The eleventh labor was to bring back the golden apples of the Hesperides. These apples had been a wedding present to Hera from the Earth goddess Gaia, and she had put the Hesperides – nymphs who were the daughters of the titan Atlas – in charge of looking after the garden in which they grew. To make sure the Hesperides didn’t cheat her, Hera had also placed a 100-head dragon named Ladon in the garden to watch them.
To Eurytheus fetching the apples seemed an impossible task for Heracles: firstly, the nymphs would never give the apples to someone Hera hated, and secondly, Heracles didn’t even know where the garden was. Thus Heracles began a long journey, travelling through many lands looking for the garden or people who knew its location.
On his way he was challenged to a fight by Kyknos, the son of Ares (the god of war). The fight was tough, and only ended when a lightning bolt separated them. Heracles also had to fight Antaeus, Gaia’s son, who was invincible as long as he touched the ground. Heracles won by lifting Antaeus into the air and crushing him to death. Yet the most important fight was against Nereus, a god of the sea. Nereus could change shape, and did so many times, but Heracles held on until finally Nereus revealed the location of the garden.
Despite now knowing the location of the garden, however, Heracles did not yet have a plan for getting the apples. Fortunately he happened to come across the mountain on which Prometheus was bound, punished for stealing fire from the gods by having his liver eaten each day by an eagle, then it growing back to be done again (this had been happening for 30 years by the time Heracles arrived). A clever man, Prometheus promised that, in exchange for his freedom, he would tell Heracles how to get the apples. Heracles duly killed the eagle, and Prometheus gave Heracles a simple answer: have Atlas get them for him.
So Heracles went to meet Atlas, the titan who was the Hesperides’ father and had been given the job of holding aloft the heavens. The two made a deal: if Atlas would fetch the apples, Heracles would hold the heavens for a while. However, there was a problem: when Atlas returned with the apples he thought he could simply take the apples to Eurystheus himself, leaving Heracles holding the skies.
This was bad for Heracles, and so he needed to think fast. Quickly, he agreed that Atlas could take the apples and leave him with the burden, if only Atlas would take the it again for a short moment so Heracles could adjust his cloak and put some padding on his shoulders. Atlas agreed, and so put the apples on the ground and took the heavens back. At this point Heracles took the apples and left.
Finally Heracles arrived back with the apples. It had been a long journey, and for little use – the apples had to be returned, and so were given to Athena who took them back to the garden.