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Eilmer the Eagle, Wiltshire

The story of Icarus and Daedalus Ė escaping captivity by flight, Daedalusís son Icarus flying too near the sun and plunging to his death when the wax holding his wings together melted - has fascinated those of an enquiring mind for millennia. Is it just a fable, or was it based on some true incident? It is said, with little reason to doubt the story as factual, that in the early 11th century in Malmesbury a young monk called Eilmer (alternatively Elmer, which seems so much more prosaic), a man already learned in mathematics, took the ancient story at face value. Eilmer decided to repeat the flight for himself.
The tale is related by the monastic historian William of Malmesbury, and as he would for a time have known Eilmer we can only believe the story is rooted in fact.
Eilmer had it seems studied the flight of jackdaws, more particularly their gliding. He may also have been inspired by the angels carved into the stonework of his abbey . He made for himself wings that were attached to his arms and his feet, and launched into the unknown from either the abbey tower (the building before the current one), or a Saxon fortified tower nearby. The flight took him about 220 yards before his nerve suddenly failed, or the wind gusted. Destabilized he plunged to earth breaking both legs. He was lame ever after, but that didnít put him off planning a second attempt, this time with a tail to help his balance. Sadly for the history of flight his abbot banned him from attempting the feat again. Eilmer lived to tell the tale, and to become a noted scholar in his day.

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