HERCULES AND THE GOLDEN APPLES
PART I. HERCULES AND THE OLD MAN
OF THE SEA
BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
Did you ever hear of the golden apples that grew
in the garden of the Hesperides? Ah, those were
such apples as would bring a great price by the bushel, if
any of them could be found growing in the orchards of
nowadays! But there is not, I suppose, a graft of that
wonderful fruit on a single tree in the wide world. Not
so much as a seed of those apples exists any longer.
And even in the old, old, half-forgotten times, before
the garden of the Hesperides was overrun with weeds,
many doubted whether there could be real trees that bore
apples of solid gold upon their branches. All had heard
of them, but nobody remembered to have seen any.
Children, nevertheless, used to listen, open-mouthed, to
stories of the golden apple tree, and resolved to discover
it when they should be big enough. Adventurous young
men, who desired to do a braver thing than any of their
fellows, set out in quest of this fruit. Many of them
returned no more; none of them brought back the apples.
No wonder that they found it impossible to gather them!
It is said that there was a dragon beneath the tree, with
a hundred terrible heads, fifty of which were always on
the watch while the other fifty slept.
But it was quite a common thing with youths, when
tired of too much peace and rest, to go in search of the
garden of the Hesperides. And once the adventure was
undertaken by a hero who had enjoyed very little peace
or rest since he came into the world. At the time of
which I am going to speak, he was wandering through
the pleasant land of Italy, with a mighty club in his hand
and a bow and quiver slung across his shoulders. He
was wrapped in the skin of the biggest and fiercest lion
that ever had been seen, and which he himself had killed;
and though, on the whole, he was kind and generous and
noble, there was a good deal of the lion's fierceness in his
heart. As he went on his way, he continually inquired
whether that were the right road to the famous garden.
But none of the country people knew anything about the
matter, and many looked as if they would have laughed
at the question, if the stranger had not carried so big
So he journeyed on, still making the same inquiry, until
at last he came to the brink of a river, where some
beautiful girls sat twining wreaths of flowers.
"Can you tell me, pretty maidens," asked the stranger,
"whether this is the right way to the garden of the
The girls had been having a fine time together, weaving
the flowers into wreaths, and crowning one another's
heads. But, on hearing the stranger's question, they
dropped all their flowers on the grass and gazed at him
"The garden of the Hesperides!" cried one. "We
thought mortals had been weary of seeking it, after so
many disappointments. And pray, bold stranger, what
do you want there?"
"A certain king, who is my cousin," replied he, "has
ordered me to get him three of the golden apples."
"Most of the young men who go in quest of these
apples," observed another of the damsels, "desire to
obtain them for themselves, or to present to some fair
maiden whom they love. Do you, then, love this king,
your cousin, so very much?"
"Perhaps not," replied the stranger, sighing. "He has
often been severe and cruel to me. But it is my destiny
to obey him."
"And do you know," asked the damsel who had first
spoken, "that a terrible dragon, with a hundred heads,
keeps watch under the golden apple tree?"
"I know it well," answered the stranger calmly.
"But from my cradle upwards, it has been my business,
and almost my pastime, to deal with serpents and
The maidens looked at his massive club, and at the
shaggy lion's skin which he wore, and likewise at his
heroic limbs and figure; and they whispered to each other
that the stranger appeared to be one who might reasonably
expect to perform deeds far beyond the might of
other men. But then, the dragon with a hundred heads!
What mortal, even if he possessed a hundred lives, could
hope to escape the fangs of such a monster? So kind-hearted
were the maidens, that they could not bear to see
this brave and handsome traveler attempt what was so
very dangerous, and devote himself, most probably, to
become a meal for the dragon's hundred ravenous mouths.
"Go back," cried they all; "go back to your own
home! Your mother, beholding you safe and sound, will
shed tears of joy; and what can she do more, should you
win ever so great a victory? No matter for the golden
apples! No matter for the king, your cruel cousin! We
do not wish the dragon with the hundred heads to eat you
The stranger seemed to grow impatient at these remonstrances.
