Something tells me Beowulf may not be based on a true story.
It starts out normal enough. We hear about the royal line of ancient Danes, and how it came to be that Hrothgar built a fabulous mead hall where his men could hang out and share out spoils of victories and plunderings. But then this rather unattractive demon/giant/ogre called Grendel gets annoyed with their singing and grog-fuelled goings on, and this is before the council had noise pollution officers to complain to, so he goes into the hall and kills everyone. This became something of a habit for Grendel, going for about twelve years. Beowulf, a fancy-pants warrior-type gets to hear about it, and comes over from Geatland (now southern Sweden) to offer his services as a Grendel-slayer. Beowulf tells Hrothgar some of his exciting stories, and Hrothgar is ever so impressed and very glad Beowulf has come to help, and it’s mead, cucumber sandwiches, French Fancies and Battenberg all round.
And then it all gets a little bit unbelievable. Later on, at said feast, a Dane who is jealous of the king’s admiration for this Geat warrior, tells the story of how Beowulf lost a swimming match between him and man called Breca. Apparently they swam for five days and nights, wearing chain mail, and holding ‘naked’ (unsheathed) swords (oo-er). How on earth do you swim with a sword? What kind of stroke works with a sword? Every stroke I have mimed in my bedroom with my pretend sword resulted in me stabbing myself. And apparently they were attacked by all kinds of sea creatures and Beowulf was pulled to the bottom by one, and they had to slay it, the delay making him lose the race. Five days, and five nights, in the chilly Scandinavian seas. No food, fresh water, nor sleep. I don’t bloody think so.
I have swum two miles in the Scottish North sea. The water was not friendly, I swallowed a lot of those choppy waves, and it took over two hours, I had a wet suit on and was full of glucose tablets, and still ended up with mild hypothermia.
I’m not saying if I can’t do it, then neither can Beowulf, just that no non-Greek/Roman/Norse god can swim for 120 hours in freezing seas wearing chain mail and holding a sword. He’s just a man. A man with a headband.