Hercules, the strongest man in the world, trudged up the slope of Mount Atlas. He had traveled this far, to the westernmost part of the Earth, because of his latest task – to get some golden apples and bring them back to King Eurystheus. The apples grew in a garden that belonged to the powerful goddess Hera. They were tended by the beautiful daughters of the titan Atlas and guarded by a horrible dragon.
Horrible dragon, my foot, Hercules thought. I’ve beaten more monsters than I can count. I whipped that many-headed hydra, I strangled two snakes with my bare little hands! Hercules tightened his grip on his club with the memory.
I’ve got to look for Atlas, who lives around here. He should be able to help.
From far off, Hercules saw the titan, who was bent under a great weight. As Hercules came closer, he saw that Atlas was holding up the sky. The whole weight of the heavens rested on his shoulders.
"You want the apples? I’ll get them for you. Always happy to do a friend a favor. But what about the dragon?" said Atlas. Hercules shot three arrows over the garden wall and killed the beast. "Now," said Atlas, "would you mind just holding the sky for a little while, while I get the apples?" And he hoisted the heavens from his own shoulders onto Hercules’.
Oof! Hercules staggered under the weight, and the sky shook. Hercules took a stance like an Olympic weightlifter and found that he could hold it. Just barely.
Meanwhile, Atlas was off. He felt lighter than air. He ran to the apple tree, and one of his daughters gave him a branch full of the golden fruit. Atlas ran back to the spot where Hercules staggered under the weight of the sky.
"Listen," he said. "How about if I deliver the apples to King Eurystheus for you? It won’t kill you to hold the sky up for a few months longer, will it?"
"Of course not," said Hercules. "But just one thing first. I want to fold up my lionskin to make a pad for my shoulders and neck. Would you hold the sky while I do it? It won’t take a second."
Atlas fell for the trick like a ton of bricks. "Sure. No problem." And he lifted the heavens off Hercules’ shoulders.
"Yet another victory of brains over brawn," said Hercules – normally a pretty brawny person himself. "The bigger they are the harder they fall." He picked up the branch and carried the apples away.
In June, you have to wait until almost 11 p.m. for the sky to get really dark. But if you are patient, then you can see Draco the dragon. Even though the dragon’s stars are not very bright, the constellation is easy to make out. Its body stretches between the Big and Little Dipper, with its horrible head toward the east. If you look to the south of the dragon’s head, you’ll find Hercules in the sky, as well, kneeling on the monster – his conquest recorded in the stars for all to see.