While not a creature rare on the collective consciousness, I would like to blog about the often overlooked and maligned unicorn. I myself have suffered anti-unicorn snobbery for years. Why should I be enamored of a creature that does little but prance around, deer like and innocent, when I could choose a flying horse to ride into battle? It turns out my impression of unicorns are all the fault of medieval artists and Peter Beagle.
The first mention of the unicorn come from Greek texts in natural history, rather than mythology. The unicorn was thought to be a real creature native of India described by Pliny as “very fierce animal called the monoceros 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.” This is no gentle creature.
The mythology of the unicorn does not begin until the middle ages, when it became a subject of Christian artwork. A wild beast that can only be tamed by the heart of a virgin, the unicorn becomes a symbol of purity, chastity, innocence. The horn of the unicorn is said to be made of a material called alicorn, which can cure disease and combat poison. An alicorn cup was a gift given to kings and queens. These goblets were often made of ivory, and full horns, from narwhals.
FYI the unicorn appears on the Royal Coat of Arms of Canada (taken from the Scottish coat of arms).
- The Natural History by Pliny the Elder Book 8, Chapter 31 – Reference to the monoceros
- The virgin and the unicorn – Analysis of the myth
- Unicorns from around the world – European and Asian unicorns in mythology
Related Creatures: zhi / quilin (China), kirin (Japan)
Region of Origin: Multiple
By the way, I love the book “The Last Unicorn” despite my prejudice. That story plays very closely to the medieval concept of the unicorn: innocent, difficult to tame, and possessing magical healing powers. What do you think of unicorns? Are they badass, or a yawn?