In Greek mythology, the Hesperides (/hɛˈspɛrɪdiːz/; Ancient Greek: Ἑσπερίδες [hesperídes]) are the nymphs of evening and golden light of sunset, who were the "Daughters of the Evening" or "Nymphs of the West". They 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.
According to the Sicilian Greek poet Stesichorus, in his poem the "Song of Geryon", and the Greek geographer Strabo, in his book Geographika (volume III), the garden of the Hesperides is located in Tartessos, a location placed in the south of the Iberian peninsula.
By Ancient Roman times, the garden of the Hesperides had lost its archaic place in religion and had dwindled to a poetic convention, in which form it was revived in Renaissance poetry, to refer both to the garden and to the nymphs that dwelt there.
The name means originating from Hesperos (evening)". Hesperos, or vesper in Latin, is the origin of the name Hesperus, the evening star (i.e. the planet Venus) as well as having a shared root with the English word "west".
Ordinarily the Hesperides number three, like the other Greek triads (the Three Graces and the Moirai). "Since the Hesperides themselves are mere symbols of the gifts the apples embody, they cannot be actors in a human drama. Their abstract, interchangeable names are a symptom of their impersonality," Evelyn Harrison has observed.
They are sometimes portrayed as the evening daughters of Night (Nyx) either alone, or with Darkness (Erebus), in accord with the way Eos in the farthermost east, in Colchis, is the daughter of the titan Hyperion. Or they are listed as the daughters of Atlas, or of Zeus, and either Hesperis or Themis, or Phorcys and Ceto. In another source, the nymphs are said to be the daughters of Hesperus.
Nevertheless, among the names given to them, though never all at once, there were either three, four, or seven Hesperides. Hesiod says that these "clear-voiced Hesperides", daughters of Night, guarded the golden apples beyond Ocean, gives the number of the Hesperides as three, and their names as: Aigle (or Aegle, "dazzling light"), Erytheia (or Erytheis) and ox-eyed Hesperethusa ("sunset glow", alternatively Hesperathusa, Hesperarethusa). Is the colour of the setting sun: red, yellow or gold. Pseudo-Apollodorus gives the number of the Hesperides as four, named: Aigle, Erytheia, Hesperia (or Hesperie) and Arethusa. Fulgentius gives four Hesperides, named: Aegle, Hesperie, Medusa and Arethusa. Apollonius of Rhodes gives their names as Aigle, Erytheis and Hespere (or Hespera). Hyginus in his preface to the Fabulae names them as Aegle, Hesperie and Aerica. In another source, they are named Ægle, Arethusa and Hesperethusa, the three daughters of Hesperus. An ancient vase painting attests the following names as four: Asterope, Chrysothemis, Hygieia and Lipara; on another seven names as Aiopis, Antheia, Donakis, Kalypso, Mermesa, Nelisa and Tara. A Pyxis has Hippolyte, Mapsaura, and Thetis. Petrus Apianus attributed to these stars a mythical connection of their own. He believed that they were the seven Hesperides, nymph daughters of the Atlas and Hesperis. Their names were: Aegle, Erythea, Arethusa, Hestia, Hespera, Hesperusa and Hespereia. In the far west of the world. Hesperides scene of the apotheosis of Heracles (romanised to Hercules) on a late fifth-century hydria by the Meidias Painter in London They are sometimes called the Western Maidens, the Daughters of Evening or Erythrai, and the "Sunset Goddesses", designations all apparently tied to their imagined location in the distant west. Hesperis is appropriately the personification of the evening (as Eos is of the dawn) and the Evening Star is Hesperus. In addition to their tending of the garden, they were said to have taken great pleasure in singing.
Erytheia ("the red one") is one of the Hesperides. The name was applied to an island close to the coast of southern Hispania, which was the site of the original Punic colony of Gades (modern Cadiz). Pliny's Natural History (VI.36) records of the island of Gades: "On the side which looks towards Spain, at about 100 paces distance, is another long island, three miles wide, on which the original city of Gades stood. By Ephorus and Philistides it is called Erythia, by Timæus and Silenus Aphrodisias, and by the natives the Isle of Juno." The island was the seat of Geryon, who was overcome by Heracles.
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 trees were planted from the fruited branches that Gaia gave to Hera as a wedding gift when Hera accepted Zeus. 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.
In later years it was thought that the "golden apples" might have actually been oranges, a fruit unknown to Europe and the Mediterranean before the Middle Ages. Under this assumption, the Greek botanical name chosen for all citrus species was Hesperidoeidē (Ἑσπεριδοειδῆ, "hesperidoids") and even today the Greek word for the orange fruit is πορτοκαλί (Portokali)--after the country of Portugal in Iberia near where the Garden of the Hesperides grew.
After Heracles completed his first ten Labours, Eurystheus gave him two more claiming that neither the Hydra counted (because Iolaus helped Heracles) nor the Augean stables (either because he received payment for the job or because the rivers did the work). The first of these two additional Labours was to steal the apples from the garden of the Hesperides. Heracles first caught the Old Man of the Sea, the shape-shifting sea god, to learn where the Garden of the Hesperides was located.
In some variations, Heracles, either at the start or at the end of his task, meets Antaeus, who was immortal as long as he touched his mother, Gaia, the earth. Heracles killed Antaeus by holding him aloft and crushing him in a bearhug.
Herodotus claims that Heracles stopped in Egypt, where King Busiris decided to make him the yearly sacrifice, but Heracles burst out of his chains.
Finally making his way to the Garden of the Hesperides, Heracles tricked Atlas into retrieving some of the golden apples for him, by offering to hold up the heavens for a little while (Atlas was able to take them as, in this version, he was the father or otherwise related to the Hesperides). This would have made this task – like the Hydra and Augean stables – void because he had received help. Upon his return, Atlas decided that he did not want to take the heavens back, and instead offered to deliver the apples himself, but Heracles tricked him again by agreeing to take his place on condition that Atlas relieve him temporarily so that Heracles could make his cloak more comfortable. Atlas agreed, but Heracles reneged and walked away, carrying the apples. According to an alternative version, Heracles slew Ladon instead.
There is another variation to the story where Heracles was the only person to steal the apples, other than Perseus, although Athena later returned the apples to their rightful place in the garden. They are considered by some to be the same "apples of joy" that tempted Atalanta, as opposed to the "apple of discord" used by Eris to start a beauty contest on Olympus (which caused "The Siege of Troy").
On Attic pottery, especially from the late fifth century, Heracles is depicted sitting in bliss in the Gardens of the Hesperides, attended by the maidens.
With the revival of classical allusions in the Renaissance, the Hesperides returned to their prominent position, and the garden itself took on the name of its nymphs: Robert Greene wrote of "The fearful Dragon... that watched the garden called Hesperides". Shakespeare inserted the comically insistent rhyme "is not Love a Hercules, Still climbing trees in the Hesperides" in Love's Labours Lost (iv.iii) and John Milton mentioned the "ladies of the Hesperides" in Paradise Regained (ii.357). Hesperides (published 1647) was the title of a collection of pastoral and religious verse by the Royalist poet Robert Herrick.