|A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys|
|by Nathaniel Hawthorne|
|Delightful retelling of six Greek myths to a crowd of energetic youngsters by a master storyteller. Includes The Gorgonĺs Head, The Golden Touch, The Paradise of Children, The Three Golden Apples, and The Miraculous Pitcher. Ages 9-12 |
ID 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, a
great many people 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
won-  der 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.
In my opinion it was hardly worth running so much risk
for the sake of a solid golden apple. Had the apples
been sweet, mellow, and juicy, indeed that would be
another matter. There might then have been some sense
in trying to get at them, in spite of the
But, as I have already told you, it was quite a common
thing with young persons, 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 wrapt 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
very big a club.
So he journeyed on and on, still making the
inquiry, until, at last, he came to the brink of a
river where some beautiful young women 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 young women had been having a fine time together,
weaving the flowers into wreaths, and crowning one
another's heads. And there seemed to be a kind of magic
in the touch of their fingers, that made the flowers
more fresh and dewy, and of brighter hues, and sweeter
fragrance, while they played with them, than even when
they had been growing on their native stems. But, on
hearing the stranger's question, they dropped all their
flowers on the grass, and gazed at him with
"The garden of the Hesperides!" cried one. "We thought
mortals had been weary of seeking it, after so many
disappointments. And pray, adventurous traveler, 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 them 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 dragons."
The young women 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
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 a
giant's strength than for one of the young maidens to
touch her sister's rosy cheek with a flower.
"Do you not believe," said he, looking at the damsels
with a smile, "that such a blow would have crashed 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 shield. While he lay there, two immense serpents
came gliding over the floor, and opened their hideous
jaws to devour him; and he, a baby of a few months old,
had griped one of the fierce snakes in each of his
little fists, and strangled them to death. When he was
but a stripling, he had killed a huge lion, almost as
big as the one whose vast and shaggy hide he now wore
upon his shoulders. The next thing that he had done was
to fight a battle with an ugly sort of monster, called
a hydra, which had no less than nine heads, and
exceedingly sharp teeth in every one.
"But the dragon of the Hesperides, you know," observed
one of the damsels, "has a hundred heads!"
"Nevertheless," replied the stranger, "I would rather
fight two such dragons than a single hydra. For, as
fast as I cut off a head, two others grew in its place;
and, besides, there was one of the heads that could not
possibly be killed, but
 kept biting as fiercely as
ever, long after it was cut off. So I was forced to
bury it under a stone, where it is doubtless alive to
this very day. But the hydra's body, and its eight
other heads, will never do any further mischief."
The damsels, judging that the story was likely to last
a good while, had been preparing a repast of bread and
grapes, that the stranger might refresh himself in the
intervals of his talk. They took pleasure in helping
him to this simple food; and, now and then, one of them
would put a sweet grape between her rosy lips, lest it
should make him bashful to eat alone.
The traveler proceeded to tell how he had chased a
very swift stag, for a twelvemonth together, without
ever stopping to take breath, and had at last caught it
by the antlers, and carried it home alive. And lie had
fought with a very odd race of people, half horses and
half men, and had put them all to death, from a sense
of duty, in order that their ugly figures might never
be seen any more. Besides all this, he took to himself
great credit for having cleaned out a stable.
"Do you call that a wonderful exploit?" asked one of
the young maidens, with a smile. "Any clown in the
country has done as much!"
"Had it been an ordinary stable," replied the stranger,
"I should not have mentioned it. But this was so
gigantic a task that it would have taken me all my life
to perform it, if I had not luckily thought of turning
the channel of a river through the stable-door. That
did the business in a very short time!"
 Seeing how earnestly his fair auditors listened, he
next told them how he had shot some monstrous birds,
and had caught a wild bull alive and let him go again,
and had tamed a number of very wild horses, and had
conquered Hippolyta, the warlike queen of the Amazons.
He mentioned, likewise, that he had taken off
Hippolyta's enchanted girdle, and had given it to the
daughter of his cousin, the king.
