The logo of the Melammu Project

The Melammu Project

The Heritage of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East

  The Melammu Project
   General description
   Search string
   Browse by topic
   Search keyword
   Submit entry
   Open search
   Thematic search
   Digital Library
   Submit item
   Ancient texts
   Submit link
  Contact us

  The Newsletter
  To Project Information >


Heracles in far west (1)

Printable view
Topics (move over topic to see place in topic list)

04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

No period specified
No channel specified

One group of Heracles’ exploits takes place in the far west, beyond the Ocean - the capture of Geryon’s cattle, the shouldering of the sky, which Atlas normally holds up, and the acquisition of the golden apples of the Hesperides. In order to cross the Ocean he availed himself of the Sun’s vessel. This reminds of the Gilgameš Epic, where the hero roamed the world to its furthest limit, attired in his lion-skin, found a wondrous garden with jewelled fruits presided over by a divine female, and crossed the sea at the world’s end that no man had ever crossed before, only the Sun-god: as Siduri observes to him: ‘Only the warrior Šamaš has crossed the sea; who but Šamaš can cross it?’ (10.85). Like Heracles, Gilgameš crosses in a special boat, the only one on those waters, though it does not belong to the Sun. He was seeking eternal life, and he was actually given the plant of rejuvenation. This theme seems to be present in Heracles’ western adventures too. The Hesperides’ apples that grow on a special tree at the ends of the earth, guarded by a serpent, have always been seen as the fruit of immortality. This was ‘the garden of the gods’; here Euripides located their springs of ambrosia (Hipp. 742-751). In the Greek myth there is never any suggestion that Heracles is seeking to obtain immortality or that the apples confer it. But there are other myths that associate him with the conquest of old age and death - wrestling with Geras and Thanatos, capturing Cerberus - and he does in the end enter Olympus as an immortal, married to the personification of youth, Hebe.

Sources (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Euripides, Hippolytus 742-751
Gilgameš Epic (SBV) 10.85


West 1997, 463-464West, Martin L. The East Face of Helicon. West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1997.

Amar Annus

URL for this entry:

No pictures