A Hypothesis on the Pillars of Hercules and Their True Location

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Statue of Hercules known as the Pillars of Hercules.

A Hypothesis on the Pillars of Hercules and Their True Location


In this article, aimed at identifying the real location of the mythical Pillars of Hercules, it is first verified that in the works of Plutarch and Plato there are correct references to a continent beyond the Atlantic Ocean. Plutarch mentions a “great continent” surrounding the Atlantic Ocean and the islands that lie on that route, and then focuses on an ancient settlement of Europeans, called "continental Greeks", in the Canadian region of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, of which he indicates the latitude with astonishing precision. But already a few centuries earlier Plato, in addition to declaring himself certain of the existence of a continent beyond the Atlantic, had mentioned the islands along the route to reach it, also specifying that the haven from which the ancient navigators set sail was characterized by a “narrow entrance” and the Pillars of Hercules. Cross-referencing these data with the results of a recent study on European megalithism, which argues for the transfer of the megalithic concept over sea routes emanating from northwest France and for advanced maritime technology and seafaring in the Megalithic Age, it follows that this haven is identifiable with the Gulf of Morbihan, considered by scholars a focal point of the European Neolithic during the mid-5th millennium BC. This is exactly where, near its "narrow entrance", the remains are still found of an extraordinary alignment of nineteen gigantic menhirs: here are the Pillars of Hercules! On the other hand, the memory of ancient European settlements on the American side of the North Atlantic (perhaps also linked to the extraction of copper from the ancient mines of Isle Royale, the largest island in Lake Superior) seems to emerge from various clues, such as the persistence of myths and legends comparable to those of the Old World, as well as the Caucasian traits of some Native Americans, which seem to corroborate the idea of ancient contacts between the two opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Keywords: Heracles, Pillars of Hercules, Morbihan, Menhir Er Grah, Carnac, Wendat, Mandan, Isle Royale, Saguenay.


In one of his dialogues, “De Facie quae in Orbe Lunae Apparet”, the Greek writer Plutarch (ca. 45-125 AD) surprisingly states that in the Atlantic Ocean “an island, Ogygia, lies far away in the sea, five days' sail from Britain, in the direction of sunset. Further on, there are three other islands as distant from it as they are from each other”, and after “there is the great continent that surrounds the great sea” [1]. Shortly after, Plutarch also says that in those places the sun disappears during the summer for less than an hour per night, leaving “a light, twilight darkness” [2]. It is striking that these assertions correspond to the geographical reality of the Atlantic, where the American continent surrounds the ocean from the extreme north almost to the extreme south, and those four islands lie along the route to North America that the Vikings followed during the Medieval Warm Period [3]. Ogygia is identifiable with Nólsoy[4], an island in the Faroe archipelago, and the other three correspond to Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland. They are at a high latitude, which tallies with the shortness of the summer nights.

But even more surprising is what Plutarch states immediately afterwards: "On the coast of the continent Greeks dwell around a gulf which is not smaller than the Maeotis and the mouth of which lies on the same parallel as the mouth of the Caspian Sea. These people consider and call themselves Continentals"[5]. This indication allows us to immediately identify the gulf where those "continental Greeks" lived: indeed, the mouth of the Caspian Sea is the Volga Delta, which is at the latitude of 47°, the same as the Cabot Strait, where the Gulf of St. Lawrence opens into the Atlantic Ocean. Here too Plutarch shows surprising geographical knowledge, which confirms the reliability of his statements [6].

