Unicorns are one animal that has tickled the imagination of people throughout the ages. Are unicorns real or simply one of the many marvelous mythical creatures creative minds have invented and passed down the notion through history?
The unicorn has mystified people for centuries; some looking at the scientific logic of the existence and others following the legends and stories passed down through the generations. More than any of the other mythical creatures, such as centaurs and griffins, the existence of unicorns seems probable.
Unicorns as Symbols
The unicorn is first mentioned in print in the third century B.C. when 72 Jewish scholars translated the Bible from Hebrew into Greek. The translation, known as the Septuagint, mentions a creature called a re'em in the Bible. From the description, the re'em was large, fierce and horned. The scholars used the term monoceros, which was later translated into Latin, unicorn. However, later scholars translated the term to mean wild ox which is the term used in most modern versions of the Bible. Since this animal was mentioned in the Bible, its existence was established according to many.
Sometime between the second and fifth century A.D., a compilation of bestiary by an author known as Physiologus (the naturalist), included the unicorn, but as a smaller, but still fierce animal; one that could only be captured by the lure of the virgin. This book was translated and copied into many languages; the zoological information was considered factual and the book was widely popular. The story was complex and at the time, the unicorn became a symbol for Christ.
Being associated with the virgin, the unicorn also became a symbol of chastity. Yet at the same time, in much of the art, there is a strong intimate tone in which the unicorn represents a lover of the virgin. Later, in the 12th century rulebook for nuns, the unicorn symbolizes violent people; it is described as wicked and wrathful. Three centuries later, the unicorn signified death and violence as well as earthly and heavenly love.
Through the folklore of the unicorn horn's ability to purify poisoned water, further abilities were attributed to the horn. It was professed to have the ability to detect poison, prevent plague, cure impotent men and barren women, and prevent epilepsy as well as a score of other diseases.
Bible Stories that Include Unicorns
One of the stories translated from the Bible indicate the unicorn was the first animal named by Adam and when God heard the name spoken, He touched the tip of the horn, elevating the unicorn above all of the other animals. When Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, God gave the unicorn the choice of staying in paradise or accompanying Adam and Eve into the world. The unicorn chose to follow Adam and Eve and was forever blessed for its compassion because out of love, it chose the hard way.
Another story is about Daniel's dream in which he saw the unicorn. In "Daniel chapter eight," Daniel has a dream of a ram with four horns that is slain by a goat with one horn. The goat's horn is powerful and reaches to the heavens. A third story involves David; he climbs a mountain with his herd of sheep and when the mountain heaves itself up into the clouds, David learns he is standing on the back of a unicorn. He climbs the horn to reach the heavens. In this story it is said that the unicorn feared no other animal and distained many, but it did respect the lion.
In the story of Noah's ark, the unicorn is integrated in a number of variants. In one version, the unicorn is arrogant and prods the other animals with its horn to gain more space; in his annoyance, Noah orders the unicorn off the ark. Later, when he regrets his decision, Noah calls to the unicorn, but it does not come. In another version, the unicorn is tied alongside the ark, in yet another, the unicorn is too big for the ark and disappears in the flood. Some claim the unicorn was too arrogant to ride on the ark and simply swam around the ark for forty days and forty nights. Still others claim the unicorn swam around the waters waiting for land; when Noah sent the birds to find the land, the birds landed on the unicorn's horn and it began to sink. As more birds gathered on the horn and back of the unicorn, it disappeared beneath the flood waters. As the tip of the horn sunk below water, the birds flew off, having at last spotted land.
Unicorns in Art Work and Various Cultures
Unicorns have long been a popular subject of art work. Mythical creatures are prominent in paintings, tapestries and statues, and the unicorn is just as favored throughout history. In China, the unicorn is known as the k-i-lin and only shows itself at two special times-when the ruler is kind and just and the times are prosperous and peaceful, the k-i-lin shows itself as a sign of good fortune; when the great ruler is near death, the unicorn shows itself as an omen of loss. The k-i-lin is not depicted as a horse with a horn, but is described in ancient stories as a creature with a deer's body, long neck and a horn. In statues and paintings, the k-i-lin seems to have a body of a horse, though it often appears as if it has scales similar to a dragon, and also a dragon-like face.
In Arabia and Persia, the unicorn was called the karkadann and unlike the unicorn of the west and the k-i-lin of China, the karkadann was a violent, war-like animal. It is depicted in art and stories as a wild ox type of animal or an animal similar to an antelope. The elephant is its special enemy, but like the folklore of the unicorn in the western culture, the karkadann is extraordinarily fond of the woman.
In India, one story of the unicorn tells of a union between a man and a unicorn that resembled a gazelle. The unicorn bore a human male child, who was named Rishyashringa. The King's daughter looks for the unicorn-boy and Rishyashringa ends up falling in love with the King's daughter.
Many people wonder if unicorns are real; whether they ever existed. Scientifically, some say there is minimal evidence of the existence of unicorns. However, it is the magic, the legend of all mythical creatures that keeps the interest in unicorns as popular as ever. Like centaurs and griffons and other such mythical creatures, the unicorn will stay fresh in the minds of those who dare to dream of another world.
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