"Was it the girdle of Venus," inquired the prettiest of
the damsels, "which makes women beautiful?"
"No," answered the stranger. "It had formerly been the
sword-belt of Mars; and it can only make the wearer
valiant and courageous."
"An old sword-belt!" cried the damsel, tossing her head.
"Then I should not care about having it!"
"You are right," said the stranger.
Going on with his wonderful narrative, he informed the
maidens that as strange an adventure as ever happened
was when he fought with Geryon, the six-legged man.
This was a very odd and frightful sort of figure, as
you may well believe. Any person, looking at his tracks
in the sand or snow, would suppose that three sociable
companions had been walking along together. On hearing
his footsteps at a little distance, it was no more than
reasonable to judge that several people must be coming.
But it was only the strange man Geryon clattering
onward, with his six legs!
Six legs, and one gigantic body! Certainly, he
have been a very queer monster to look at; and, my
stars, what a waste of shoe-leather!
When the stranger had finished the story of his
adventures, he looked around at the attentive faces of
"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
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 or difficult 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 with this Old Man of the Sea. He is a sea-faring
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 visiting."
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,—for the
bread and grapes with
 which they had fed him, the
lovely flowers with which they had crowned him, and the
songs and dances wherewith they had done him
honor,—and he thanked them, most of all, for telling
him the right way,—and immediately set forth upon his
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.
Sometimes he swung his club aloft, and splintered a
mighty oak with a downright blow. His mind was so full
of the giants and monsters with whom it was the
business of his life to fight, that perhaps he mistook
the great tree for a giant or a monster. And so eager
was Hercules to achieve what he had undertaken, that he
almost regretted to have spent so much time with the
damsels, wasting idle breath upon the story of his
 adventures. But thus it always is with persons who are
destined to perform great things. What they have
already done seems less than nothing. What they have
taken in hand to do seems worth toil, danger, and life
Persons who happened to be passing through the forest
must have been affrighted to see him smite the trees
with his great club. With but a single blow, the trunk
was riven as by the stroke of lightning, and the broad
boughs came rustling and crashing down.
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
appear-  ance of a tuft of sea-weed than of
an ordinary beard. Have you never seen a stick of
timber, that has been long 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-tost spar! But
Hercules, the instant he set 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 selfsame 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,
aud 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 easily 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 into the air, and opened
its deadly jaws as if to devour him outright; so that
it was really a very terrible spectacle! But Hercules
was no whit disheartened, and squeezed the great snake
so tightly that he soon began to hiss with pain.
You must understand that the Old Man of the Sea, though
he generally looked so much like the wave-beaten
figure-head of a vessel, had the power of assuming any
shape he pleased. When he found himself so roughly
seized by Hercules, he had been in hopes of putting him
into such surprise and terror, by these magical
transformations, that the hero would be glad to let him
go. If Hercules had relaxed his grasp, the Old One
would certainly have plunged down to the very bottom of
the sea, whence he would not soon have given himself
the trouble of coming up, in order to answer any
impertinent questions. Ninety-nine people out of a
hundred, I suppose, would have been frightened out of
their wits by the very first of his ugly shapes, and
would have taken
 to their heels at once. For, one of
the hardest things in this world is, to see the
difference between real dangers and imaginary ones.
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 sea-weed at his chin.
"Pray, what do you want with me?" cried the Old One, as
soon as he could take breath; for it is 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 uncivil
"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. The Old One was an inhabitant of the sea, you
must recollect, and roamed about everywhere, like other
sea-faring people. Of course, 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
like-  wise 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!"
