Behind the Book: Hercules’s Eleventh Labor (aka “How D’ya Like Those Apples?)

Ever feel like you’re never going to finish a job you set out for yourself? Well, that’s nothing to what Hercules has to endure.

In the original decree that got Hercules started on all these labors, Herc was to complete ten labors to atone for murdering his children. Well, remember back in Labors Two (the hydra) and Five (the horse poo) how Eurystheus found a couple loopholes and said those labors didn’t count? (If not, just follow those links.) Due to Eury being a conniving scoundrel who makes up rules as he goes, Herc still has two more to go. I’ve always thought Eury would have made a great lawyer.

The Eleventh Labor in Mythology

appleThis time, Eurystheus sends Hercules off to fetch the Apples of the Hesperides. These particular fruits are golden apples borne on trees given to Hera by Zeus as a wedding gift. Because you don’t simply leave a garden full of golden fruit unattended, the trees are guarded by a 100-eyed dragon and by nymphs called the Hesperides. The garden was named after them, but I think the Garden of the 100-Eyed Monster would have done  better job at keeping thieves away.

Hercules has a Hades of a time with this task because he doesn’t know where the garden is. Rather than ask for directions politely and get on with his labor, he ends up in a fair amount of fights against foes such as the son of Ares (god of war), a shape-shifting sea god, and a couple of Poseidon’s sons. I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say Hercules has some anger management issues to work on.

Anger issues aside, Hercules doesn’t pummel every being he comes across, which turns out to be a good thing. On his wanderings (I guess hoping he’ll just stumble on the gardens), he comes upon Prometheus, the titan that gave man fire. And the titan is in a bit of a tricky spot.

See, Prometheus had played a silly trick on Zeus. Showing a bit of a short temper and inability to take a joke, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock and let an eagle peck his liver out. The liver grew back each time, leaving the titan to be continually subjected to the eagle’s attentions. Seeing Prometheus’s precarious position, Hercules slays the eagle and sets Prometheus free.

treeAnd it’s a good thing he did. because the titan proves to be full of gardening tips. Prometheus tells Hercules that there’s no way he’s going to be able to get in the gardens to fetch the apples. Instead, he should send Atlas – holder-upper of sky and also father to the Hesperides nymphs – to do the deed.

So, Hercules trudges on to find Atlas. When he does, Atlas is thrilled to take a break from his job, but he can’t simply throw the sky to the ground. Hercules offers to bear the weight until Atlas returns with the apples. Problem is, when Atlas does return he doesn’t want to go back to work (we all know how that is).

Hercules, who is no dummy, tells Atlas, “Okay, I’ll take over the job, but I need to pad my shoulders. Here, hold the sky while I go get my lion’s pelt.” The trick totally smacks of a Bugs Bunny farce, doesn’t it? Atlas agrees and Hercules high tails it out of there to take the apples to Eurystheus.

Behind the Book

This chapter in The Trials of Hercules was my favorite to work on. To keep Herc from seeming like a total thug, I’ve cut out the random fights. And, to make Eury more villainous, his motivations for getting the apples are far more devious than in the legend. In my re-telling of the story, the apples represent all of Hera’s power and her immortality. So if Eury takes possession of the tree he will be rid of Hera and become unbeatable. The stakes are increased because Herc has recently realized that Eury really needs to be done away with. Unfortunately, Herc also has his doubts about Hera’s worth.

Having realized how terrible both Eury and Hera truly are, Herc has to face a moral dilemma of whether or not to take the apples to Eury. If he does, Eury can never be defeated; if Herc doesn’t, he and those he loves will die.

Besides having a great time delving into the moral quandary, the characters in this chapter are a few of my favorites. Like Hermes, the charming Prometheus and the dim-witted Atlas were just plain fun to write and these characters have already earned a place in The Voyage: Book Two of The Osteria Chronicles.

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TAMMIE PAINTER IS THE AUTHOR OF THE TRIALS OF HERCULES: BOOK ONE OF THE OSTERIA CHRONICLES AND AN ARTIST WHO DEDICATES HERSELF TO THE TEDIUM OF CREATING IMAGES WITH COLORED PENCILS.
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