirates by sea with orders to seize the girls and deliver them into his hands . . . [Herakles came across Busiris in Egypt and slew him.]
Meanwhile the pirates had seized the girls while they were playing in a certain garden and carried them off, and fleeing swiftly to their ships had sailed away with them. Herakles came upon the pirates as they were taking their meal on a certain strand, and learning from the maidens what had taken place he slew the pirates to a man and brought the girls back to Atlas their father; and in return Atlas was so grateful to Herakles for his kindly deed that he not only gladly gave him such assistance as his Labour called for."

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 21 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[From a description of a painting depicting Herakles wrestling the giant Antaios :] Herakles has already secured the golden apples here shown and has won renown for his exploit among the Hesperides--to overcome them was not such an amazing feat for Herakles, but rather the drakon (serpent)."

Virgil, Aeneid 4. 480 (trans. Fairclough) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"Near Oceanus’ bound and the setting sun lies Aethiopia, farthest of lands, where mightiest Atlas on this shoulders turns the sphere, inset with gleaming stars. Thence a priestess of Massylian race . . . warden of the fane of the Hesperides, who gave dainties to the dragon and guarded the sacred bows on the tree, sprinkling dewy honey and slumberous poppies."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 6. 256 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Amongst the scenes depicted on the shield of Eurypylos, grandson of Herakles :] There were the Golden Apples wrought, that gleamed in the Hesperides' garden undefiled: all round the fearful Drakon's dead coils lay, and shrank the Maids [Hesperides] aghast from Zeus' bold son."

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5. 3 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
"[On the Atlantic coast of Africa is the river Lixos] about which the most marvellous legends are told by the old writers : this was the site of the palace of Antaeus and the scene of his combat with Hercules, and here were the gardens of the Hesperides. As a matter of fact an arm of the sea stretches inland here with a winding channel which, as people nowadays explain the story, had some resemblance to the guardian Dracon; it embraces within it an island . . . On the island there also rises an altar of Hercules, but of the famous grove in the story that bore the golden fruit nothing else except some wild olive trees." [N.B. The Lixos is probably the Moroccan river Draa.]

Seneca, Hercules Furens 526 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"Let Alcmena’s son [Herakles] . . . bring back the apples from the cheated sisters [the Hesperides] when the draco (dragon), set to watch over the precious fruit, has given his ever-waking eyes to sleep.”

Statius, Thebaid 2. 281 (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"The dolorous fruit of the Hesperides and the dread gold of Phrixus’ fleece."


THE HESPERIDES, ERIS & THE GOLDEN APPLE OF DISCORD

At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Eris, the goddess of discord, cast a golden apple amongst the goddesses addressed "To the Fairest." According to Colluthus, and perhaps representing a much older tradition, the apple was plucked from the garden of the Hesperides.

Colluthus, Rape of Helen 58 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poetry C5th to C6th A.D.) :
"[Eris was enraged at being turned away from the wedding of Peleus and Thetis :] And now she bethought her of the golden apples of the Hesperides. Thence Eris took the fruit that should be the harbinger of war, even the apple, and devised the scheme of signal woes. Whirling her arm she hurled into the banquet the primal seed of turmoil and disturbed the choir of goddesses. Hera, glorying to be the spouse and to share the bed of Zeus, rose up amazed, and would fain have seized it. And Kypris [Aphrodite], as being more excellent than all, desired to have the apple, for that it is the treasure of the Erotes (Loves). But Hera would not give it up and Athena would not yield."


THE GOLDEN APPLES IDENTIFIED WITH VARIOUS FRUIT

Authors of late antiquity attempted to rationalise the myth of the Hesperides when they identified the golden apples with a variety of fruit, such as the orange.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 3. 83c (trans. Gullick) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to C3rd A.D.) :
"Juba, king of Mauretania [writer C1st B.C.], mentions the citron [orange] in his History of Libya, asserting that among the Libyans it is called the Apple of Hesperia, whence Herakles brought to Greece the apples called, form their colour, golden. As for the so-called apples of the Hesperides, Asklepiades [writer C2nd A.D.], in the sixtienth book of his Egyptian History, says that Ge (Earth) brought them forth in honour of the nuptials, as it was called, of Zeus and Hera."

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 3. 82d - e :
"Apples of the Hesperides is a term recorded by Timakhidas [Greek writer C1st B.C.] in the fourth book of his Banquets. And Pamphilos [grammarian C1st A.D.] says that in Lakedaimon these are placed on the tables of the gods [at the Theoxenia Festival]; fragrant they are, and also not good to eat, and they are called apples of the Hesperides."

