The traditional unicorn has a billy-goat beard, a lion's tail, and cloven hooves
which distinguish him from a horse.
(from Latin unus
'one' and cornus
'horn') is a
legendary creature whose power is exceeded only by its mystery. Though the
modern popular image of the unicorn is sometimes that of a horse differing only
in the horn on its forehead, the traditional unicorn has a billy-goat beard, a
lion's tail, and cloven hooves, which distinguish him from a horse.
Marianna Mayer has observed (The Unicorn and the Lake
), "The unicorn is
the only fabulous beast that does not seem to have been conceived out of human
fears. In even the earliest references he is fierce yet good, selfless yet
solitary, but always mysteriously beautiful. He could be captured only by unfair
means, and his single horn was said to neutralize poison."
Uses of unicorn horn
"i love unicorns i think that they are still around in the world"
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Many types of horns were sold as unicorn horns, which were highly
sought-after as a defence against poison. One of many references is Ctesias's
reports on the unicorn (or perhaps the rhinoceros) in India:
- Those who drink out of cups made from [the horn] are proof against
convulsions, epilepsy, and even poison, provided that before or after having
taken it they drink some wine or water or other liquid out of these cups.
The ability of unicorn horns to neutralize poison has been touted since the
time of Aristotle. The English
ambassador to the French court was treated in 1596 with medicine containing
"musk, amber, gold, pearl and unicorn’s horn", the efficacy of the ingredients
being directly related to their rarity and expense.
"Inside Westminster Hall, part of the Palace of Westminster tour that includes the Houses of Lords and Commons."
Unicorns in antiquity
A one-horned, animal (which may be just a bull in profile) is found on some
seals from the Indus Valley civilization.
Seals with such a design are thought to be a mark of high social rank.
An animal called the re'em is mentioned in several places in the
Bible, often as a metaphor representing strength. "The allusions to the re'em
as a wild, untamable animal of great strength and agility, with mighty horn or
horns (Job 39:9-12, Ps 22:21, 29:6, Num 23:22, 24:8, Deut 33:17 comp. Ps 92:11),
best fit the aurochs (Bos primigenius). This view is supported by the
Assyrian rimu, which is often used as a metaphor of strength, and is
depicted as a powerful, fierce, wild, or mountain bull with large horns."
This animal was often depicted in ancient Mesopotamian art in profile with only
one horn visible.
The translators of the King James Version of the Bible (1611) employed
unicorn to translate re'em, providing a recognizable animal that was
proverbial for its untameable nature.
- Job 39:9-12: Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide
by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with band in the furrow? or will he
harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is
great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him? Wilt thou believe him, that he will
bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?
- Psalms 29:6: He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion
like a young unicorn.
- Numbers 24:8: ...he hath as it were the strength of a unicorn
Unicorns are not found in Greek mythology, but rather in accounts of natural
history for Greek writers on natural history were convinced of the reality of
the unicorn, which they located in India, a distant and fabulous realm for them.
The earliest description is from Ctesias who described them as wild asses, fleet
of foot, having a horn a cubit and a half in length and coloured white, red and
black. Aristotle must be
following Ctesias when he mentions two one-horned animals, the oryx (a kind of
antelope) and the so-called "Indian ass".
Strabo says that in the Caucasus there were one-horned horses with stag-like
heads. Pliny the Elder mentions the
oryx and an Indian ox (perhaps a rhinoceros) as one-horned beasts, as well as "a
very fierce animal called the monoceros (μονοκερως), which has the head of the
stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar, while the rest of the
body is like that of the horse; it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a single
black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits in
length." In De natura animalium,
Aelian, quoting Ctesias, adds that India produces also a one-horned horse (iii.
41; iv. 52), and says (xvi. 20) that the monoceros was sometimes called
carcazonon, which may be a form of the Arabic carcadn, meaning
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Though the qilin (Chinese: 麒麟), a
creature in Chinese mythology, is sometimes called "the Chinese unicorn", it is
a hybrid animal that looks less unicorn than chimera, with the body of a deer,
the head of a lion, green scales and a long forwardly-curved horn. The Japanese
version (called a kirin) more closely resembles the Western unicorn, even
though it is based on the Chinese qilin.
Medal of Cecilia Gonzaga by Pisanello ,1447
Medieval knowledge of the fabulous beast stemmed from biblical and ancient
sources, and the creature was variously represented as a kind of wild ass, goat,
or horse. By AD 200, Tertullian had called the unicorn a small fierce kidlike
animal, and a symbol of Christ. Ambrose, Jerome and Basil agreed.
