The Ancient Greek Version of Eden—The Garden of the Hesperides


Vase-painting of the Hesperides.

On this vase, we see the Greek version of Eden, the ancient paradise. The Greeks called it the Garden of the Hesperides. The serpent entwines the apple tree with its golden fruit. The Genesis account is not specific as to the kind of fruit. It's from the Greek tradition we get the idea Eve ate an apple.

The names of the figures are written on the vase. Two of the Hesperides, Chrysothemis (Golden Order) and Asterope (Star Face) stand to our immediate left of the tree. Chrysothemis moves toward the tree to pluck an apple. Asterope leans pleasantly against her with both arms. To the left of them, Hygeia (Health) sits on a hillock and holds a long scepter, a symbol or rule, as she looks back towards the apple tree. To the right of the apple tree, Lipara (Shining Skin) holds apples in the fold of her garment, and raises her veil off her shoulder. The names of the Hesperides describe what the garden is like. It's a land of soft starlight, gold for the taking, perfect health, and wondrous beauty.

Another vase-painting of the Hesperides.

Here is another vase-depiction of the Garden of the Hesperides. Greek artists always depicted the Garden with a serpent-entwined apple tree.

Sculpture of the Hesperides.

Above, we see the remnants of three Hesperides as they appeared on the right side of the east pediment of the Parthenon. They are now in the British Museum.
Below, we see them restored in color by Holmes Bryant with the serpent-entwined apple tree placed to their
right, in accord with the research of Danish scholar Kristian Jeppesen.

3D restoration of the Hesperides.

Kristian Jeppesen writes of these three Hesperides, ". . . they are not involved in any kind of willful action, but seem to display some slight amazement at being disturbed in the act of performing their morning toilet. This situation agrees perfectly with representations of Hesperides on vases, where they are always depicted as lovely fairies with little other concern than the preservation of their beauty." Some mythologists have mistaken the Hesperides for guardians of the apple tree, but they certainly are not. Their body language, their easy actions, and their very names serve the purpose of establishing what kind of garden this is: a wonderful, carefree place, the Greek version of Eden.

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