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 3. 84b :
"Aristophanes [comedy C5th - 4th B.C.] in the Boiotian Women . . . A : Take these apples my girl . . . B : I thought you were going to say these golden apples come from the Hesperides, whence there are only three of them."


HESPERIA, THE LAND OF THE HESPERIDES

The Hesperides dwelt on the Hesperian (evening or western) shore of Okeanos on the island of Erytheia. Erytheia was later identified placed in southern Spain or North-West Africa.

Hesiod, Theogony 215 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"The Hesperides who guard the rich, golden apples and the trees bearing fruit beyond glorious Okeanos."

Hesiod, Theogony 270 ff :
"The Gorgones who dwell beyond glorious Okeanos in the frontier land towards Nyx (Night) where are the clear-voiced Hesperides."

Hesiod, Theogony 333 ff :
"Keto was joined in love to Phorkys and bare her youngest, the awful Drakon who guards the apples all of gold in the secret places of the dark earth at its great bounds."

Hesiod, Theogony 517 ff :
"Atlas through hard constraint upholds the wide heaven with unwearying head and arms, standing at the borders of the earth before the clear-voiced Hesperides; for this lot wise Zeus assigned to him."

Hesiod, Theogony 744 ff :
"There [at the ends of the earth] stands the awful home of murky Nyx (Night) wrapped in dark clouds. In front of it [Atlas] the son of Iapetos stands immovably upholding the wide heaven upon his head and unwearying hands, where Nyx (Night) and Hemera (Day) draw near and greet one another as they pass the great threshold of bronze : and while the one is about to go down into the house, the other comes out at the door." [N.B. "In front of Atlas" means the garden of the Hesperides, the goddesses of evening.]

Stesichorus, Geryoneis Frag S8 (from Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2617) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (Greek lyric C6th to 7th B.C.) :
"The beautiful island of the gods, where the Hesperides have their homes of solid gold."

Euripides, Hippotyus 742 ff (trans. Vellacott) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"I would win my way to the coast, apple-bearing Hesperian coast, of which the minstrels sing. Where the Lord of Okeanos denies the voyager further sailing and fixes the solemn limit of Ouranos (Heaven) which Giant Atlas upholds. There the streams flow with ambrosia by Zeus's bed of love and holy Gaia (Earth), the giver of life, yield to the gods rich blessedness."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 26. 2 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Now Hesperos (Evening) begat a daughter named Hesperis (Evening), who he gave in marriage to his brother [Atlas] and after whom the land was given the name Hesperitis."

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5. 3 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
"[On the Atlantic coast of Africa is the river Lixos] about which the most marvellous legends are told by the old writers : this was the site of the palace of Antaeus and the scene of his combat with Hercules, and here were the gardens of the Hesperides. As a matter of fact an arm of the sea stretches inland here with a winding channel which, as people nowadays explain the story, had some resemblance to the guardian Dracon; it embraces within it an island . . . On the island there also rises an altar of Hercules, but of the famous grove in the story that bore the golden fruit nothing else except some wild olive trees." [N.B. The Lixos is probably the Moroccan river Draa.]

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5. 30 :
"Benghazi is situated at the tip of the horn of the Syrtis; it was formerly called the City of the Hesperides (Hespiritis), mentioned above, as the myths of Greece often change their locality; and in front of the town not far away is the river Leton, with a sacred grove, reported to be the site of the gardens of the Hesperides."
[N.B. Benghazi is now a city of north-western Libya.]

Virgil, Aeneid 4. 480 (trans. Fairclough) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"Near Oceanus’ bound and the setting sun lies Aethiopia, farthest of lands, where mightiest Atlas on this shoulders turns the sphere, inset with gleaming stars . . . The fane of the Hesperides."


Sources:

  • Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
  • Greek Lyric III Stesichorus, Fragments - Greek Lyric C7th-6th B.C.
  • Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments - Greek Lyric B.C.
  • Aeschylus, Fragments - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Euripides, Hippolytus - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
  • Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
  • Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
  • Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
  • Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
  • Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Virgil, Aeneid - Latin Epic C1st B.C.
  • Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.
  • Pliny the Elder, Natural History - Latin Encyclopedia C1st A.D.
  • Seneca, Hercules Furens - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
  • Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
  • Colluthus, The Rape of Helen - Greek Poetry C5th-6th A.D.
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.

Other references not currently quoted here: Euripides Madness of Heracles 394; Pliny Natural History 6.31 & 6.36; Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius 4.1399; Scholiast on Euripides Hippolytus; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid 4.484; Servius s.v . Hesperides; Orphic Fragment 17; Pompelus Mela 3.10