Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Meet Elmer

No, not Elmer the patchwork elephant, but Elmer the flying monk of Malmesbury.

I am reading Great Tales from English History by Robert Lacey (review to come later), and came across this medieval character for the first time. Elmer (or Eilmer) was an eleventh century monk of scientific bent who developed a fascination with Daedalus, the ancient Greek who manufactured wings for himself and his son Icarus that melted when they flew too close to the sun. Elmer built his own "wings", jumped from the top of the church bell tower and managed to glide 200 metres before losing confidence or concentration and crash landing. He apparently worked out why after the event. As Robert Lacey puts it:

In his final years Elmer’s limping figure was a familiar sight around the abbey – and the would-be birdman would explain the failure of his great enterprise with wry humour. It was his own fault, he would say. As William [of Malmesbury] told it, ‘He forgot to fit a tail on his hinder parts.’
You can read the whole story here, as it is one of the sample chapters posted on Robert Lacey's website.

I love history.

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