Odysseus and Herakles are two of the best known heroes in Greek mythology, both of whom had one important common experience, they each had to endure a series of twelve tests. However, although different versions of the narratives are to be found with understandable variations in the detail, the two stories remain substantially the same.
The two tales have been generally interpreted geographically although a minority view is that an astronomical/astrological interpretation was intended, as the use of twelve events in both accounts would seem to point to a connection with the zodiac!
Alice A. Bailey is probably the best known regarding Hercules in her book The Labours of Hercules, while Kenneth & Florence Wood have also proposed Homer’s work as a repository of astronomical data. Bailey’s work is available as a pdf file(d).
In geographical terms, Herakles and Odysseus share something rather intriguing. Nearly all of the ‘labours’ of Herakles (Peisander c 640 BC) and all of the ‘trials’ of Odysseus (Homer c.850 BC) are generally accepted to have taken place in the eastern Mediterranean. In fact, the first map of the geography of the Odyssey, was produced by Ortelius in 1597, which situated all of the locations in the central and eastern Mediterranean(e).
However, in both accounts, there is a suggestion that they experienced at least one of their adventures in the extreme western Mediterranean, at what many consider to be the (only) location of the Pillars of Heracles as defined by Eratosthenes centuries later (c.200 BC). Significantly, nothing happens over the 1100 mile (1750 km) journey on the way there and nothing occurs on the way back!
I think it odd that both share this same single, apparently anomalous location. I suggest that we should consider the possibility that the accounts of Heracles and Odysseus are possibly distorted versions of each other and that, in the later accounts of their exploits, the use of the extreme western location for the trial/labour is possibly only manifestations of a blind acceptance of the geographical claims of Eratosthenes or a biased view that this was always the case. A credible geographical revision of the location of those inconsistent activities by Odysseus and Heracles to somewhere other than the Gibraltar region would add weight to those, such as myself, that consider a Central Mediterranean location for the ‘Pillars’ more likely.
The German historian, Armin Wolf, relates how his research over 40 years unearthed 80 theories on the geography of the Odyssey, of which around 30 were accompanied by maps. In 2009, he published, Homers Reise: Auf den Spuren des Odysseus, a German language book that expands on the subject, concluding that all the wandering of Odysseus took place in the central and eastern Mediterranean. In a fascinating paper(a) he reviews many of these theories and offering his own ideas on the subject along with his own proposed maps, which exclude the western Mediterranean entirely. Wolfgang Geisthövel adopted Wolf’s conclusions in his Homer’s Mediterranean .
With regard to Hercules the anomalous nature of the ‘traditional’ location of Erytheia for his 10th ‘labour’ is evident on a map(b), while the 11th could be anywhere in North Africa.
Further study of the two narratives might offer further strong evidence for a central Mediterranean location for the ‘Pillars’ around the time of Solon! For example, “map mistress” places Erytheia in the vicinity of Sicily(c), while my personal choice would be the Egadi Islands further to the north, Egadi being a cognate of Gades, frequently linked with Erytheia.
The Strait of Gibraltar according to Greek mythology was created by Herakles. Neville Chipulina explains that “it seems that the person responsible for the myths about Hercules was Peisander of Rhodes, a 7th century BC Greek epic poet who apparently got the story from an unknown Pisinus of Lindus who almost certainly plagiarised it from somebody else. In other words it’s a pretty old story.”(c)
The Strait is very much a part of many current Atlantis theories. Primarily, it is contended that the region itself held the location of Atlantis. This is based on Plato’s statement that Eumelos, also known as Gadeirus, the twin brother of Atlas the first king of Atlantis gave his name to Gades, known today as Cadiz. Andalusia in Southern Spain has been the focus of attention for over a hundred years. In recent years Georgeos Diaz-Montexano and his rival Jacques Colina- Girard have been investigating the waters of the Strait itself while south of the Strait Jonas Bergman has advanced his theory that Atlantis was located just across the Strait in Morocco.
Although there is general acceptance that the Pillars of Heracles had their final resting place in the vicinity of the Strait of Gibraltar, it must be noted that there have been others candidates at different times with equally valid claims. The location of the ‘Pillars’ referred to by Plato at the time of Atlantis is the subject of continuing debate.
Strato, the philosopher, quoted by Strabo, spoke of a dam separating the Atlantic and the Mediterranean being breached by a cataclysm. This idea was reinforced by comment of Seneca. Furthermore, a number of Arabic writers, including Al-Mas’udi, Al-Biruni and Al-Idrisi, have all concurred with this idea of a Gibraltar land bridge in late prehistory.
A more radical theory is that of Paulino Zamarro who contends that the Strait was in fact closed by a landbridge during the last Ice Age because of the lower sea levels together with silting. When the waters rose and breached the landbridge, he believes that, the flood submerged Atlantis, which he situates in the Aegean. Others support Zamarro’s idea of a Gibraltar Dam amongst whom are Constantin Benetatos and Joseph S. Ellul.
Terry Westerman on his heavily illustrated website surveys impact craters globally. He suggests that “The Strait of Gibraltar was formed by two meteor impacts. The first blasted the round area in the western Mediterranean Sea to form a land bridge between Spain and Morocco.” He maintains that a second impact broke the landbridge around 5.33 million years ago, creating what is called the Zanclean Flood which refilled the then desiccated Mediterranean(d).
>A German language website(a) presented some of the following data+, apparently recording the dramatic widening of the Strait of Gibraltar between 400 BC and 400 AD. The same list was included in the ‘Strait of Gibraltar’ entry of the German Wikipedia(b) until a few years ago. It has since been removed.
+Damastes of Sigeum, circa 400 BC. – about 1.3 km
+Pseudo-Skylax, probably fourth Century BC – about 1.3 km
*Turiano Greslio? 300BC – 8.0 km
*+Titus Livius (Livy) 59 BC- 17 AD – 10.5 km
+Strabo 63 BC- 24 AD – from 9.5 to 13.0 km
+Pomponius Mela , 50 AD – about the 15.0 km
+Pliny the Elder , 50 AD – about 15.0 km
*+Victor Vicensa (*Vitensa?), 400 AD – about 18 km
The above figures suggest that in the latter half of the first millennium BC, the Strait of Gibraltar was gradually widened. Nevertheless, until the methods used and all the data on offer have been verified, the idea must be treated with great caution.
My list had orignally included Euctemon, the 5th century BC Athenian astronomer, however, Werner E. Friedrich notes that Euctemon was referring to the Sea of Marmara near the entrance to the Black Sea [0695.38].<
However, more recently, John Jensen Jnr. has offered a comparable, if shorter, numbers of dates showing the reducing width of the strait the further back you go until 3450 YBP, when he believes that a landbridge there was breached(e).
Georgeos Diaz-Montexano has also referred to the descriptions by ancient writers of the Strait of Gibraltar indicating a width of around two kilometres. Unfortunately, he does not cite references(f). He also is sympathetic to the existence an earlier landbridge at Gibraltar.
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