He carelessly lifted his mighty club, and
let it fall upon a rock that lay half buried in the earth
near by. With the force of that idle blow, the great rock
was shattered all to pieces. It cost the stranger no more
effort to achieve this feat of strength than for one of the
young maidens to touch her sister's rosy cheek with a
"Do you not believe," said he, looking at the damsels
with a smile, "that such a blow would have crushed one
of the dragon's hundred heads?"
Then he sat down on the grass and told them the story
of his life, or as much of it as he could remember, from
the day when he was first cradled in a warrior's brazen
When the stranger had finished the story of his adventures,
he looked around at the attentive faces of the
"Perhaps you may have heard of me before," said he,
modestly. "My name is Hercules."
"We had already guessed it," replied the maidens;
"for your wonderful deeds are known all over the world.
We do not think it strange any longer that you should
set out in quest of the golden apples of the Hesperides.
Come, sisters, let us crown the hero with flowers!"
Then they flung beautiful wreaths over his stately head
and mighty shoulders, so that the lion's skin was almost
entirely covered with roses. They took possession of his
ponderous club, and so entwined it about with the
brightest, softest, and most fragrant blossoms that not
a finger's breadth of its oaken substance could be seen.
It looked all like a huge bunch of flowers. Lastly, they
joined hands, and danced around him, chanting words
which became poetry of their own accord, and grew
into a choral song in honor of the illustrious Hercules.
And Hercules was rejoiced, as any other hero would
have been, to know that these fair young girls had heard
of the valiant deeds which it had cost him so much toil
and danger to achieve. But still he was not satisfied. He
could not think that what he had already done was worthy
of so much honor, while there remained any bold adventure
to be undertaken.
"Dear maidens," said he, when they paused to take
breath, "now that you know my name, will you not tell
me how I am to reach the garden of the Hesperides?"
"Ah! must you go so soon?" they exclaimed. "You
that have performed so many wonders, and spent such a
toilsome life—cannot you content yourself to repose a
little while on the margin of this peaceful river?"
Hercules shook his head.
"I must depart now," said he.
"We will then give you the best directions we can,"
replied the damsels. "You must go to the sea-shore, and
find out the Old One, and compel him to inform you
where the golden apples are to be found."
"The Old One!" repeated Hercules, laughing at this
odd name. "And pray who may the Old One be?"
"Why, the Old Man of the Sea, to be sure!" answered
one of the damsels. "He has fifty daughters, whom some
people call very beautiful; but we do not think it proper
to be acquainted with them, because they have sea-green
hair, and taper away like fishes. You must talk to this
Old Man of the Sea. He is a seafaring person, and
knows all about the garden of the Hesperides, for it is
situated in an island which he is often in the habit of
Hercules then asked whereabouts the Old One was
most likely to be met with. When the damsels had informed
him, he thanked them for all their kindness;
most of all for telling him the right way; and immediately
set forth upon his journey.
But, before he was out of hearing, one of the maidens
called after him.
"Keep fast hold of the Old One when you catch
him!" cried she, smiling, and lifting her finger to make
the caution more impressive. "Do not be astonished at
anything that may happen. Only hold him fast, and he
will tell you what you wish to know."
Hercules again thanked her, and pursued his way,
while the maidens resumed their pleasant labor of making
flower-wreaths. They talked about the hero long after
he was gone.
"We will crown him with the loveliest of our garlands,"
said they, "when he returns hither with the three
golden apples, after slaying the dragon with a hundred
Meanwhile Hercules traveled constantly onward, over
hill and dale, and through the solitary woods.
Hastening forward, without ever pausing or looking
behind, he by and by heard the sea roaring at a distance.
At this sound he increased his speed, and soon came to a
beach, where the great surf-waves tumbled themselves
upon the hard sand, in a long line of snowy foam. At one
end of the beach, however, there was a pleasant spot,
where some green shrubbery clambered up a cliff, making
its rocky face look soft and beautiful. A carpet of
verdant grass, largely intermixed with sweet-smelling
clover, covered the narrow space between the bottom of
the cliff and the sea. And what should Hercules espy
there but an old man, fast asleep!
