The Garden of Hesperides
Hesiod -a Greek poet of the 8th century b.C.- wrote about the legendary Garden of Hesperydes. The story starts with Atlas.
Atlas was a Giant, titan Japeto's son. The titans were defeated by Zeus, king of the gods, who confined them in the Tartarus -the hell. Atlas had fought the war on his father's side. According to some opinions, Zeus condemned Atlas to support the vault of heavens upon his shoulders. Other maintain that an angry Perseus showed him Medusa's head thus converting him into a high mountain that supported the sky. Be that as it may, Atlas had to hold up the sky beyond the Columns of Hercules -the Strait of Gibraltar.
Atlas had three daughters, the Hesperydes: Egle, Eritia and Aretusa. The three lived in the most westernly land of the world, some wonderful islands in the Atlantic Ocean, a Garden of Eden where weather was always mild and where golden apples grew on the trees. Goddess Gea (Mother Earth) made sprout those apples as a wedding gift to the king and queen of the gods, Zeus and Hera.
The Hesperydes cultivate the Garden, but a fierce dragon looked after it. It was called Ladon, and it had hundred flame-spewing heads.
Hercules -also called Herakles-, the greatest hero of ancient times, had to perform twelve very difficult tasks, almost impossible to accomplish, the "Twelve Labors of Hercules". Labor number eleven consisted in stealing the Hesperydes' Golden Apples.
Hercules found Atlas supporting the sky near the Ocean, in the mountains which we call today Atlas (Morocco). Since the Garden of Hesperydes' dragon knew Atlas, Hercules persuaded him to go to the islands and steal the apples, while he stayed as supporter of the sky in his place. Atlas went to the Garden in which he could enter since the dragon recognized him, killed the monster, stole the golden apples and returned to the place where Hercules stayed. Atlas, tired of his task, intended to leave Hercules with the burden upon his shoulders, but the hero managed to cheat him. He passed him the burden again and fled with the apples.
And the Garden of Hesperydes? Did it lose its Golden Apples forever? No! They ended by returning to the islands, since they were given to goddess Athena, who gave them back to the gardeners, the Hesperydes.
Concerning Ladon, the watch-dragon killed by Atlas… it lives on in their children, the dragon-trees. According to the legend, the blood flowing from the dragon's wounds fell all over the Garden of Hesperydes. A dragon tree sprouted from each blood drop. Dragon trees -dracaena drago- have massive trunks from which raise a bunch of twisted branches, Ladon's hundred heads. When a piece of bark or a branch are broken, the tree "bleed" a dark-red sap called "dragon-tree blood", which can be used with medical purposes. Dragon trees grow slowly, but they can live for several centuries. There is a specimen at Icod de los Vinos -Tenerife- which is called the "Thousand-year old Dragon Tree".
The Guanches, Canarian natives, revered the places where these trees grew as specially meaningful and full of energies. Today, several superstitions of the Canarian folklore are still refered to a dragon tree, growing lonely at the edge of a crag or a cliff.
When the traveler approaches the Canaries by sea, he can glimpse the misty form of the Teide floating over the clouds many miles before arriving at the islands. When we imagine how it looked when the volcano has been in eruption, we shall understand how the legend was born of a fierce fire-spewing dragon who watched over a wonderful Garden where the Golden Apples grew…