“I plume myself on this achievement more than I could possibly do on any kind of glory, poetical, political or rhetorical.”Lord Byron: 1810, after successfully crossing the Hellespont
George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron was born on 22nd January 1788. A particularly dissolute father Captain “Mad Jack” Byron saw him fritter away his wife’s fortune and whose subsequent death in 1791 left his unstable wife and son in certain penury. Combined with such behaviour and being of ill-health, Byron’s contempt of his aristocratic relations and his affliction of his club foot left an indelible mark on his pride and sensitivity.
Having inherited the family title and estate in 1798, Byron spent a life seeking the difference between the high goals of idealism set against the less important realities of experience. To compensate Byron became a maverick in every sense. His physical disability was nullified by his physical passion of swimming.
It has to be noted that Byron’s swims appear to be the first recorded open water swims of modern times. Swims in Cambridge as an undergraduate led to adventures in the Grand Canal in Venice, the Tagus in Lisbon Harbour and his most famous, the Hellespont in Turkey.
He wrote one of his famous verses “Written After Swimming from Sestos to Abydos” in recognition of his swim and in praise of Hero’s nightly crossings to his beloved Leander.
- 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.
Lord Byron: 1810