The Apples of the Hesperides is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.S. in This Week in May 1940. In the U.K. it was first published in The Strand Magazine in September 1940. In 1947, the story was grouped with 11 others, a foreword was added, and the whole collection published as The Labours of Hercules.
The setting is on the eve of one of Poirot's many planned retirements. He wants his crowning achievement to be a series of 12 cases which he will specially selected to match those of the Twelve Labours of Heracles in Greek mythology. In the sequence of the labours pursued by Poirot, Hesperides is the eleventh of twelve. It is preceded by The Flock of Geryon and followed by The Capture of Cerberus.
This would be the last story to be published in the labours series for some time. A twelfth story, also with the title The Capture of Cerberus had been written but was rejected by the Strand Magazine. Christie's readers had to wait seven years until 1947 when a rewritten Capture of Cerberus emerged as the twelfth story in the "Labours of Hercules" collection.
A wealthy financier asks Poirot to help retrieve a stolen renaissance gold goblet. The trail is very cold, almost ten years old but Poirot is attracted because the cup had a design of a tree with apples made of fine emeralds.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Poirot receives a visit from Emery Power, a rich art collector of Irish descent. Ten years ago he purchased at auction a gold goblet which was supposedly made for Alexander VI by Benvenuto Cellini which the Borgia Pope used to poison his victims. The design of the goblet is a tree with a coiled serpent and the apples on the tree are represented by emeralds. Poirot is immediately interested at the mention of apples. Power paid a sum equal to thirty thousand pounds at the auction in 1929 but on the night of the sale the goblet and other items were stolen from the home of the seller, the Marchese di San Veratrino. The police at the time were certain that a gang of three international thieves were responsible. Two of the men were captured and some of the stolen items recovered but the goblet was not among them. A third man, an Irish cat burglar called Patrick Casey died soon afterwards when he fell from a building while committing his latest crime. Power has spent ten years and a lot of money trying to locate the goblet but without success. The Marchese has offered to refund his money but Power does not want to take advantage of this offer as he would no longer be the legal owner of the goblet should it be found. He had suspected that the real criminal was Sir Reuben Rosenthal, who was his rival bidder at the auction in 1929, but they recently become business allies and Power is now convinced Rosenthal is innocent.
Poirot takes up the commission and interviews the detective on the case – Inspector Wagstaffe - about the suspects. Patrick Casey's wife, a strict Catholic, is dead. His daughter is a nun in a convent and his son, who took after his father, is in jail in the United States. There are many leads connected with the gang which stretch all over the world and Poirot sets his inquiries in motion.
Three months later he finds himself in a remote part of the western coast of Ireland. He visits the convent where Casey's daughter became a nun but discovers that she had died two months earlier. Poirot makes the acquaintance of one of the locals who helps him break into the convent – where he recovers the goblet. He returns it to Power and tells him that the nuns were using it as a chalice. Casey's daughter probably took it there to atone for her father's sins and the nuns were ignorant of its ownership and ancient history. Poirot deduced it would be at the convent as there had been no trace of anyone having the goblet after it was stolen therefore it was somewhere where "ordinary material values did not apply". The mention of Casey's daughter being a nun supplied the obvious place. Poirot shows Power how, during the Renaissance, the Pope used a hidden mechanism in the goblet to put the poison in the victim's drink. Poirot suggests no good will come out of owning an object with such an evil history. If it was given back to the convent, the nuns will say masses for Power's soul. The art collector realises that his rapaciousness has made him unhappy and agrees to the suggestion.
- Hercule Poirot
- Emery Power
- Marchese di San Veratrino
- Patrick Casey
- Sir Reuben Rosenthal
- Inspector Wagstaffe
- Red Kate
- Kate Casey
- Convent of St Mary and All Angels
- Jimmy Donovan's Hotel
Tropes and themes
- Poirot mentions the Sherlock Holmes story "The Six Napoleons" when Inspector Wagstaffe suggests that the item could have been hidden away. However Poirot felt that a goblet was a lot bigger than a pearl and much harder to conceal.
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
Agatha Christie's Poirot
A television film with David Suchet as Poirot was produced as episode 4 of Series 13 of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 6 November 2013. The themes from several stories in the collection were woven loosely together for the plot of the film but no plot elements from "The Apples of Hesperides" were used.
- 1940: This Week, (New York), 12 May 1940 - as "Poison Cup"
- 1940: The Strand Magazine, Issue 597 (London), September 1940 with illustrations by Ernest Ratcliff
- 1947: The Labors of Hercules, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1947, Hardback, 265 pp
- 1947: The Labours of Hercules, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1947, Hardback, 256 pp
- 1962: The Saint Mystery Magazine, vol. 16 no. 1, May 1962.