Swimming World Presents – The Art of Swimming: The Story of Hero and Leander, Lord Byron and the Birth of Open Water Swimming

Swimming World June 2021- The Art of Swimming - The Story of Hero and Leander, Lord Byron and the Birth of Open Water Swimming
Hero and Leander embrace before Leander departs for Abydos at dawn (William Etty, 1828/29, Tate Museum)

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The Art of Swimming:
The Story of Hero and Leander, Lord Byron and the Birth of Open Water Swimming

By Bruce Wigo
(with an assist from Ovid, Lord Byron and Christopher Marlowe)

On May 3, 1810, the romantic poet, Lord Byron (aka George Gordon) swam across the Dardanelles in imitation of the mythical Leander, who swam across the same water to be with his lover. Prior to Byron’s swim, it was generally believed that Leander’s swim was nothing but a myth—for no European could possibly swim that distance. Most aquatic historians point to this date and Byron’s feat as the birth of modern open water swimming.

Lord Byron wasn’t just a swimmer. He also was a celebrated poet, as popular in his day as Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Madonna are in our time. The New York Times has called him the original “Wild-and-Crazy” guy. His attitude was the epitome of “I don’t care what you think…I don’t play by your rules…I’m rich and famous, and I can do what I like.”

In spite of his fame as a poet, Byron often claimed that his greatest achievement was his swim of about two miles in the open water. Imagine the popularity of swimming if the three mentioned celebrities of today were as interested and
accomplished in swimming as Byron!

But enough about Lord Byron. This article is about the tale of unbridled passion that not only inspired his swim, but also the literature of Ovid, Gramaticus, Shakespheare, Marlowe—as well as the exhibit in the International Swimming Hall of Fame that memorializes it.

The Stage Is Set
The stage for Leander’s heroics was the narrow 40-mile-long strait that separates European Turkey and the Gallipoli Peninsula from Asiatic Turkey (see map above right). In ancient times, this strait was known as the Hellespont, and how it came to be so named is an interesting story in itself.

According to the Homeric legend, Helle and her brother, Phrixus, had the wickedest of stepmothers. Despairing of the children’s predicament, Neptune, the sea god, sent a winged, golden ram to their rescue. But while flying high over the sea, Helle looked down and panicked. She lost hold of her brother’s tunic, tumbled off the ram’s back and drowned in the sea below.

When Phrixus reached safety, he sacrificed the ram and hung its Golden Fleece in an orchard, where it was later found by his cousin, Jason, and his band of Argonauts. The sea where Helle drowned was henceforth known as the Hellespont or Helle’s sea. Today, this body of water is known as the Dardanelles.

Back to Leander, the hero of our story:
He lived on the Asiatic side of the strait in the prosperous trading port town of Abydos. He was an athletic and adventurous lad who, like many Greeks in his time, dreamed of making a name for himself as a warrior. As he approached his 21st year, he was thought to be not only the bravest youth in all of Greece, but also the handsomest. His mere presence made women melt…and if it had been his desire, he could have claimeda thousand hearts! But Leander cared little or such things.

Across from Abydos, on the opposite side of the strait, was Sestos, known throughout the ancient world for its magnificent Temple of Venus and its annual “Festival of Adonis.” Venus was the Goddess of Love, Fertility and Chastity—a virtue seemingly at odds with the festival since Adonis was her handsome and youthful lover. The festival was the ancient world’s Tinder, Bumble or Grinder, attracting thousands of lonely hearts hoping to find a husband, wife or lover.

Hero, our female protagonist, was one of the nuns who lived in the convent that cared for the Temple. She had served Venus since the age of 6—it then being a custom for wealthy families to dedicate one child to the gods at this age. As a nun, she was expected to keep her holy vows of chastity, fidelity and service to her patroness for 15 years, after which time she could either remain a nun of the Temple, where she was treated with the greatest respect, or leave it and marry, if that were her pleasure.

As Hero approached her 21st year, the fame of her loveliness had spread throughout the Greek world. It was said that Hero’s sweet smell and her breath’s scent made honey bees jealous! She was so lovely and fair, it was said, that nature wept at the mere thought of her losing her virginity. Many great princes traveled to Sestos with fantasies of returning home with Hero as their prize, but these dreams were quickly executed by Hero’s scornful eyes.

 

To read more about Hero’s charms, Triton, and Lord Byron’s poems,
Click here to download the full May 2021 issue of Swimming World Magazine, available now!

