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Ancient Greek Mythology

Hesiod's Theogony and the Garden of the Hesperides

8th century BC, Hesiod, Ancient Greek, composed (reputedly) at the base of Mount Helicon, Boeotia, Greece.

'And the Hesperides, who, out beyond the famous stream of Oceanus, tend the lovely golden apples, and their trees.'

The goddess Hera, who was Zeus’s sister, agreed to become his wife as well. As a wedding present, Gaia, that is, Mother Earth, gave her the Garden of the Hesperides in the far west of the world. This garden contained an apple orchard whose fruit conferred everlasting life upon those who ate it.

Unlike the Scandinavian gods of Asgard, who were sustained in their longevity by the magic apples that the goddess Idun kept in her box, there is no record of the gods of Olympus relying upon these apples from Hera’s orchard for their immortality; although if the orchard had a use to them, it would surely have been this.

Perhaps the gift was simply a means of appropriating to themselves a treasured possession of the gods who had come before them. The Garden had, after all, been a gift from Mother Earth, and it had three guardians assigned to it: a giant, a snake and a triple-goddess. The giant, in the ancient Greek myth, was Atlas, who, having been defeated by the Olympian gods, was forced to hold up the sky in the far west of the world and to keep an eye on this Garden for Hera. The Hesperides themselves were shadowy beings, often described by classical authors as nymphs, sometimes as the daughters of Atlas, and usually determined to be three in number; three goddesses guarding the fruit of immortality. Hesiod, who wrote in the eighth century BC, had the Hesperides as three goddesses who lived with the three Gorgons, one of whom – the Gorgon Medusa – later art was to depict with snakes in her hair. And the Hesperides, who, out beyond the famous stream of Oceanus, tend the lovely golden apples, and their trees. As the myth evolved, a snake’s presence in the Garden of the Hesperides was rationalised by having it introduced by Zeus to stop the pilfering of the apples by the Hesperides themselves.

Magical trees, seeds and fruit that confer immortality with a snake curling around them, presided over by three goddesses and with a giant waiting to be encountered upon departure. And all in the far west of the world, beyond the setting sun.

An 8th century BC account of the gods in Hesiod's Theogony from: Wender, Dorethea Schmidt, 1973. Hesiod: Theogony · Works and Days. Theognis: Elegies. Translated from ancient Greek with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Theogony, pp 23–57.

Heracles visit to the Garden of the Hesperides in: Graves, Robert, 1955. The Greek Myths. Illustrated Edition, 1985, BCA by arrangement with Cassell Limited, pp 194–6.

See for yourself

Hesiod's Theogony – Wikipedia

Homer and Hesiod – including Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, with an intoduction

Hesperides – Wikipedia

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