At the time of Lord Byron’s Hellespont swim, he had published some poetry but had not yet established himself as one of the great Romantic poets. His successful crossing, though, got his muse talking, and he produced “Written after Swimming from Sestos to Abydos,” a satiric poem in homage to the swim and to the Greek myth of Hero and Leander. Leander, a young man from Abydos, falls in love with Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite who lives in a tower in Sestos. Every night, Leander swims the four miles of the Hellespont to visit Hero, guided by her lamp. One night the lamp blows out, and he drowns, overcome by the waves and currents. She throws herself from her tower to join him in death.
Byron, however, escaped with a bout of fever and chills, but for all his jaunty tone, he felt that swimming coaxed him out of melancholy, opened up his creative stores, and gave him access to his best self. In truth, the Hellespont became a touchstone for him and the strenous swim was what loosed his imagination. In time, “Byronic” would be a label for our most passionate seekers, swimmers, and artists. Byron came to represent a “concentrated mind,” as well as “high spirits, wit, daylight good sense, and a passion for truth—in short a unique discharge of intellectual vitality.” — Bonnie Tsui
This well-travelled story mentions the myriad motivations people have to jump in the water. Together these tales make a good case for swimming in the open water and why, see quote above, it makes for a more rewarding dive. Ranging from the Icelandic hero, Guðlaugur Friðþórsson to the Greek Hero, and from the Japanese Samurais to the Oceans Seven Swimmers. Each bring their own inspiring aspect to the table and the total sum makes swimming outdoors an admirable and worthwhile endeavour. The key is to not be afraid of the water’s depths, its darkness and its potential to draw you down. Ultimately, you’ll arise from the water anew; that’s what John would do with you.
I give “Why We Swim” four