Lord Byron took a swim across the Hellespont 200 years ago today in honour of Leander, the classical hero who took a dip to reach his lover, Hero. The Hellespont, or the Dardanelles, refers to the strait separating the Turkish Asia Minor from the Gallipoli Peninsula in Thrace.
This isn’t the only great classical event to have taken place here. According to Herodotus, the Persian King Xerxes I gave the waters of the Hellespont a sound thrashing for washing away his bridges and beheaded those who had built them.
Hats off to his Lordship then for taking on such an epic swim, though if this poem’s bathetic ending is to be believed the feat gave him a bit of a chill:
If, in the month of dark December,
Leander, who was nightly wont
(What maid will not the tale remember?)
To cross thy stream, broad Hellespont!
If, when the wintry tempest roared,
He sped to Hero, nothing loath,
And thus of old thy current poured,
Fair Venus! how I pity both!
For me, degenerate modern wretch,
Though in the genial month of May,
My dripping limbs I faintly stretch,
And think I’ve done a feat today.
But since he crossed the rapid tide,
According to the doubtful story,
To woo -and -Lord knows what beside,
And swam for Love, as I for Glory;
‘Twere hard to say who fared the best:
Sad mortals! thus the gods still plague you!
He lost his labour, I my jest;
For he was drowned, and I’ve the ague.