But was it really and truly an old man? Certainly, at
first sight, it looked very like one; but on closer inspection
it rather seemed to be some kind of a creature that
lived in the sea. For on his legs and arms there were
scales such as fishes have; he was web-footed and web-fingered,
after the fashion of a duck; and his long
beard, being of a greenish tinge, had more the appearance
of a tuft of seaweed than of an ordinary beard.
Have you never seen a stick of timber that has long
been tossed about by the waves, and has got all overgrown
with barnacles, and at last, drifting ashore, seems
to have been thrown up from the very deepest bottom of
the sea? Well, the old man would have put you in mind
of just such a wave-tossed spar! But Hercules, the
instant he set his eyes on this strange figure, was convinced
that it could be no other than the Old One, who
was to direct him on his way.
Yes; it was the self-same Old Man of the Sea whom
the hospitable maidens had talked to him about. Thanking
his stars for the lucky accident of finding the old
fellow asleep, Hercules stole on tiptoe towards him and
caught him by the arm and leg.
"Tell me," cried he, before the Old One was well
awake, "which is the way to the garden of the Hesperides?"
As you may imagine, the Old Man of the Sea awoke
in a fright. But his astonishment could hardly have been
greater than was that of Hercules the next moment. For,
all of a sudden, the Old One seemed to disappear out of
his grasp, and he found himself holding a stag by the
fore and hind leg! But still he kept fast hold. Then
the stag disappeared, and in its stead there was a sea-bird,
fluttering and screaming, while Hercules clutched it
by the wing and claw! But the bird could not get away.
Immediately afterwards, there was an ugly three-headed
dog, which growled and barked at Hercules, and snapped
fiercely at the hands by which he held him! But Hercules
would not let him go. In another minute, instead of the
three-headed dog, what should appear but Geryon, the
six-legged man-monster, kicking at Hercules with five
of his legs in order to get the remaining one at liberty!
But Hercules held on. By and by no Geryon was there,
but a huge snake, like one of those which Hercules had
strangled in his babyhood, only a hundred times as big;
and it twisted and twined about the hero's neck and
body, and threw its tail high in the air, and opened its
deadly jaws as if to devour him outright; but Hercules
was no whit disheartened, and squeezed the great snake
so tightly that he soon began to hiss with pain.
But, as Hercules held on so stubbornly and only
squeezed the Old One so much the tighter at every
change of shape, and really put him to no small torture, he
finally thought it best to reappear in his own figure. So
there he was again, a fishy, scaly, web-footed sort of
personage, with something like a tuft of seaweed at his
"Pray, what do you want with me?" cried the Old
One, as soon as he could take his breath; for it was quite a
tiresome affair to go through so many false shapes.
"Why do you squeeze me so hard? Let me go this
moment, or I shall begin to consider you an extremely
"My name is Hercules!" roared the mighty stranger.
"And you will never get out of my clutch until you tell
me the nearest way to the garden of the Hesperides!"
When the old fellow heard who it was that had caught
him, he saw with half an eye that it would be necessary
to tell him everything that he wanted to know. He had
often heard of the fame of Hercules, and of the wonderful
things that he was constantly performing in various
parts of the earth, and how determined he always was to
accomplish whatever he undertook. He therefore made
no more attempts to escape, but told the hero how to find
the garden of the Hesperides, and likewise warned him
of many difficulties which must be overcome before he
could arrive thither.
"You must go on, thus and thus," said the Old Man
of the Sea, after taking the points of the compass, "till
you come in sight of a very tall giant, who holds the
sky on his shoulders. And the giant, if he happens to
be in the humor, will tell you exactly where the garden
of the Hesperides lies."
"And if the giant happens not to be in the humor,"
remarked Hercules, balancing his club on the tip of his
finger, "perhaps I shall find means to persuade him!"
HERCULES AND THE GOLDEN APPLES
PART II. HERCULES AND ATLAS
BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
Thanking the Old Man of the Sea, and begging
his pardon for having squeezed him so roughly,
the hero resumed his journey.