The predecessor of the medieval bestiary, compiled in Late Antiquity and
known as Physiologus, popularized an elaborate allegory in which a
unicorn, trapped by a maiden (representing the Virgin Mary) stood for the
Incarnation. As soon as the unicorn sees her it lays its head on her lap and
falls asleep. This became a basic emblematic tag that underlies medieval notions
of the unicorn, justifying its appearance in every form of religious art.
The unicorn also figured in courtly terms: for some thirteenth-century French
authors such as Thibaut of Champagne and Richard of Fournival, the lover is
attracted to his lady as the unicorn is to the virgin. This courtly version of
salvation provided an alternative to God's love and was assailed as heretical
Triumph of Chastity.
. With the rise of humanism, the unicorn also
acquired more orthodox secular meanings, emblematic of chaste love and faithful
marriage. It plays this role in Petrarch's
The royal throne of Denmark was made of "unicorn horns". The same material
was used for ceremonial cups because the unicorn's horn continued to be believed
to neutralize poison, following classical authors.
The unicorn, tameable only by a virgin woman, was well established in medieval
lore by the time Marco Polo described them as:
- scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet
like an elephant's. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the
forehead... They have a head like a wild boar's… They spend their time by
preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at.
They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let
themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions.
It is clear that Marco Polo was describing a rhinoceros. In German, since the
sixteenth century, Einhorn ("one-horn") has become a descriptor of the
various species of rhinoceros.
In popular belief, examined wittily and at length in the seventeenth century
by Sir Thomas Browne in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica, unicorn horns could
People who feared poisoning sometimes drank from goblets made of "unicorn horn"..
people who feared poisoning sometimes drank from goblets made of "unicorn horn".
Alleged aphrodisiac qualities and other purported medicinal virtues also drove
up the cost of "unicorn" products such as milk, hide, and offal. Unicorns were
also said to be able to determine whether or not a woman was a virgin; in some
tales, they could only be mounted by virgins.
The statue of a unicorn in the Abbey of Herkenrode, Kuringen, Hasselt, Belgium.
The Hunt of the Unicorn
One traditional method of hunting unicorns involved entrapment by a virgin.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote the following on the unicorn:
- "The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control
itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness;
and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in
her lap, and thus the hunters take it."
The famous late Gothic series of seven tapestry hangings, The Hunt of the
Unicorn are a high point in European tapestry manufacture, combining both
secular and religious themes. The tapestries now hang in the Cloisters division
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the series, richly dressed
noblemen, accompanied by huntsmen and hounds, pursue a unicorn against
millefleurs backgrounds or settings of buildings and gardens. They bring the
animal to bay with the help of a maiden who traps it with her charms, appear to
kill it, and bring it back to a castle; in the last and most famous panel, “The
Unicorn in Captivity,” the unicorn is shown alive again and happy, chained to a
pomegranate tree surrounded by a fence, in a field of flowers. Scholars
conjecture that the red stains on its flanks are not blood but rather the juice
from pomegranates, which were a symbol of fertility. However, the true meaning
of the mysterious resurrected Unicorn in the last panel is unclear. The series
was woven about 1500 in the Low Countries, probably Brussels or Liège, for an
unknown patron. There is a set of six engravings on the same theme, treated
rather differently, by the French artist Jean Duvet, created in the 1540s.
Another famous set of six tapestries called the Dame à la licorne
(Lady with the unicorn) in the Musée de Cluny, Paris, were also woven in the
Southern Netherlands before 1500, and show the five senses (the gateways to
temptation) and finally Love ("A mon seul desir" the legend reads), with
unicorns featured in each piece.
Facsimiles of the unicorn tapestries are currently being woven for permanent
display in Stirling Castle, Scotland, to take the place of a set recorded in the
Castle in the 16th century.
In heraldry, a unicorn is depicted as a horse with a goat's cloven hooves and
beard, a lion's tail, and a slender, spiral horn on its forehead. Whether
because it was an emblem of the Incarnation or of the fearsome animal passions
of raw nature, the unicorn was not widely used in early heraldry, but became
popular from the fifteenth century. Though sometimes shown collared, which may
perhaps be taken in some cases as an indication that it has been tamed or
tempered, it is more usually shown collared with a broken chain attached,
showing that it has broken free from its bondage and cannot be taken again.
It is probably best known from the royal arms of Scotland and the United
Kingdom: two unicorns support the Scottish arms; a lion and a unicorn support
the UK arms. The arms of the Society of Apothecaries in London has two golden
Alleged skeletal evidence
Among numerous finds of prehistoric bones found at Einhornhöhle ("Unicorn
Cave") in Germany's Harz Mountains, some were selected and reconstructed by the
mayor of Magdeburg, Otto von Guericke, as a unicorn in 1663. Claims that the
so-called unicorn had only two legs (and was constructed from fossil bones of
mammoths and other animals) are contradicted or explained by accounts that
souvenir-seekers plundered the skeleton; these accounts further claim that,
perhaps remarkably, the souvenir-hunters left the skull, with horn. The skeleton
was examined by Leibniz, who had previously doubted the existence of the
unicorn, but was convinced thereby.
