The Apples of The Hesperides

Hercules sat on the throne while Atlas left to retrieve the golden apples.
Suddenly, the hero felt an enormous pressure on his shoulders unlike anything he had ever experienced before...

"My daughter, Admite, keeps pestering me about a specific girdle - you know how daughters are, right, dear cousin? Oh, I merely forgot that you are not a father anymore!’’ Eurystheus smirked at Hercules. ‘‘Well, the girdle my beloved daughter craves for is hugging the waist of a most fearsome woman at the moment.

It’s in the possession of the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyte. You have to approach her and acquire her girdle at any cost." Hercules quickly turned his back to the King and left the throne chamber without a word, boiling with fury. He, the hero of Mycenae, was to fetch a girl's garment! Although his pride was wounded, he knew that he had to obey. He promptly sent a messenger to the King to inform him that he had already departed for the land of the Amazons, the faraway Scythia. Eurystheus sent the messenger back with a royal writ that he should gather more men before leaving for his mission. Hercules thought that this time his cousin really wanted to do his daughter’s favour and that would serve his interests as well. At the dawn of the next day, his followers had been assembled and the group began its journey. They went to Argos where a ship was waiting for them under the orders of King Eurystheus to transport them to their destination.

After months of maritime travel and several lesser adventures, the hero's ship reached the shores near the Amazon capital of Themiscyra. As the hero and his men disembarked, they were amazed to see that the Amazon Queen and her guard were already expecting them. "I know what brings you here, Hercules, son of Zeus. I heard you are looking for something that I own and I would not risk my kingdom's safety for it. So it is right here, you may take it and return to your land without causing any turmoil." The hero glanced at the shiny girdle she was wearing - a most precious gift indeed. He then proceeded to greet her formally and accept her offer, but as he approached the Queen, an overzealous Amazon stepped forward, screaming: "He wishes to kidnap our Queen! Stop him, quickly!"

The Queen, dazed, took a step back and before Hercules had time to explain, the Amazon guards quickly charged him and the hero had to fend for himself. Since she was unarmed, Hippolyte tried to flee the site of battle but Hercules, unwilling to undertake a long war to finish this Labor, shot an arrow towards her. The arrow pierced her heart and the Queen fell on the ground dead. Hercules quickly removed her belt while his companions stood their ground around him and the Amazons were attacking them maniacally to recover their Queen’s body.

 When he had the girdle in his hands, Hercules and his companions re-embarked their ship and left as swiftly as they could. Although there were several casualties among his companions, the hero was leaving victorious with minimal effort. Still he was feeling sad. What had he done wrong? Standing at the deck of the ship, the hero contemplated on his actions. Did the completion of this Labor justify killing a woman that was willing to aid him? He was sure it did not, even if that meant involving himself in a full scale war with the Amazons.

As his ship was passing by the rocky shores of Troy, he wondered: Was there any way for him to repent? The hero prayed to his father, Zeus, to show him a way to redeem himself. Suddenly, the hero heard a feminine voice coming from the nearby shore; a woman was screaming in despair. Hercules looked carefully and spotted her; she was tied on a rock high over the sea. He promptly ordered the captain of his ship to sail towards the rocks and jumped off the ship when they were close enough. Hercules quickly swam to the shore and climbed the steep cliff. Approaching the terrified young woman, he asked her name. Trying to regain her composure, she responded in a trembling voice: "I am Hesione, daughter of King Laomedon of Troy. My father had me tied on this rock to appease Poseidon… the unmerciful god sent a monster against our city!"

Hercules asked her if her father deemed she deserved this punishment. "No! That was the doing of the Oracles! They said that I had to be sacrificed to Poseidon's beast to save the city... Oh, why did they do this to me?" As tears started flowing down Hesione’s cheeks, Hercules heard a deafening roar and the rock trembled. He looked down from the cliff and saw a whirlpool forming in the water. A huge mouth with sharp teeth suddenly appeared and began its ascension towards the hero and the princess. Hercules, facing imminent death, had to decide: should he give his life to protect hers? Or should he just let her meet her fate? The image of the Queen of the Amazons lying dead by his hand returned to his mind. Then, without hesitation, he let his hands go of the rock, and fell into the gaping chasm that formed the sea monster's mouth.

The beast, surprised, turned his outstretched throat away from the girl and tried to spit the hero out. But he was sliding uncontrollably towards the belly of the beast. Darkness consumed him and he could feel acidic fluids burning his skin and hair. But Hercules was determined to live this through. With his hands and his arrows, he began ruining the vast monster’s innards. It was an exhausting and gruesome task but three days later, he emerged victorious from the belly of the dead beast, near the shores of Troy. There was a large crowd cheering at him while he dragged his body out of the water. Most of his hair was gone, due to the acidic environment he had to endure for three days.

The Trojan King was not too grateful about his exploit, refusing to give him any kind of reward for saving his daughter; but Hesione was happy to be alive and thanked the hero warmly. Hercules felt that he had somewhat atoned for his crime. He returned to his ship, where the companions had patiently waited for him. They congratulated him and tended to his wounds as they were sailing back to Argos. At Tiryns, the King was surprised to see that the rumours he had spread among the Amazons had not harmed his rival. ‘‘Did those Amazons give you much trouble, other than a haircut?’’ he uttered to his cousin who could hardly control an outburst of laughter. Eurystheus's daughter, Admite, was happy with her new girdle and that soothed the King's disappointment for another yet successful Labor.
In Hercules's dream, he was approached by the dead Queen; she smiled at him slightly. He tried to approach her but she vanished in a vaporous mist. "Do not long for the dead, Hercules." it was Athena's voice. "You have learned to sacrifice yourself in the place of the innocents. Know that opposites are ignorant of their mutual affection, thus they fight each other – one must unite them with the power of unconditional love."