Thanking the Old Man of the Sea, and begging his pardon
for having squeezed him so roughly, the hero resumed
his journey. He met with a great many strange
adventures, which would be well worth your hearing, if
I had leisure to narrate them as minutely as they
It was in this journey, if I mistake not, that he
encountered a prodigious giant, who was so wonderfully
contrived by nature, that, every time he touched the
earth, he became ten times as strong as ever he had
been before. His name was AntŠus. You may see, plainly
enough, that it was a very difficult business to fight
with such a fellow; for, as often as he got a
knock-down blow, up he started again, stronger,
fiercer, and abler to use his weapons, than if his
enemy had let him alone. Thus, the harder Hercules
pounded the giant with his club, the further he seemed
from winning the victory. I have sometimes argued with
such people, but never fought with one.
 The only way in
which Hercules found it possible to finish the battle,
was by lifting AntŠus off his feet into the air, and
squeezing, and squeezing, and squeezing him, until,
finally, the strength was quite squeezed out of his
When this affair was finished, Hercules continued his
travels, and went to the land of Egypt, where he was
taken prisoner, and would have been put to death, if he
had not slain the king of the country, and made his
escape. Passing through the deserts of Africa, and
going as fast as he could, he arrived at last on the
shore of the great ocean. And here, unless he could
walk on the crests of the billows, it seemed as if his
journey must needs be at an end.
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 brim.
 "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 was standing.
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,
with a pleasant and ringing sound, against the
circumference of the hollow cup; it rocked lightly to
and fro, and the motion was so soothing that it
speedily rocked Hercules into an agreeable slumber.
 His nap had probably lasted a good while, when the cup
chanced to graze against a rock, and, in consequence,
immediately resounded and reverberated through its
golden or brazen 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?
No; you will never guess it, not if you were to try
fifty thousand times! It positively appears to me that
this was the most marvelous spectacle that had ever
been seen by Hercules, in the whole course of his
wonderful travels and adventures. It was a greater
marvel than the hydra with nine heads, which kept
growing twice as fast as they were cut off; greater
than the six-legged man-monster; greater than AntŠus;
greater than anything that was ever beheld by anybody,
before or since the days of Hercules, or than anything
that remains to be beheld, by travelers in all time to
come. 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!
This does really seem almost too much to believe.
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. It was a
countenance terrible from its enormity of size, but
disconsolate and weary, even as you may see the faces
of many people, nowadays, who are compelled to sustain
burdens above their strength. What the sky was to the
giant, such are the cares of earth to those who let
themselves be weighed down by them. And whenever men
undertake what is beyond the just measure of their
abilities, they encounter precisely such a doom as had
befallen this poor giant.
Poor fellow! He had evidently stood there a long while.
An ancient forest had been growing and decaying around
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 for 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 were 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. Thus, by talking out of
season, the foolish giant expended an incalculable
quantity of breath, to no purpose; for the thunder
spoke quite as intelligibly as he.
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 rain-drops!
 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 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 one, 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 burdensome, 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 midleg 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!"
O my sweet little people, you have no idea what a
weight there was in that same blue sky, which looks so
soft and aërial above our heads! And there, too, was
the bluster of the wind, and the chill and watery
clouds, and the blazing sun,
 all taking their turns to
make Hercules uncomfortable! He began to be afraid that
the giant would never come back. He gazed wistfully at
the world beneath him, and acknowledged to himself that
it was a far happier kind of life to be a shepherd at
the foot of a mountain, than to stand on its dizzy
summit, and bear up the firmament with his might and
main. For, of course, as you will easily understand,
Hercules had an immense responsibility on his mind, as
well as a weight on his head and shoulders. Why, if he
did not stand perfectly still, and keep the sky
immovable, the sun would perhaps be put ajar! Or, after
nightfall, a great many of the stars might be loosened
from their places, and shower down, like fiery rain,
upon the people's heads! And how ashamed would the hero
be, if, owing to his unsteadiness beneath its weight,
the sky should crack, and show a great fissure quite
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
"What!" shouted Hercules, very wrathfully,
 "do you
intend to make me bear this burden forever?"
"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
"That's no more than fair, and I'll do it!" quoth the
giant; for he had no unkind feeling towards 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
 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 toes.
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 after Hercules!
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