Baron Georges Cuvier maintained that as the unicorn was cloven-hoofed it must
therefore have a cloven skull (making impossible the growth of a single horn);
to disprove this, Dr. W. Franklin Dove, a University of Maine professor,
artificially fused the horn buds of a calf together, creating a one-horned bull.
The German unicorn
skeleton allegedly discovered in 1663
P.T. Barnum once exhibited a unicorn skeleton, which was exposed as a hoax.
Since the rhinoceros is the only known land animal to possess a single horn, it has often been supposed that the unicorn legend originated from encounters between Europeans and rhinoceroses"..
Since the rhinoceros is the only known land animal to possess a single horn,
it has often been supposed that the unicorn legend originated from encounters
between Europeans and rhinoceroses. The Woolly Rhinoceros would have been quite
familiar to Ice-Age people, or the legend may have been based on the surviving
rhinoceroses of Africa. Europeans and West Asians have visited Sub-Saharan
Africa for as long as we have records.
Chinese from the time of the Han Dynasty had also visited East Africa, which
may account for their odd legends of 'one-horned ogres'. The Ming dynasty
voyages of Zheng He brought back giraffes, which were identified by the Chinese
with another creature from their own legends, the Qilin, a deerlike creature,
also with a single horn.
One suggestion is that the unicorn is based on an extinct animal sometimes
called the "Giant Unicorn" but known to scientists as Elasmotherium, a
huge Eurasian rhinoceros native to the steppes, south of the range of the woolly
rhinoceros of Ice Age Europe. Elasmotherium looked little like a horse,
but it had a large single horn in its forehead. It seems to have become extinct
about the same time as the rest of the glacial age megafauna.
However, according to the Nordisk familjebok and science writer Willy
Ley the animal may have survived long enough to be remembered in the legends of
the Evenk people of Russia as a huge black bull with a single horn in the
There is also testimony by the medieval traveller Ibn Fadlan, who is usually
considered a reliable source, which suggests that Elasmotherium may have
survived into historical times:
- "There is nearby a wide steppe, and there dwells, it is told, an animal
smaller than a camel, but taller than a bull. Its head is the head of a ram, and
its tail is a bull’s tail. Its body is that of a mule and its hooves are like
those of a bull. In the middle of its head it has a horn, thick and rouisnd, and
as the horn goes higher, it narrows (to an end), until it is like a spearhead.
Some of these horns grow to three or five ells, depending on the size of the
animal. It thrives on the leaves of penof trees, which are excellent greenery.
Whenever it sees a rider, it approaches and if the rider has a fast horse, the
horse tries to escape by running fast, and if the beast overtakes them, it picks
the rider out of the saddle with its horn, and tosses him in the air, and meets
him with the point of the horn, and continues doing so until the rider dies. But
it will not harm or hurt the horse in any way or manner.
- "The locals seek it in the steppe and in the forest until they can kill
it. It is done so: they climb the tall trees between which the animal passes. It
requires several bowmen with poisoned arrows; and when the beast is in between
them, they shoot and wound it unto its death. And indeed I have seen three big
bowls shaped like Yemen seashells, that the king has, and he told me that they
are made out of that animal’s horn."
Even if Elasmotherium is not the creature described by Ibn Fadlan,
ordinary rhinoceroses may have some relation to the unicorn. In support of this
claim, it has been noted that the 13th century traveller Marco Polo claimed to
have seen a unicorn in Java, but his description (quoted above) makes it clear
to the modern reader that he actually saw a Javanese rhinoceros.
A mutant goat
The connection that is sometimes made with a single-horned goat derives from
the vision of Daniel:
- And as I was considering, behold, a he-goat came from the west over the
face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable
horn between his eyes. Daniel 8:5
In the domestic goat, a rare deformity of the generative tissues can cause
the horns to be joined together; such an animal could be another possible
inspiration for the legend. A farmer and a circus owner also produced fake
unicorns, remodelling the "horn buttons" of goat kids in such a way that their
horns grew together into a single one.
The Japanese kirin is depicted as a bearded one-horned goat.
The unicorn horns often found in cabinets of curiosities and other contexts
in Medieval and Renaissance Europe were very often examples of the distinctive
straight spiral single tusk of the narwhal, an Arctic cetacean (Monodon
monoceros), as Danish zoologist Ole Worm established in 1638.
They were brought south as a very valuable trade, passing the various tests
intended to spot fake unicorn horns. The usual depiction of the unicorn horn in
art derives from these.
The oryx is an antelope with two long, thin horns projecting from its
forehead. Some have suggested that seen from the side and from a distance, the
oryx looks something like a horse with a single horn (although the 'horn'
projects backward, not forward as in the classic unicorn). Conceivably,
travellers in Arabia could have derived the tale of the unicorn from these
animals. However, classical authors seem to distinguish clearly between oryxes
and unicorns. The Peregrinatio in terram sanctam, published in 1486, was
the first printed illustrated travel-book, describing a pilgrimage to Jerusalem,
and thence to Egypt by way of Mount Sinai. It featured many large woodcuts by
Erhard Reuwich, who went on the trip, mostly detailed and accurate views of
cities. The book also contained pictures of animals seen on the journey,
including a crocodile, camel, and unicorn - presumably an oryx, which they could
easily have seen on their route.
In Southern Africa the eland has somewhat mystical or spiritual connotations,
perhaps at least partly because this very large antelope will defend itself and
others against lions, and was able to kill these fearsome predators at a time
when people had only slow-acting poisoned arrows to defend themselves with.
Eland are very frequently depicted in the rock art of the region, which implies
that they were viewed as having a strong connection to the other world, and in
several languages the word for eland and for dance is the same; significant
because shamans used dance as their means of drawing power from the other world.
Eland fat was used when mixing the pigments for these pictographs, and in the
preparation of many medicines. This special regard for the eland may well have
been picked up by early travellers. In the area of Cape Town one horned eland
are known to occur naturally, perhaps as the result of a recessive gene, and
were noted in the diary of an early governor of the Cape
There is also a purported unicorn horn in the castle of the McLeod clan chief in
Scotland, which has been identified as that of an eland.
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Unicorns are real. Some people will go right up to you and say '' You are so
stupid in believing in them.'' Yah maybe so but KEEP YOUR OPINION TO YOUR
SELF!!!! I LIKE TO BELIEVE SO BACK OFF!! But some times you just feel like you
have to do some thing in life. Maybe the unicorn believers will get to see some
of the very last ones.
i love unicorns i think that they are still around in the world
there are many types of animals scientists say are out there undiscovered, so
why not the unicorn and all other so called fantasy creatures! :) :) :)
Everything is real as long as anybody does believe in its existence.
i love unicorns!!!!!!!!!
It seems more plausible to believe in a horse with a single horn than a whale
with one., and we have seen the narwhal.
Must we see something first before we believe it is real? Does not everything
that exists, exist first and then later is seen?
You guys make me laugh.
unicorns are awesome!
I believe in fairies...
omg unicorns are awesome. i don't know if their real though. hey i am doing a
report on them. does anyone have any ideas? omg they are so cute.
i can't believe there are facts about a unicorn on here
Unicorns are totally real, it says so in the bible. I believe in them so
everyone else should too. No one has any proof that they aren't real.
UNICORNS ARE REAL!!!
UNICORNS ARE AWESOME THEY ARE SO TOTALLY REAL SO DON'T BE HATEN ON
UNICORNS!!!!!!!!! - I LOOOOOOOVE UNICORS;]
They have scientific basis; I have no reason to believe it until it is proven
wrong, and vice versa.
i wish unicorns were real
the myth of unicorns is real
cancer is real...unicorns are not
oh my gosh unicorns
unicorns are pretty but wish they could be in real life
I love unicorns!!!
Unicorns are real have you noticed that all ancient cultures from serious like
caves to civilisation have used the same creature in likeness to a unicorn as a
symbol of strength and freedom in every culture and they could just be a cross
between a rhino and a horse. All countries have used a creature that bears the
likeness of a unicorn but all have something different they aren't a rare thing,
well they are, but they are a species as you might have read all their unicorns
are different that's because they are a species and have different breeds of
unicorn. And the part about the horn being able to cure poison it could be an
enzyme that the horn excretes. So I with all logical fact and belief I believe
they are real they are just endangered and are in small numbers
unicorns rule! when i was younger, i was like obsessed with them. i don't like
the German skeleton thing though :-S
Unicorns are always with us, floating around us, and watching us, protecting us.
i luv them & i believe they exist!!
Unicorns do exist! I just love them, and i saw them!
OMG OMG UNICORNS!!!!
there is really no such thing as a unicorn
why r they called unicorns ?
good info amy
appears the name Unicorn comes from the Latin
n u s (one) + c o r n u (Horn)
I sleep with real unicorns in the wild.
are unicorns real????
they are real
these unicorns are so cool!
Unicorns are just bison
i think you people are all crazy -- love kia & esia
i love unicorns but some people think that they don't exist
and even if they don't i believe that they do !