Jonathan Weiner
August 7, 2010

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Weiner’s new book Long for This World with the permission of Harper Collins.

Late August, late afternoon, cloudy-bright.

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We’d taken a corner table at the Eagle, just inside the red door on Benet Street. From there, the tavern’s windows looked across to the tower of St. Benet’s Parish Church, the oldest tower in the town of Cambridge and the county of Cambridgeshire. The church’s foundation stones were laid almost a thousand years ago, when England was ruled by King Canute, son of the Viking King Sweyn Forkbeard, distant descendant of Gorm the Old.

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A tavern stood across from that church tower in the year 1353, with beer for three gallons a penny — with shops and markets up and down the street, then as now, and around the corner the spires of the University of Cambridge, pointing at the same cloudy English sky. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First, the tavern was called the Eagle and Child. Elizabethan scholars would have stared up at its gently swaying signboard and (gently swaying themselves) remembered the myth of Zeus, who swooped from the clouds in the shape of an eagle, caught a child named Ganymede, and flew him off to Mount Olympus to serve as the gods’ cupbearer, one of the immortals.

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