Who Were the Hesperides?
The Hesperides, in Greek mythology, were the maidens who guarded the tree that bore the golden apples given by Mother Earth to the goddess Hera, when she married Zeus. Another version of the myth says the maidens were the daughters of Erebus and Night.
In addition to their tending of the garden, they were said to have taken great pleasure in singing. Their names are usually given as Aegle, Erytheia and Hesperis, and they lived in Arcadia, which was thought of as a sort of ideal Garden of Eden. Modern Arcadia is in central Greece.
The Hesperides tend a blissful garden in a far western corner of the world, located near the Atlas Mountains in North Africa at the edge of the encircling Oceanus, the world-ocean. The Garden of the Hesperides is Hera’s orchard in the west, where either a single apple tree or a grove grows, producing golden apples that grant immortality when eaten.
The Hesperides were given the task of tending to the grove, but occasionally picked apples from it themselves. Not trusting them, Hera also placed in the garden a never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon named Ladon as an additional safeguard. In the myth of the Judgement of Paris, it was from the Garden that Eris, Goddess of Discord, obtained the Apple of Discord, which led to the Trojan War.
The golden apples figured in different accounts of Heracles’ 11th Labour. In one version Heracles slayed the dragon and took the apples. In another version Heracles held the heavens while Atlas took the apples for him. In some artistic representations Heracles dines with the Hesperides, who freely give him the apples. The golden apples that Aphrodite gave to Hippomenes before his race with Atalanta were also from the garden of the Hesperides.
In later years it was thought that the “golden apples” might have actually been oranges, a fruit unknown to Europe and the Mediterraneanbefore the Middle Ages. Under this assumption, the Greek botanical name chosen for all citrus species was Hesperidoeidē (hesperidoids) and even today the Greek word for the orange fruit is (Portokáli)-after the country of Portugal in Iberia near where the Garden of the Hesperides grew.