The Labours of Hercules

February -The Golden Apples of the Hesperides

The Mythos

Eurystheus bids Hercules fetch the Golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides where the most choice of fruits flourished under the influence and blessings of the Gods. The Tree was a wedding gift of the Goddess Gaia to Hera. It was in the care of the Hesperides, the daughters of Atlas, but as they could not resist the temptation to pluck and eat its fruits, the serpent Ladon was placed at the foot of the tree to guard it.

Hercules enquires of Nereus, the Sea God, the way to the Garden. He directs him to Prometheus on Mount Caucasus, where the hero learns the path and at the same time releases Prometheus.

After a number of adventures Hercules reached Atlas, the giant who supported the heavens on his shoulders, and sent him to fetch three Golden apples while Hercules held up the heavens in his absence.

Atlas returned with the apples and proposed that he himself should convey them to Eurystheus.

Hercules, however, contrived by a stratagem to transfer the heavens again to Atlas and secure the apples, which he carried to Eurystheus, who presented them to Hercules.

The hero made an offering of them to Pallas Athene, who, in turn, restored them to their normal and proper place, because they could not be preserved elsewhere.

The Clavis

The Golden Apples are symbols of the world: they denote the pure uncorruptible ideas or subjective types of which the cosmos is a visible expression.

Gaia is the Goddess of the Spiritual Earth, the archetype of the precipitated Earth which is brought into existence by the union of Zeus and Hera, the creative Progenitor and Progenitrix; hence the Tree of the Golden Apples is appropriately presented to them by Gaia.

The Hesperides, or the Seven Nymphs of the Western Regions, are symbols of the sevenfold vital essences which are behind all the processes of Nature.

The Hesperian Garden, with its Tree and the Serpent Ladon, is analogous to the Garden of Eden with its Tree of Knowledge and Serpent.

Atlas denotes the principle which differentiates or divides the terrestrial world from the Celestial sphere. His power to support the heavens signifies the capacity of the Soul ultimately to comprehend within its consciousness the abstract principles or subjective paradigms of all that is made manifest in the mundane world of Actuality.

The Hesperides, as the daughters of Atlas, are the products of the Soul’s inherent self-vital nature, when established like Atlas, in its stable hyparxis or summit.

Nereus, the Ancient Sea God, is an aspect of Poseidon, or Neptune, the Presiding Deity of the perpetual Sea of Generation, in which the Soul, while engaged in its 12 Labours, is immersed and subject to the limitations of Time.

Pisces, "The Fishes", the Zodiacal Sign of Reproduction and Perpetuation, is connected with this labour.

Some undesirable aspects of Pisces are such tendencies as the indefinite, timid, illogical, credulous, the mediumistic, listless, over-pliant, and the lack of self-esteem. But the pure influences of this sign are obedience, meditativeness, intuition, receptivity, gentleness, recollection, inspiration, humility, trustfulness, and self-sacrifice.

The Exegesis

This, the last of the Twelve Labours, the accomplishment of which gives the Soul transcendency over the mundane world of Time and space, may be defined as that of gaining a full realization of the significance of all experiences derived from the Soul’s operations in the twelve mundane fields of activity, and, through this realization, the attainment of the ability to perpetuate the fruits of all these labours.

In performing this labour, Hercules, or the heroic soul, first manifests his transcendency over the fluctuating conditions of Time (Ancient Nereus) in the Sea of Generation. This enables him to find and liberate Prometheus, who here denotes the eternal providential energy imprisoned by human inordinations, which has been perverted and is symbolically chained to the Rock of Matter (Caucasus).

The Divine Forethought of Providence (Prometheus) has waited patiently for the Soul to return from the abodes of darkness and now directs Hercules to the Western Haven (Hesperia) where the fruits of all labours are to be realized.

These fruits, however, contain the seeds of reproduction and perpetuation, for the Golden Apples are the Cosmic Formative Types; therefore, the hero-soul, when triumphant over the mundane world, must not partake of the Apples, but must preserve them whole and renounce or consecrate them to the keeping of divine Wisdom (Pallas).

All reproductive processes depend upon sacrifice: hence the Soul must renounce the fruits of its labours in order to perpetuate them and thus progress onwards to higher spheres of consciousness and activity.

Thus it is that Hercules completes the twelve arduous labours given to him by Eurystheus – his inner Monitor – and by sacrificing the fruits thereof triumphs over the world in the Western or Hesperian Regions, signifying by this, as Thomas Taylor affirms, "That having vanquished a dark and earthly life, he henceforth lives in Day – that is, in Truth and Light".

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from Sacred Mythoi of Demigods and Heroes © The Shrine of Wisdom 1999