A unicorn (from Latin "unus" 'one' and "cornu" 'horn') is a mythological creature. 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 also has a billy-goat beard, a lion's tail, and cloven hooves—these distinguish it 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."


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. [ [http://www.geocities.com/pak_history/Harappan.html Discussion of the Indus Valley Civilization with mention of unicorn seals] ] Seals with such a design are thought to be a mark of high social rank. [ [http://www.harappa.com/seal/seal1.html Site with slide show about unicorn seal] ]

An animal called the "Re’em" (, comp. : "He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.": ] [] Zell theorized that this process might have been used in the past to create court curiosities and natural herd leaders, because the goat was able to use this long straight horn effectively as a weapon and a tool. Medieval art often depicts unicorns as small, with cloven hooves and beards, sometimes resembling goats more than horses with horns. This process is possible only with animals that naturally have horns. For a time, a few of these unicorns travelled with the Ringling Brothers Circus. [ [http://www.ringling.com/explore/history/legend/unicorn.aspx The Living Unicorn!] ]

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 whale ("Monodon monoceros"), an Arctic cetacean, as Danish zoologist Ole Worm established in 1638. [cite web | title =Unicorn at Ocultopedia | url = http://www.occultopedia.com/u/unicorn.htm | accessdate = 2007-01-20 ] They were brought south as a very valuable trade, and sold as horns from the legendary unicorn; being of ivory, they passed the various tests intended to spot fake unicorn horns.Daston, Lorraine and Katharine Park. Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750. New York: Zone Books, 2001.] As these 'horns' were considered to have magic powers, Vikings and other northern traders were able to sell them for many times their weight in gold. Elizabeth I of England kept a "unicorn horn" in her cabinet of curiosities, brought back by Arctic explorer Martin Frobisher on his return from Labrador in 1577. [ [http://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/ Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1264 to 2007] ] The usual depiction of the spiral unicorn horn in art, derives from these.
The truth of the tusk's origin developed gradually during the Age of Exploration, as explorers and naturalists began to visit regions themselves. In 1555, Olaus Magnus published a drawing of a fish-like creature with a "horn" on its forehead.

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 against lions, and is able to kill these fearsome predators. 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 CapeFact|date=February 2007. There is also a purported unicorn horn in the castle of the chief of the Clan MacLeod in Scotland, which has been identified as that of an eland.

Genetic disorders of horned animals

A new possibility for the inspiration of the unicorn came in 2008 with the discovery of a roe deer in Italy with a single horn. Single-horned deer aren't unheard of; however, the placement of this horn, in the center of the head, is quite unusual. Fulvio Fraticelli, scientific director of Rome's zoo, has said "Generally, the horn is on one side (of the head) rather than being at the center. This looks like a complex case."cite web | title=Single-horned 'Unicorn' is deer found in Italy | last=Falconi | first=Marta | url=http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/06/11/unicorn-deer-italy.html | date=2008-07-16 | accessdate=2008-06-14 | work=Associated Press ] Fraticelli also acknowledges that the placement of the horn could have been the result of some type of trauma in the life of the deer.

This unicorn found in Prato, Tuscany is one of the most concrete living evidence of the legendary unicorn: notice that roe deer have also cloven hooves, like traditional representations. Maybe there were in the past similar morphological anomalies like a single-horn deer or a different animal that has been seen from a certain distance.

According to Gilberto Tozzi, director of the Center of Natural Science in Prato, “this single-horn deer is conscious to its uniqueness and does not come out a lot, always hiding.” [cite web
title = Single-horned 'Unicorn' deer found in Italy
url = http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080611/ap_on_fe_st/italy_unicorn;_ylt=AuMxc9ordeEPLXLJHlp5JQEuQE4F
accessdate = 2008-06-11
Larger photo [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1025793/The-horned-deer-solve-mystery-unicorn.html here]

See also

* Monocerus (Medieval Bestiary)
* Monoceros (Constellation)
* Invisible Pink Unicorn (a modern satirical religious symbol)
* Shadhavar (a unicorn-like creature in Persian folklore)
* Honda Unicorn
* Camahueto (mythological bull-unicorn)
* Qilin (a unicorn-like chimerical creature in Chinese mythology)



*Beer, Rüdiger Robert, "Unicorn: Myth and Reality" (1977). (Editions: ISBN 0-88405-583-3; ISBN 0-904069-15-X; ISBN 0-442-80583-7.)
*"Encyclopaedia Britannica", 1911: "Unicorn"
*Gotfredsen, Lise, "The Unicorn" (1999). (Editions: ISBN 0-7892-0595-5; ISBN 1-86046-267-7.)
*Shepard, Odell. "The Lore of the Unicorn". (1930) [http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/lou/index.htm text]
* [http://www.lair2000.net/Unicorn_Dreams/Unicorns_Man_Made/unicorns_man_made.html The Living Unicorn]

External links

* [http://www.summagallicana.it/unicorno/Zur%20Rezeptionsgeschichte%20des%20Einhorns.pdf Pascal Gratz, "De Monocerote - Zur Rezeptionsgeschichte des Einhorns"]
* [http://faidutti.free.fr/licornes/these/these.html Bruno Faidutti, "Images et connaissance de la licorne"]
* [http://www.theoi.com/Thaumasios/HippoiMonokerata.html Aaron J. Atsma, "Theoi Greek Mythology" : Equus Unicorn]
* [http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast140.htm David Badke, "The Medieval Bestiary" : Unicorn]
* [http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast165.htm David Badke, "The Medieval Bestiary" : Monocerus]
* [http://www.eaudrey.com/myth/unicorns.htm Dave's Mythical Creatures and Places - Unicorns]
* [http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/mythiccreatures/land/unicorns.php American Museum of Natural History, "Mythic Creatures": Unicorns, West and East]
* [http://www.allaboutunicorns.com Kevin Owens, "All About Unicorns"] : Historical unicorn information, plus a gallery of unicorn pictures.
* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=27&letter=U "Jewish Encyclopedia" - Unicorn]
* [http://www.newanimal.org/unicorn.htm Jamie Hall, "The Cryptid Zoo": Unicorns in Cryptozoology]
* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0030-1299%28199008%2958%3A3%3C257%3ASDOTMU%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S&size=LARGE&origin=JSTOR-enlargePage Stuart H. Hurlbert, "Spatial Distribution of the Montane Unicorn"] : Unicorns used to demonstrate spacial distribution modeling.

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