Nothing was before him save the foaming, dashing,
measureless ocean. But suddenly, as he looked towards
the horizon, he saw something, a great way off, which he
had not seen the moment before. It gleamed very
brightly, almost as you may have beheld the round,
golden disk of the sun when it rises or sets over the edge
of the world. It evidently drew nearer; for at every
instant this wonderful object became larger and more
lustrous. At length it had come so nigh that Hercules
discovered it to be an immense cup or bowl, made either
of gold or burnished brass. How it had got afloat upon
the sea is more than I can tell you. There it was, at all
events, rolling on the tumultuous billows, which tossed it
up and down and heaved their foamy tops against its
sides, but without ever throwing their spray over the
"I have seen many giants in my time," thought Hercules,
"but never one that would need to drink his wine
out of a cup like this!"
And, true enough, what a cup it must have been! It
was as large—as large—but, in short, I am afraid to say
how immeasurably large it was. To speak within bounds,
it was ten times larger than a great mill-wheel; and, all
of metal as it was, it floated over the heaving surges
more lightly than an acorn-cup adown the brook. The
waves tumbled it onward until it grazed against the
shore within a short distance of the spot where Hercules
As soon as this happened, he knew what was to be
done; for he had not gone through so many remarkable
adventures without learning pretty well how to conduct
himself whenever anything came to pass a little out of
the common rule. It was just as clear as daylight that
this marvelous cup had been set adrift by some unseen
power, and guided hitherward, in order to carry Hercules
across the sea on his way to the garden of the Hesperides.
Accordingly, without a moment's delay, he clambered
over the brim and slid down on the inside, where, spreading
out his lion's skin, he proceeded to take a little
repose. He had scarcely rested until now, since he bade
farewell to the damsels on the margin of the river.
The waves dashed there with a pleasant and ringing
sound against the sides of the hollow cup; it rocked
lightly to and fro, and the motion was so soothing
that it speedily rocked Hercules into an agreeable
His nap had probably lasted a good while, when the
cup chanced to graze against a rock, and resounded and
reverberated through its metal substance a hundred times
as loudly as ever you heard a church-bell. The noise
awoke Hercules, who instantly started up and gazed
around him, wondering whereabouts he was. He was not
long in discovering that the cup had floated across a
great part of the sea, and was approaching the shore of
what seemed to be an island. And on that island, what do
you think he saw? It was a giant!
But such an intolerably big giant! A giant as tall as a
mountain; so vast a giant, that the clouds rested about his
midst like a girdle, and hung like a hoary beard from
his chin, and flitted before his huge eyes, so that he
could neither see Hercules nor the golden cup in which
he was voyaging. And, most wonderful of all, the giant
held up his great hands and appeared to support the sky,
which, so far as Hercules could discern through the
clouds, was resting upon his head!
Meanwhile the bright cup continued to float onward,
and finally touched the strand. Just then a breeze wafted
away the clouds from before the giant's visage, and Hercules
beheld it, with all its enormous features: eyes, each
of them as big as yonder lake, a nose a mile long, and a
mouth of the same width.
Poor fellow! He had evidently stood there a long
while. An ancient forest had been growing and decaying
round his feet; and oak trees, of six or seven centuries
old, had sprung from the acorn, and forced themselves
between his toes.
The giant now looked down from the far height of his
great eyes, and perceiving Hercules, roared out in a
voice that resembled thunder proceeding out of the cloud
that had just flitted away from his face:
"Who are you down at my feet there? And whence
do you come in that little cup?"
"I am Hercules!" thundered back the hero, in a
voice pretty nearly or quite as loud as the giant's own.
"And I am seeking the garden of the Hesperides!"
"Ho! ho! ho!" roared the giant, in a fit of immense
laughter. "That is a wise adventure, truly!"
"And why not?" cried Hercules, getting a little angry
at the giant's mirth. "Do you think I am afraid of the
dragon with a hundred heads!"
