Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's a Mythtery! A study of Mythical Creatures and Legends: Unicorn!

It's a Mythery!
A study of mythical creatures and legends.

(P.S. Please excuse the font and coloring below. I've lost some control over how this post looks and I'm having a hard time figuring out how to set it straight.)

It's February. The month of love and all things that make us googly eyed and hopeful. That's why, as a continuation of my study of mythical creatures and legends, I dedicate this month to the unicorn. Why? Because the Unicorn is one of the few creatures that symbolize goodness, purity and faithfulness. (See symbolism section below.)

(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." ~Marianna Mayer

1) Origins
2) Thoughts and Beliefs About Unicorns, Past and Present
3) Symbolism
4) Purposes and Abilities
5) Traits
6) The Unicorn in Midieval Times
7) Unicorns Around the World
8) Sources

A unicorn (from the Latin word unus 'one' and cornu 'horn') described as having a long, straight horn extending from its forehead. The popular modern image of the unicorn is usually that of a horse with a horn. The traditional unicorn also has the beard of a billy goat, the tail of a lion, and cloven hooves.

Thoughts and Beliefs About Unicorns, Past and Present:

1) in 1663, at Unicorn Cave in the Harz Mountains in Germany, a large number of bones were found and reconstructed by the mayor of Magdeburg, Otto Von Guericke. This so-called unicorn had only two legs, and was later found to be constructed from the fossil bones of a wooly rinocerous and mammoth, with the horn of a narwhal. The skeleton was examined by Gottfried Leibniz, who had previously doubted the existence of the unicorn, but was convinced by it.

2) In an interview published in Die Ganze Woch magazine in December of 1991, the renowned Austrian naturalist Antal Festetics, a visiting professor at Gottingen University, made a startling claim. He recounted an incident which occurred while he was filming a wildlife documentary in the Harz Mountains. One night, he said, he was out on horseback in the neighborhood of the Einhornhohle with a video camera when, "Suddenly a unicorn came towards me at a gallop. There was a glow of light around the animal. My horse reared and almost threw me. Then, just as quickly, it was gone."The following April (1992) Festetics repeated his claim in a television interview. What is more, he claims he captured the encounter with the unicorn on video. Even though none of this footage was broadcast in his three-part documentary program, it is reportedly available for viewing in Gottingen.

How truthful is his claim? Who knows. Festetics neither staked his reputation on it nor admitted to having exercised poetic license. But who knows, maybe someone will will be inspired and write a great fiction book based on this info! :0)

3) Look up Evidence of Unicorns on You Tube and you'll find some footage claiming a Unicorn sighting. Some video's are apparently just for fun, but there are a few that seem to genuinely believe that they caught the real deal on camera.

4) There is a Face Book Fan Page called "I believe in Unicorns" They have a couple hundred members.

5) Many famous people have claimed to have encountered a Unicorn. Marco Polo (see below under "Unicorns in Midieval Times") Alexander the Great claimed to have ridden a unicorn into battle. Julius Caesar reported seeing a unicorn in the forests of Germany. A unicorn appeared to Confucius's mother, telling of the great Chinese philosopher's birth. It later appeared to Confucius, foretelling his death. A unicorn was supposed to live in the garden of Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor. He believed it meant his reign would be long and peaceful. In China the unicorn is seen as a good omen and will only appear to humans if it has important information. If the world is suffering difficult times, the unicorn will disappear.

Herodotus wrote about the "horned ass" of Africa in the 3rd century BC and around the same time, Ctesias, who was a Greek physician and historian, traveled to Persia where he heard tales of "the wild ass of India." This creature was supposed to as be as large as a horse with a white body, red head, blue eyes and a long white, black and red horn. Stories of this alicorn, as it is known, intrigued Ctesis. As a physician, the idea of an object that cured ills, prolonged life and protected a person from all poisons was remarkable. Aristotle heard of Ctesis's stories, and although he believed the unicorn to be a real animal, he did not believe its horn held any special powers.

6) Many scientists say that while there are one horned creatures that have been spotted and documented, they attribute these animals to be victims of genetic mutation, rather than an undiscovered species. ie: the one horned Italian deer found at a wildlife preserve in the town of Prato, outside of Florence.