Still in that chapter of “De Facie”, Plutarch also mentions the "Sea of Cronus" (the name the ancient Greeks gave to the North Atlantic) and the "peoples of Cronus". Since according to Greek mythology, the god Cronus had been the lord of the happy Golden Age before being dethroned by Zeus, it can reasonably be assumed that the "peoples of Cronus" are the last memory of the megalithic civilization, which flourished during the Holocene Climatic Optimum (HCO), also called “Atlantic Climatic Optimum” [7] which ensured an exceptionally mild climate [8] in many parts of the world. When it ended, the far north was enveloped in a grip of frost and ice, which gradually made the northern route between the two opposite sides of the Atlantic more and more difficult. Indeed, the megalithic civilization—which was born in Europe in 5th millennium BC, as we will see shortly, during the climatic optimum—is much older than the Egyptian one. This corresponds to a news reported by Diodorus Siculus, according to which Osiris, the Egyptian god whom he defines as the “eldest son of Cronus”, travelled throughout the world, until he reached “those who incline towards the Pole” [9]. This seems to echo very ancient memories, perhaps dating back to a very remote period of predynastic Egypt, when the Holocene Climatic Optimum made even regions located at very high latitudes habitable.

Plutarch also tells us that there were several waves of colonization: “With the peoples of Cronus there mingled at a later time those who arrived in the train of Heracles and were left behind by him, and these latter so to speak rekindled again to a strong, high flame the Hellenic spark there which was already being quenched and overcome by the tongue, the laws, and the manners of the barbarians”[10]. From the mists of a remote prehistory, corresponding to the mythical Golden Age of the god Cronus, an extraordinarily lively and realistic story emerges.

At this point it is natural to ask how Plutarch managed to obtain this information. He himself mentions a foreigner who spent a lot of time in Carthage; however, certain news may have reached Rome from the Celtic world, following the military expeditions that the Romans made in Britain at that time, after Caesar's conquest of Gaul in the previous century. One could in fact suppose that here Plutarch is also referring to the oral tradition of the Druids (the cultured priestly class of the Celts) when at the beginning of his story, in focusing on Ogygia and its North Atlantic location, he writes: "The barbarians tell...”. On the other hand, Tacitus, almost the same age as Plutarch, quotes Odysseus—whose close relationship with the island Ogygia is well known [11]—in a Nordic key: "Some believe that even Odysseus in his long and legendary wanderings reached this ocean and landed to the lands of Germany"[12]. This mention of a "Nordic Odysseus" by Tacitus (whose father-in-law, Julius Agricola, was the governor of Roman Britain for seven years starting from 77 AD) fits well alongside Plutarch's speech on the North Atlantic location of Ogygia, corroborating the idea that both refer to a very ancient tradition, rediscovered following the recent expansion of the Romans towards northern Europe.

The fact that Tacitus also mentions a Nordic Hercules [13], when he states that the Germanic peoples held him in high regard, also fits perfectly into this picture. On the other hand, a few centuries earlier the Greek poet Pindar had also mentioned Heracles' contacts with the Hyperboreans [14]. Indeed, the figure of Heracles is not at all limited to the Greek world, to the point of being identified by the Greeks themselves with the Phoenician god Melqart [15]. This confirms his "international" dimension, certainly due to his antiquity (as also indicated by Roman mythology, in which Hercules appears as the protagonist of legends that refer to an era preceding the founding of Rome).

The Pillars of Hercules

Let us now return to the continent located beyond the Atlantic, where Plutarch surprisingly reports the presence of Heracles. Several centuries before Plutarch, Plato had also made a precise reference to it and to the islands along its route: “For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, 'the pillars of Heracles’, there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travellers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean. For all that we have here, lying within the mouth of which we speak, is evidently a haven having a narrow entrance; but that yonder is a real ocean, and the land surrounding it may most rightly be called, in the fullest and truest sense, a continent” [16].

Plato too, therefore, just as Plutarch does, mentions Heracles in relation to the Atlantic, the overseas continent and the islands found along the route, “for the ocean there was at that time navigable”. However, what is most striking in this passage are the three consecutive adverbs [17] with which Plato, who lived in the 4th century BC, announces with great emphasis the real existence of a continent beyond the Ocean, which was unknown at that time. In this regard, Enrico Turolla, one of the most eminent Greek scholars of the 20th century, in commenting on this passage maintains that "Plato is the bearer of a voice that comes from further away. He received, he arranged; he didn't invent; indeed, he has faithfully preserved it, as the reference to the continent beyond the sea undoubtedly demonstrates"[18].

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