Just at this time, while they talking together,
some black clouds gathered about the giant's middle and
burst into a tremendous storm of thunder and lightning,
causing such a pother that Hercules found it impossible
to distinguish a word. Only the giant's immeasurable
legs were to be seen, standing up into the obscurity of
the tempest; and now and then a momentary glimpse of
his whole figure mantled in a volume of mist. He seemed
to be speaking most of the time; but his big, deep, rough
voice chimed in with the reverberations of the thunder-claps,
and rolled away over the hills, like them.
At last the storm swept over as suddenly as it had
come. And there again was the clear sky, and the weary
giant holding it up, and the pleasant sunshine beaming
over his vast height, and illuminating it against the
background of the sullen thunder-clouds. So far above
the shower had been his head, that not a hair of it was
moistened by the raindrops!
When the giant could see Hercules still standing on the
sea-shore, he roared out to him anew.
"I am Atlas, the mightiest giant in the world! And
I hold up the sky upon my head!"
"So I see," answered Hercules. "But can you show
me the way to the garden of the Hesperides?"
"What do you want there?" asked the giant.
"I want three of the golden apples," shouted Hercules,
"for my cousin, the king."
"There is nobody but myself," quoth the giant, "that
can go to the garden of the Hesperides and gather the
golden apples. If it were not for this little business of
holding up the sky, I would make half a dozen steps
across the sea and get them for you."
"You are very kind," replied Hercules. "And cannot
you rest the sky upon a mountain?"
"None of them are quite high enough," said Atlas,
shaking his head, "But if you were to take your stand
on the summit of that nearest me, your head would be
pretty nearly on a level with mine. You seem to be a
fellow of some strength. What if you should take my
burden on your shoulders while I do your errand for
Hercules, as you must be careful to remember, was a
remarkably strong man; and though it certainly requires
a great deal of muscular power to uphold the sky, yet, if
any mortal could be supposed capable of such an exploit,
he was the one. Nevertheless, it seemed so difficult an
undertaking that, for the first time in his life, he hesitated.
"Is the sky very heavy?" he inquired.
"Why, not particularly so, at first," answered the giant,
shrugging his shoulders. "But it gets to be a little
burthensome after a thousand years!"
"And how long a time," asked the hero, "will it take
you to get the golden apples?"
"Oh, that will be done in a few moments," cried
Atlas. "I shall take ten or fifteen miles at a stride, and
be at the garden and back again before your shoulders
begin to ache."
"Well, then," answered Hercules, "I will climb the
mountain behind you there and relieve you of your
The truth is, Hercules had a kind heart of his own,
and considered that he should be doing the giant a favor
by allowing him this opportunity for a ramble. And
besides, he thought that it would be still more for his
own glory, if he could boast of upholding the sky, than
merely to do so ordinary a thing as to conquer a dragon
with a hundred heads. Accordingly, without more words,
the sky was shifted from the shoulders of Atlas and
placed upon those of Hercules.
When this was safely accomplished, the first thing that
the giant did was to stretch himself; and you may imagine
what a prodigious spectacle he was then. Next, he
slowly lifted one of his feet out of the forest that had
grown up around it; then the other. Then, all at once
he began to caper, and leap, and dance for joy at his
freedom; flinging himself nobody knows how high into
the air, and floundering down again with a shock that
made the earth tremble. Then he laughed—Ho! ho! ho!—with
a thunderous roar that was echoed from the
mountains, far and near, as if they and the giant had
been so many rejoicing brothers. When his joy had a
little subsided, he stepped into the sea; ten miles at the
first stride, which brought him mid-leg deep; and ten
miles at the second, when the water came just above his
knees; and ten miles more at the third, by which he was
immersed nearly to his waist. This was the greatest
depth of the sea.
Hercules watched the giant, as he still went onward;
for it was really a wonderful sight, this immense human
form, more than thirty miles off, half hidden in the
ocean, but with his upper half as tall, and misty, and blue,
as a distant mountain. At last the gigantic shape faded
entirely out of view. And now Hercules began to consider
what he should do, in case Atlas should be drowned
in the sea, or if he were to be stung to death by the
dragon with the hundred heads which guarded the
golden apples of the Hesperides. If any such misfortune
were to happen, how could he ever get rid of the sky?
