1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hesperides

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HESPERIDES, in Greek mythology, maidens who guarded the golden apples which Earth gave Hera on her marriage to Zeus. According to Hesiod (Theogony, 215) they were the daughters of Erebus and Night; in later accounts, of Atlas and Hesperis, or of Phorcys and Ceto (schol. on Apoll. Rhod. iv. 1399; Diod. Sic. iv. 27). They were usually supposed to be three in number—Aegle, Erytheia, Hesperis (or Hesperethusa); according to some, four, or even seven. They lived far away in the west at the borders of Ocean, where the sun sets. Hence the sun (according to Mimnermus ap. Athenaeum xi. p. 470) sails in the golden bowl made by Hephaestus from the abode of the Hesperides to the land where he rises again. According to other accounts their home was among the Hyperboreans. The golden apples grew on a tree guarded by Ladon, the ever-watchful dragon. The sun is often in German and Lithuanian legends described as the apple that hangs on the tree of the nightly heaven, while the dragon, the envious power, keeps the light back from men till some beneficent power takes it from him. Heracles is the hero who brings back the golden apples to mankind again. Like Perseus, he first applies to the Nymphs, who help him to learn where the garden is. Arrived there he slays the dragon and carries the apples to Argos; and finally, like Perseus, he gives them to Athena. The Hesperides are, like the Sirens, possessed of the gift of delightful song. The apples appear to have been the symbol of love and fruitfulness, and are introduced at the marriages of Cadmus and Harmonia and Peleus and Thetis. The golden apples, the gift of Aphrodite to Hippomenes before his race with Atalanta, were also plucked from the garden of the Hesperides.