Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 102

In obedience to this advice, Hercules went to the Caucasian Mountains, where, on the brink of a mighty precipice, he found Prometheus, still bound with adamantine chains, and still a prey to the ravenous vulture (p. 28). To spring up the mountain side, kill the cruel bird, snap the adamantine chains, and set free the benefactor of all mankind, was the work of but a few minutes for such a hero as Hercules; and, in gratitude for the deliverance he had so long sought in vain, Prometheus directed Hercules to his brother Atlas, telling him he would be sure to know where the apples could be found.


Hercules wended his way to Africa, where Atlas dwelt, and on his way passed through the land of a diminutive race of men, called Pygmies, who were so small that they lived in constant dread of their neighbors, so much larger and stronger than they, and of the cranes, which passed over their country in great flocks, and sometimes alighted to devour their harvests.

To guard against these constant inroads, the Pygmies finally accepted the services of Antæus, a giant son of Gæa, who generously offered to defend them against all their enemies. When these little people, therefore, saw Hercules’ mighty form looming up in the dim distance, they called aloud for fear, and bade Antæus go forth and kill the new invader, who, they wrongly fancied, had evil designs against them.

Proud of his strength, Antæus went to meet Hercules, and defied him. A fierce struggle was the immediate result of this challenge, and, as the combatants were of equal size and strength, the victory seemed very uncertain. At last Hercules felt his great strength begin to fail, and noticed that every time his [228] adversary touched the ground he seemed to renew his vigor. He therefore resolved to try and win by strategy, and, watching his opportunity, seized Antæus round the waist, raised him from the ground, and held him aloft in his powerful embrace.

The giant struggled with all his might to get free; but Hercules held him fast, and felt him grow weaker and weaker, now that he was no longer sustained by his mother Earth, from whom he derived all his strength, until at last his struggles ceased, and he hung limp and lifeless in Hercules’ crushing embrace.

“Lifts proud Antæus from his mother-plains,
And with strong grasp the struggling giant strains;
Back falls his fainting head and clammy hair,
Writhe his weak limbs, and flits his life in air.”

Now that the gigantic defender of the Pygmies no longer blocked his way, Hercules traveled onward in search of Atlas, whom he finally found supporting the heavens on his broad shoulders. Atlas listened attentively to all Hercules had to say, declared he knew where the apples could be found, and promised to get them if the hero would only relieve him of his burden for a little while. Glad to accomplish his purpose so easily, Hercules allowed the burden of the heavens to be transferred to his shoulders, and Atlas hastened off to fulfill his part of the agreement.

From afar the giant saw the golden fruit glittering in the sunshine. Stealthily he drew near, entered the gardens, slew the dragon in his sleep, plucked the apples, and returned unmolested to the place where he had left Hercules. But his steps became slower and slower; and as he neared the hero, he could not help thinking with horror of the burden he must so soon resume, and bear for centuries, perhaps, without relief.