The Strait of Messina is, at its narrowest point, just 2 miles wide. A number of classical writers refer to a time when Sicily was still connected to Italy. In fact legend has it that Heracles was responsible for their separation. However, Cyprian Broodbank has pointed out in his monumental work, The Making of the Middle Sea, that “Today, the Messina strait dividing it (Sicily) from peninsular Italy is a minimum of 3 km (2 miles) wide and 72 metres (235 ft) in depth at its shallowest point. On the face of it, therefore, Sicily and mainland Italy should have fused under full glacial conditions. Yet this spot lies on a plate boundary and has already risen several metres over the last 150 years for which accurate measurements exist. Add a 127,000-71,000-year-old beach now elevated 90m (300ft) above the sea near the strait and we might start to wonder whether Sicily was ever solidly attached to the other land.”[1127.91] Nevertheless, he does suggest that early man possibly had stepping-stones in the form of islets and shallows between the two landmasses.
The Strait of Messina had a reputation in antiquity for having dangerous currents, which are thought to be the inspiration for Homer‘s sea monsters, Scylla and Charybdis. Heinrich Schliemann supported this identification. The currents there are still very dangerous, but nevertheless the strait is a busy waterway with both commercial and pleasure craft, indicating that the conditions there can be mastered. The hazards were situated at the northern end of the Strait, where today there is a town appropriately called Scilla on the Calabrian side.
The strait is sometimes offered as an earlier site for the Pillars of Heracles prior to the Western Mediterranean becoming more frequently navigated by the ancient Greeks, at which time the term was transferred to the Strait of Gibraltar. Winfried Huf is a keen supporter of ‘Pillars’ having been located at Messina.*A constituent part of the Western Mediterranean was the Tyrrhenian Sea, which, for the Greeks, would have been most easily accessed through the Strait of Messina.*
The earliest westward expansion of the Greeks was understandably to what became known as Magna Graecia in Sicily and southern Italy. The Phoenician expansion was along the north African coast eventually establishing Carthage at the Strait of Sicily. The ships available at that time were not designed for the open sea, but were usually kept within sight of land. I am inclined to think that the early Greeks would have had the Strait of Messina as the location of their Pillars of Heracles leading to the little known Western Mediterranean (or Tyrrhenian Sea), apparently referred to by some as the ‘Atlantic Sea’, whereas the Strait of Sicily might have led to conflict with the Phoenicians!
Support for the idea of the Western Mediterranean being the ‘Sea of Atlantis’ with the ‘Pillars’ at the Strait of Messina is presented on a French forum(a), which offers the map below.
Heracles (Herakles) was a Greek mythical hero(c), later known to the Romans as Hercules.He is one of a number of mythical heroes who were reportedly abandoned as babies(f). He has also been identified with biblical Samson(a), the Phoenician Melqart and the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh(b). Dos Santos has decided that Hercules was originally the Hindu hero Vishnu[320.129], quoting Megasthenes (350-290 BC), the Greek geographer, in support of his contention. Others have referred to Megasthenes identifying Hercules with Krishna(e)(g).
He is usually portrayed as brandishing a club and wearing a lion’s head as a helmet, probably because he, like Samson, reputedly unarmed, overcame lions and since lions were not part of the fauna of ancient Greece it reasonable to assume that at least this part of the tale had an Asian or African origin, but the similarities don’t end there(a).
Euhemerists has suggested that he was a real historical figure, possibly a former king of Argos.
A more controversial suggestion has been made by Emmet J. Sweeney, in his 2001 book, Arthur and Stonehenge, in which the blurb for the book claims that “Arthur himself, he was the primitive bear-god “Artos”, the Celtic version of Hercules. Originally portrayed with a bear-skin over his head and shoulders and carrying a great oaken club, he became the prototype of the Greek Hercules when Hellenic traders, braving the wild waters of the Atlantic in search of tin, heard his story from the Britons.” However, Sweeney also identifies Moses “as an alter ego of Hercules.” in his Atlantis: The Evidence of Science[700.198].
There appears to have been a cult of Heracles that may have extended as far as Britain, where the Cerne Abbas chalk figure is sometimes claimed to represent him(d).
The term ‘Pillars of Heracles’ was used by the ancient Greeks to define the outer reaches of their limited seagoing range. This changed over time as their nautical capabilities improved. Some of the earlier ‘Pillars’ were located at the entrance to the Black Sea and the Strait of Sicily and the Strait of Messina. Later the term was applied exclusively to the Strait of Gibraltar.
(a) https://www.aeonjournal.com/articles/samson/samson.html (offline Jan. 2018) See Archive 3444