Back to the Hellespont
- United Kingdom
More informationIt is 200 years since the poet Lord Byron swam the Hellespont, commemorating the feat in a poem and setting off a mania for swimming throughout Europe. He said it was his proudest moment.
His talent for swimming was one of the qualities that made him a legend and wherever he swam became almost a sacred spot. On the shore of the Bay of Spezzia, where Shelley drowned, stands a plinth dedicated to "Lord Byron, Noted English Swimmer and Poet". Note which comes first!
Comedian and Channel swimmer Doon Mackichan takes a look at the man and the event through his poetry and journal entries, comparing Byron's swim with the experiences of some of the swimmers who turn up every year for a race across this historical channel that separates Europe and Asia. Organised by the Canakkale Rotary Club, it is one of the highlights of the wild water swimming calendar.
Byron was inspired by Leander who, according to Ovid, nightly swam the strait to visit his beloved Hero and, after hours of love making, swam back home again. No slouch in the sack himself, Byron marvelled that Leander's conjugal powers were not "exhausted in his passage to Paradise".
Swimming gave Byron, lame as he was, some of the most exhilarating moments of his life. Only in swimming was he able to experience complete freedom of movement and freedom was a state he aspired to in all things - political and sexual.
How many of today's swimmers have been inspired by Byron to put pen to paper? The programme set them a challenge and you can hear some of the best entries alongside Byron's own effort.
The producer is Merilyn Harris, and this is a Testbed production for BBC Radio 4.