And, by the by, its weight began already to be a little
irksome to his head and shoulders.
"I really pity the poor giant," thought Hercules.
"If it wearies me so much in ten minutes, how must it
have wearied him in a thousand years?"
I know not how long it was before, to his unspeakable
joy, he beheld the huge shape of the giant, like a cloud,
on the far-off edge of the sea. At his nearer approach,
Atlas held up his hand, in which Hercules could perceive
three magnificent golden apples, as big as pumpkins, all
hanging from one branch.
"I am glad to see you again," shouted Hercules, when
the giant was within hearing. "So you have got the
"Certainly, certainly," answered Atlas; "and very
fair apples they are. I took the finest that grew on the
tree, I assure you. Ah! it is a beautiful spot, that garden
of the Hesperides. Yes; and the dragon with a
hundred heads is a sight worth any man's seeing. After
all, you had better have gone for the apples yourself."
"No matter," replied Hercules. "You have had a
pleasant ramble, and have done the business as well as I
could. I heartily thank you for your trouble. And now,
as I have a long way to go and am rather in haste—and
as the king, my cousin, is anxious to receive the golden
apples—will you be kind enough to take the sky off my
"Why, as to that," said the giant, chucking the golden
apples into the air twenty miles high, or thereabouts, and
catching them as they came down—"as to that, my good
friend, I consider you a little unreasonable. Cannot I
carry the golden apples to the king, your cousin, much
quicker than you could? As his majesty is in such a
hurry to get them, I promise you to take my longest
strides. And besides, I have no fancy for burdening
myself with the sky just now."
Here Hercules grew impatient, and gave a great
shrug of his shoulders. It being now twilight, you might
have seen two or three stars tumble out of their places.
Everybody on earth looked upward in affright, thinking
that the sky might be going to fall next.
"Oh, that will never do!" cried Giant Atlas, with a
great roar of laughter. "I have not let fall so many stars
within the last five centuries. By the time you have
stood there as long as I did, you will begin to learn
"What!" shouted Hercules very wrathfully, "do you
intend to make me bear this burden for ever?"
"We will see about that, one of these days," answered
the giant. "At all events, you ought not to complain, if
you have to bear it the next hundred years, or perhaps the
next thousand. I bore it a good while longer, in spite of
the back-ache. Well, then, after a thousand years, if I
happen to feel in the mood, we may possibly shift about
again. You are certainly a very strong man, and can
never have a better opportunity to prove it. Posterity
will talk of you, I warrant it!"
"Pish! a fig for its talk!" cried Hercules, with another
hitch of his shoulders. "Just take the sky upon
your head one instant, will you? I want to make a
cushion of my lion's skin for the weight to rest upon.
It really chafes me, and will cause unnecessary inconvenience
in so many centuries as I am to stand here."
"That's no more than fair, and I'll do it!" quoth the
giant; for he had no unkind feeling toward Hercules,
and was merely acting with a too selfish consideration of
his own ease. "For just five minutes, then, I'll take back
the sky. Only for five minutes, recollect! I have no idea
of spending another thousand years as I spent the last.
Variety is the spice of life, say I."
Ah, the thick-witted old rogue of a giant! He threw
down the golden apples, and received back the sky from
the head and shoulders of Hercules upon his own, where
it rightly belonged. And Hercules picked up the three
golden apples, that were as big or bigger than pumpkins,
and straightway set out on his journey homeward, without
paying the slightest heed to the thundering tones of
the giant, who bellowed after him to come back. Another
forest sprang up around his feet, and grew ancient there;
and again might be seen oak trees of six or seven centuries
old, that had waxed thus aged betwixt his enormous
And there stands the giant to this day; or, at any rate,
there stands a mountain as tall as he, and which bears his
name; and when the thunder rumbles about its summit,
we may imagine it to be the voice of Giant Atlas bellowing