Where Are the Pillars of Hercules?
The Pillars of Hercules are on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar. The legendary Greek hero Hercules was said to have erected the Pillars on a journey to capture the Oxen of Geryon, a monster with three bodies who lived on an Atlantic island. Passing out of the Mediterranean he threw up the rocks on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar. They were the Rock of Gibraltar and the headland on the Moroccan side.
Hercule’s journey was one of the twelve labours that the son of Zeus had been set by Eurystheus, King of Tiryns, whose servant he had become. According to Greek mythology adopted by the Etruscans and Romans, when Hercules had to perform twelve labours, one of them (the tenth) was to fetch the Cattle of Geryon of the far West and bring them to Eurystheus; this marked the westward extent of his travels.
One of the most famous labours, the cleansing of the Augean stables. So innumerable were the herds of cattle that used these stables that, as they returned from pasture, they seemed to reach endlessly across the plain. Their stables were heaped high with manure and had not been cleaned for years. Hercules diverted the Rivers Alpheus and Pereus through them, and completed the task in one day. For his last labour he braved the Underworld to capture Cerberus, its three-headed watchdog.
A lost passage of Pindar quoted by Strabo was the earliest traceable reference in this context: “the pillars which Pindar calls the ‘gates of Gades’ when he asserts that they are the farthermost limits reached by Heracles”. Since there has been a one-to-one association between Heracles and Melqart since Herodotus, the “Pillars of Melqart” in the temple near Gades/Gádeira (modern Cádiz) have sometimes been considered to be the true Pillars of Hercules.
Plato placed the fictional island of Atlantis beyond the “Pillars of Hercules”. Renaissance tradition says the pillars bore the warning Ne plus ultra (also Non plus ultra, “nothing further beyond”), serving as a warning to sailors and navigators to go no further.
According to some Roman sources, while on his way to the garden of the Hesperides on the island of Erytheia, Hercules had to cross the mountain that was once Atlas. Instead of climbing the great mountain, Hercules used his superhuman strength to smash through it. By doing so, he connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and formed the Strait of Gibraltar. One part of the split mountain is Gibraltar and the other is either Monte Hacho or Jebel Musa. These two mountains taken together have since then been known as the Pillars of Hercules, though other natural features have been associated with the name.
Diodorus Siculus, however, held that, instead of smashing through an isthmus to create the Straits of Gibraltar, Hercules “narrowed” an already existing strait to prevent monsters from the Atlantic Ocean from entering the Mediterranean Sea.