Having written about Lost City of Atlantis and it’s connection to the Canary Islands, I have been asked if I know of any other legends associated with Tenerife. After a bit of research I have found the following that sound as if they could be, but whether or not it is based in Tenerife it is still a bloody good tale.
In ancient times the Greek scholars told tales of the Garden of Hesperides. They needed to place this mythical land beyond their known world and as they already knew the Iberian Peninsula they said it was some wonderful islands in the Atlantic Ocean, a tranquil place of perpetual paradise, a Garden of Eden, found beyond the ocean at the edge of sunset, in the extreme west where the weather was always mild and golden apples grew on the trees. The Canary Islands seem to fit the description.
The garden was inhabited by Egle, Eritia and Aretusa the daughters of Atlas, the titan who held up the sky on his shoulders. The nymphs work was to tend a very special apple tree in the garden whose fruit would bestow immortality on anyone who ate it. Of course there was a catch.
Legend has it that Hercules, the greatest hero of ancient times, (think Hugh Jackman / Brad Pitt and Tobey McGuire) had to complete 12 tasks (The Twelve Labours of Hercules). One of these was to go to the end of the world and bring back three of the apples from the Garden of Hesperides. He travelled through the world killing giants and seeking the garden’s location. In gratitude for freeing Prometheus, he was told what to expect in the garden…. And here’s the catch. The tree was not only tended by the Hesperides but there was an even bigger problem – a hundred-headed dragon, named Ladon was coiled around the trunk and if you did manage to get past him, plucking the apples would bring instant death to any mortal.
In order to obtain the apples, Hercules convinced Atlas, who was immortal, to steal them, while he stayed to hold up the sky until Atlas returned. Because Atlas was tired of holding up the sky he agreed, as his intention was to leave Hercules with the burden upon his shoulders. It was easy for Atlas to enter the garden as the dragon knew him, he took the apples and returned to Hercules; however giants are not too bright and Hercules managed to pass the burden back and had it away on his toes with the apples.
Now could it be the fierce, hundred-headed, fire-breathing dragon is based on descriptions of Teide erupting? Perhaps, stranger things have been believed.
According to the legend, the blood from the slain dragon flowed over the garden and where it fell a dragon tree grew. Dragon trees are endemic to the islands, the sap is bright red and they can live for hundreds of years and the branches look like heads supported by a thick trunk. The most famous and longest surviving of this species is known as the thousand-year-old Dragon Tree in Icod de los Vinos in the north of Tenerife which has become a very popular tourist attraction.
And did the garden lose the golden apples forever? No! They were given to the goddess Athena, who gave them back to the Hesperides, so anyone who lives in Tenerife, has an apple tree in their garden, remember the old proverb if you eats an apple a day it may not just keep the doctor away – you could also live for ever.