7) Because Ctesias spoke of the unicorn in the court of Darius II, the King of Persia in 416 BC. Chinese writings date back to 2800 BC. The men of the ancient world believed in the existence of the unicorn, so the object of their searching was to find it, not to prove it existed. It wasn't until later in history that man began to doubt the unicorn's physical existence. In the ninth century,Margoulies wrote, "It is universally held that the unicorn is a supernatural being and of auspicious omen; so say the odes, the annals, the biographies of worthies, and other texts whose authority is unimpeachable.Even village women and children know the unicorn is a lucky sign. But this animal does not figure among the barnyard animals, it is not always easy to come across, it does not lend itself to zoological classification, nor isit like the horse or bull, the wolf or deer. In such circumstances we may be face to face with a unicorn and not know for sure that we are. We know a certain animal with a mane is a horse and that a certain animal with horns is a bull. We do not know what the unicorn looks like."

8) It is said that Pope Paul III paid 12,000 pieces of gold for the horn of a Unicorn and James I of England paid 10,000 pounds sterling for one. What they most likely had paid for was the tusk of a narwhal

1) In Midieval lore the unicorn symbolized the incarnation of Christ (as in the Physiologous)
2) Death
3) Beguiled lovers
4) Some writers translate unicorn and virgin lore as allegory of the relationship between Christ Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
5) With the rise of humanism, the unicorn took on more secular meanings, emblematic of chaste love and faithful marriage.
6) Strength
7) Purity
8) Beauty

1) Can only be captured by unfair means or by a maiden. In one of his notebooks Leonardo De Vinci wrote:

"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."

2) able to converse with humans but in a strange telepathic way that has no need for words. Their audible voice is rarely heard and then only as a cry of rage when driven beyond endurance, a scream so dreadful that often it is enough in itself to destroy the sanity of an aggressor.

3) Unicorns are not easily provoked but they guard their lives and independence fiercely and would sooner die than submit to the indignity of capture. Usually they are of a placid, gently disposition and the natural friend of most other creatures.

4) Although friendly towards other animals, the Unicorn is solitary by inclination, particularly keeping away from its own kind except after mating, when couples live together in tenderness while rearing their young.

5) Jewish legend says they can kill an elephant

6) How can you tell if you have a real unicorn horn or an imposter? Place the horn in a vessel of any sort of material you like, and with it three or four large and live scorpions, keeping the vessel covered. If you find four hours later that the scorpions are dead or almost lifeless, the horn is a good one.

The Unicorn in Midieval Times:
1) The royal throne of Denmark was said to be made of "unicorn horns" – Most likely
narwhal tusks. 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, tamable 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 Germany, since the 16th century, Einhorn ("one-horn") has become a descriptor of the various species of rhinoceros.

2) Ancient Norwegians were said to believe the narwhal to have affirmed the existence of the unicorn. The unicorn horn was believed to stem from the narwhal tooth, which grows outward and projects from its upper jaw.

3) It was popular belief, in the seventeenth century, perpetuated by Sir Thomas Browne in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica, unicorn horns could neutralize poisons. Those who feared poisoning sometimes drank from goblets made of "unicorn horn". "Unicorn" products such as milk and hide were sold at exuberant prices because of their alleged aphrodisiac qualities.

Unicorns Around the World:

"Giants, Monsters and Dragns, An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend and Myth" by Carol Rose
The Complete Encyclopedia of Mythology


Shopgirl said...

Fascinating. I never knew so much about unicorn but I did grow up reading about Qilin!

New follower

C.R. Evers said...

Thanks Shopgirl! I love to hear it! :0) And thanks for following.

Bish Denham said...

I think you're having too much fun doing all this research! Great stuff Christy, thanks.

C.R. Evers said...

Hi Bish! Yep, it is fun. Especially the parts about what people believe about unicorns. It feeds my imagination.

Kelly said...

Fun stuff!
My son has been listening to a song that sings,
"I'm hardcore! I'm hardcore! I don't ride horses, I ride unicorns!"
It's a silly song, obviously!

Her highness, Samantha VĂ©rant said...

I see unicorns. But I'm not famous...yet!

C.R. Evers said...

LOL, Kelly. That sounds cute. You need to get a video of your son singing that.

Samantha,when you start seeing unicorns it means you're half way to famous. You're almost there! :0)

Hydriotaphia said...

Actually Browne examines at length and then finally refutes the notion that unicorn's horns neutralize poisons in MEDIEVAL times.

C.R. Evers said...

hydriotaphia, your comment is duly noted. I simply compiled the info as it was presented.

Angela Ackerman said...

Very well done, Christy! You put a ton of effort into this!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse