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Fabled Unicorn


The gentle and pensive virgin has the power to tame the unicorn, in this fresco in Palazzo Farnese, Rome, probably by Domenichino, ca 1602

The traditional unicorn has a billy-goat beard, a lion's tail, and cloven hooves which distinguish him from a horse.

The unicorn (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.[1] 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

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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.[2]

The ability of unicorn horns to neutralize poison has been touted since the time of Aristotle.[3] 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.[4]

Fabled Unicorn inside Westminster Hall


"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.[5] Seals with such a design are thought to be a mark of high social rank.[6]

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."[7] 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.

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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.[2] Aristotle must be following Ctesias when he mentions two one-horned animals, the oryx (a kind of antelope) and the so-called "Indian ass".[8][9] Strabo says that in the Caucasus there were one-horned horses with stag-like heads.[10] 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."[11] 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 "rhinoceros".

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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.

Fabled Unicorn - Medal of Cecilia Gonzaga by Pisanello ,1447


Medal of Cecilia Gonzaga by Pisanello ,1447

Medieval unicorns

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 . 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 Triumph of Chastity.

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 neutralize

People who feared poisoning sometimes drank from goblets made of "unicorn horn"..

poisons.[12] Therefore, 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 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.

Fabled Unicorn - Arms of Scotland


Arms of Scotland


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 unicorn supporters.

Possible origins

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.[13]

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.[14]

The German unicorn skeleton allegedly discovered in 1663


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 forehead.

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.[15] The Japanese kirin is depicted as a bearded one-horned goat.

The narwhal

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.[16] 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

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.

The eland

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.

References and Notes

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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.
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

Go Unis!
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 believe!
i luv them & i believe they exist!!
Unicorns do exist! I just love them, and i saw them!
there is really no such thing as a unicorn

why r they called unicorns ?

good info amy


It appears the name Unicorn comes from the Latin

U 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 !


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