The 11th Labour of Hercules


After Hercules completed his first ten Labours, Eurystheus gave him two more claiming that neither the Hydra counted (because Iolaus helped Hercules) nor the Augean stables (either because he received payment for the job or because the rivers did the work). The first of these two additional Labours was to steal the apples from the garden of the Hesperides. Hercules first caught the Old Man of the Sea, the shape-shifting sea god, to learn where the Garden of the Hesperides was located.

Hercules stealing the apples of the Hesperides (mosaic from Roman Spain, 3rd century CE)

In some variations, Hercules, 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 Hercules 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, Hercules 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). This would have made this task – like the Hydra and Augean stables – void because he had received help. Upon his return, Atlas decided that he did not want to take the heavens back, and instead offered to deliver the apples himself, but Hercules tricked him again by agreeing to take his place on condition that Atlas relieve him temporarily so that Hercules could make his cloak more comfortable. Atlas agreed, but Hercules reneged and walked away, carrying the apples. According to an alternative version, Hercules slew Ladon, the dragon-like guardian of the apples, instead. Furious that Hercules had accomplished something that Eurystheus thought could not possibly be done, he sent Hercules off to his final task, the capture of Cerberus, the three-headed guardian hound of the gates of the Underworld.