Hercules was a strong and brave man. He lived in Greece. The King was jealous of Hercules. People might make Hercules the King. Therefore he wanted to get rid of Hercules. He set difficult tasks for Hercules to keep him away from the country so that he would not be a possible threat to him (the King).
Once he asked Hercules to get three golden apples. Some trees were said to bear golden apples. These trees were said to be in a place called Hesperides. But no one knew the way to Hesperides. So the King thought of Hesperides. Hercules would be away for a longer period.
Hercules set out on the journey. At first he met three maidens during the journey. Hercules asked them the way to Hesperides. They told him to ask the old man of the sea. But they also warned him, “Hold the old man of the sea tightly. Otherwise he will escape. No one else knows the way.”
Hercules saw the old man. He was sleeping on the shore. He was looking strange. He had long hair and a beard. Hercules walked to him without making any noise. Then he seized him very firmly.
The old man of the sea opened his eyes. He was surprised. He changed himself into a stag. He tried to free himself from the grip of Hercules. But Hercules held him tight. Then the old man changed himself into a sea-bird and then to other animal forms. But he could not free himself from the clutches of Hercules, because Hercules was making his clutches tighter and tighter. Finally the old man said to Hercules, “Who are you? What do you want from me?”
Hercules replied, “I am Hercules. Tell me the way to Hesperides.”
The old man said, “It is an island. Go along the sea-shore. You will meet a giant. He will show you the way to Hesperides.”
Hercules continued his journey. He met the giant. The giant was very huge and strong. He was sleeping on the shore. Hercules woke him up. The giant was angry. He struck Hercules with a club. Hercules charged at the giant. He lifted the giant and threw him down. But the giant got up immediately. He had become ten times stronger. Hercules threw him down again and again. But each time the giant rose up much stronger. Then Hercules lifted the giant high up in the air. But he did not throw him down. The giant slowly lost all his strength. He now pleaded with Hercules to put him down on the earth. Hercules asked him to tell the way to Hesperides. The giant asked Hercules to meet Atlas. He told him the way to the place where Atlas was.
Hercules continued his journey. He, at last, met Atlas.
“Why do you want the golden apples?” asked Atlas.
“My King has ordered me to get him these three golden apples,” said Hercules.
“It is a long way from here to that place. Only I can go there. Hold this sky for me. I shall get them for you,” said Atlas.
Hercules agreed. He held the sky on his shoulders. Atlas walked away. He was back in a short time. He put down the three golden apples at the foot of Hercules. Hercules thanked Atlas. He requested Atlas to take back the sky from him.
“Take back the sky!” said Atlas cunningly. “I have held it for a thousand years. I shall come back after another thousand years!”
Hercules was astonished at what Atlas told him. But he did not express his astonishment. He recovered his senses and replied, “Oh! In that case, will you please hold the sky for a little while? I shall make a pad for my shoulders to support the sky. Then I shall take back the sky from you.” Thus Hercules talked very quietly.
Atlas agreed. Atlas took back the sky from Hercules. Hercules immediately collected the three golden apples. He bid Atlas goodbye with a mischievous smile on his face. The he walked away towards Greece leaving Atlas speechless and surprised.
Hercules reached his homeland Greece after many days of travel. He gave the three golden apples to the King. The King was surprised to have got the golden apples from Hercules. He was happy. But he pretended not to have been satisfied. But he secretly, he was planning to send away Hercules away on another perilous adventure.