NF (1995) The Pillars of Hercules

—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“[Theroux’s] observations come in hilarious quips and thought-provoking bolts…. Disdaining museums, ruins and ‘famous graves,’ he seeks out human encounters, from rich retirees on a luxury cruise to ragged beggars in Albania, from intellectual writers such as Naguib Mahfouz and Paul Bowles to the punks of Cagliari.”

—The Kansas City Star

“Vivid … Theroux flourishes in the gritty texture of daily life in all these ports, where he eats the food, sleeps in the hotels, eats in the low-rent cafes that most locals do—and, like them, seeks the water.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

“Powerful … A nimble, multilayered armchair journey, bristling with sights, sounds, smells, anecdotes, brief encounters, snippets of erudition, reading suggestions, impromptu decisions, moments of danger, bursts of indignation, sudden ecstasies … Theroux’s keen wit and descriptive gifts are in peak form.”

—The Sunday Oregonian

“Travel writing at its eccentric best—a mix of irony, adventure lucidity, and cross-grained crankiness.”

—Entertainment Weekly

“In the best tradition of the 19th-century Grand Tour, Theroux’s travels provide an unsentimental education in history and human nature, drawn not from museums and monuments but from a varied, and occasionally surprising, landscape peopled with an array of memorable characters. Certainly there is lots of meaty material to work with: centuries of art and architecture, classical myths and contemporary writers, the constant movement of emigrants, refugees, and travelers. And Theroux rises wonderfully to the occasion.”

—Islands Magazine

“A beautiful adventure.”

(starred review)

By the Same Author

Fong and the Indians
Girls at Play
Jungle Lovers
Sinning with Annie
Saint Jack
The Black House
The Family Arsenal
The Consul’s File
A Christmas Card
Picture Palace
Londom Snow
World’s End
The Mosquito Coast
The London Embassy
Half Moon Street
My Secret History
Chicago Loop
Millroy the Magician
My Other Life
Kowloon Tong
Hotel Honolulu

V. S. Naipaul

The Great Railway Bazaar
The Old Patagonian Express
The Kingdom by the Sea
Sailing Through China
Sunrise with Seamonsters
The Imperial Way
Riding the Iron Rooster
To the Ends of the Earth
The Happy Isles of Oceania
Fresh Air Fiend
Sir Vidia’s Shadow

A Fawcett Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group

Copyright © 1995 by Cape Cod Scriveners Company

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Excerpt from “At Algeciras—A Meditation upon Death,” from
The Poems of W. B. Yeats. A New Edition
, by Richard J. Fenneran, reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., copyright © 1933 by Macmillan Publishing Company, renewed by Bertha Georgie Yeats, in the U.S., and Michael Yeats in the U.K. and Canada.

Excerpts of the
The Odyssey
by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, copyright © 1961, 1963 by Robert Fitzgerald and renewed 1989 by Benedict R. C. Fitzgerald. Reprinted by permission of Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Excerpt from “The Next Time,” from
The Collected Poems of Robert Graves
, reprinted with permission from Oxford University Press, in the U.S., and Carcanet Press in the U.K. and Canada.

The edition published by arrangement with G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Fawcett is a registered trademark and the Fawcett colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 96-96586

eISBN: 978-0-307-79028-6

Map by John Burgoyne


To the memory of my father,
Albert Eugene Theroux,
13 January 1908–30 May 1995


Have you ever reflected on what an important sea the Mediterranean is?

—James Joyce in a letter to his brother Stanislaus

The Mediterranean is an absurdly small sea; the length and greatness of its history makes us dream it larger than it is.

—Lawrence Durrell,

The Cable Car to the Rock of Gibraltar

eople here in Western Civilization say that tourists are no different from apes, but on the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the Pillars of Hercules, I saw both tourists and apes together, and I learned to tell them apart. I had traveled past clumps of runty stunted trees and ugly houses (the person who just muttered, “Oh, there he goes again!” must read no further) to the heights of the Rock in a metal box suspended by a cable. Gibraltar is just a conspicuous pile of limestone, to which distance lends enchantment; a very small number of people cling to its lower slopes. Most of them are swarthy and bilingual, speaking intelligible English, and Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Mention Spain to them and they become very agitated, though they know that as sure as eggs are
the British will eventually hand them over to the King of Spain, just as they chucked Hong Kong into the horny hands of the dictator of China.

The Rock Apes of Gibraltar are Barbary macaques
(Macaca sylvanus)
, the only native apes in Europe. The apes are still resident, and have lived there longer than most Gibraltarian families. There is a social order among the ape tribes, as well as ape rituals that are bizarre enough to be human. Ape corpses and skeletons are never found on the Rock. Somewhere in the recesses of this rock that looks like a mountain range there is said to be a secret mortuary established by the apes; ape funerals, ape mourning, ape burials. The apes are well established, but disadvantaged—unemployed,
unwaged, destitute welfare recipients. The municipal government allocates money to feed them.

But there might be darker motive in this food aid. A powerful superstition, held by locals, suggests that if the apes vanish from Gibraltar, the Rock will cease to be British. For hundreds of years—since 1740, in fact—the apes have been mentioned by travelers—Grand Tourists, in whose footsteps I was following. Yet Gibraltar has been visited almost since Hercules, patron of human toil, flung it there on his journey to capture the Red Oxen of Geryones, the monster with three bodies (Labor Ten). He tossed another rock across the straits, Ceuta in Morocco. These two promontories, Cape and Abya to the Greeks—the Mediterranean bottleneck—are the twin Pillars of Hercules.

My idea was to travel from one pillar to the other, the long way, with the usual improvisations en route that are required of the impulsive traveler; all around the Mediterranean coast, the shores of light.

“The grand object of traveling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean,” Dr. Johnson said. “On those shores were the four great Empires of the world; the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman. All our religion, almost all our law, almost all our arts, almost all that sets us above savages, has come to us from the shores of the Mediterranean.”

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