TSwimming World June 2021 - King 15 - Eddie Reese Retires After Leading Texas To 15th NCAA Championship
[PHOTO CREDIT: ISHOF ARCHIVE]


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Swimming World May 2021 Issue

FEATURES

014 WOMEN’S NCAAs: A NEW NO. 1
For the first time in the history of the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships—since 1982—the University of Virginia finished first. It was also the first time it cracked the top 5 with its previous highest finish sixth in 2019.

  • VIRGINIA’S ROAD TO HISTORY
    by Dan D’Addona
  • NC STATE ADDS TO ACC DOMINANCE
    by Dan D’Addona
  • THE TALK OF THE MEET: MAGGIE MacNEIL
    by John Lohn

018 MEN’S NCAAs: THE PERFECT RETIREMENT GIFT
Days before their coach, Eddie Reese, officially announced his retirement from coaching after 43 years, the Texas men’s team won their 15th men’s NCAA national team championship.

  • THIS ONE’S FOR EDDIE!
    by Andy Ross
  • SCINTILLATING PERFORMANCES: SHAINE CASAS & RYAN HOFFER
    by John Lohn
  • PATIENCE REWARDED: MAX McHUGH & NICK ALBIERO
    by Andy Ross

022 NCAA D-II CHAMPS: SOME THINGS NEVER SEEM TO CHANGE
by Andy Ross
A year into the pandemic that has completely changed our world, Queens University of Charlotte brought about some stability to the 2021 NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships by sweeping their sixth straight women’s and men’s team titles.

023 NO LIMITS!
by David Rieder
Claire Curzan has been swimming fast since she was a young age grouper and has continued to do so in high school. Last March, she came within 13-hundredths of the American record in the short course 100 fly, and in April, she found herself within 22-hundredths of the long course U.S. best. She’s versatile, she’s coachable, she has international experience, and she’s moved from a fringe Olympic contender to an Olympic favorite. Curzan is only 16, and her promising future couldn’t be brighter.

026 TAKEOFF TO TOKYO: WHEN IRISH EYES WEREN’T SMILING
by John Lohn
Ireland’s Michelle Smith—a four-time Olympic medalist in 1996 who received a four-year ban from the sport in 1998 for tampering with a doping sample—has been defined as being a poster girl for cheating, and by her willingness to cut corners and take advantage of performance-enhancing drug use to make the leap from an athlete of very-good skill to one of elite status.

029 50 SWIMMERS, 6 MEDALS
by Dan D’Addona
The Tokyo Olympics will mark the fourth occasion that open water swimming will be contested on the Olympic level, and even a 10-kilometer marathon race can bring exciting moments and dramatic finishes.

030 JOSH MATHENY: RISING STAR
by Matthew De George
From a middle-schooler newly committed to swimming full-time in 2016, the future looks encouraging for 18-year-old Josh Matheny, who approaches the U.S. Olympic Trials for Tokyo in June as a dark horse to make the team in men’s breaststroke.

032 ISHOF: THE ART OF SWIMMING
by Bruce Wigo
This is the story of Hero and Leander, Lord Byron and the birth of open water swimming.

035 NUTRITION: HYDRATION—BEYOND THIRST!
by Dawn Weatherwax
Hydration truly has a daily importance for all kinds of swimmers from age groupers to Olympians to Masters swimmers, but it tends to get more notoriety when the weather gets warmer.

COACHING

012 THE POWER OF POSITIVE COACHING
by Michael J. Stott
Relationships built upon honesty, trust and communication go a long way toward cementing a bond between coach and athlete. Coupling that with knowledge of the individual first and athlete second produces a positive working relationship that can last for a lifetime.

038 SWIMMING TECHNIQUE CONCEPTS: MAXIMIZING SWIMMING VELOCITY (Part 1)—STROKE RATE vs. STROKE LENGTH
by Rod Havriluk
Swimming velocity is the criterion measure for swimming performance and is the product of stroke length and stroke rate. This article explains how stroke length and stroke rate vary and how stroke time provides insight into maximizing swimming velocity.

042 Q&A WITH COACH STEVE HAUFLER
by Michael J. Stott

044 HOW THEY TRAIN CHARLOTTE SHAMIA
by Michael J. Stott

TRAINING

037 DRYSIDE TRAINING: THE IM DRYLAND CIRCUIT
by J.R. Rosania

JUNIOR SWIMMER

047 UP & COMERS: TEAGAN O’DELL
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

COLUMNS

008 A VOICE FOR THE SPORT

011 DID YOU KNOW: ABOUT THE MOREHOUSE TIGER SHARKS?

046 THE OFFICIAL WORD

048 GUTTERTALK

Swimming World is now partnered with the International Swimming Hall of Fame. To find out more, visit us at ishof.org

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