The unicorn is a mythical creature with a single enormous, spiraling horn sprouting from its forehead that has been described since antiquity. The unicorn was pictured in ancient Indus Valley Civilization seals and was described by numerous ancient Greek writers, including Ctesias, Strabo, Pliny the Younger, Aelian, and Cosmas Indicopleustes, in descriptions of natural history. The re’em, which some translations read as unicorn, is another animal mentioned in the Bible.
The unicorn is frequently represented in European folklore as a white horse-like or goat-like creature with a long horn, cloven hooves, and occasionally a goat’s beard. It was usually characterized as an exceptionally wild forest creature, a symbol of purity and elegance, that could only be captured by a virgin in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Its horn was supposed to have the ability to make poisoned water drinkable and to heal illness in encyclopedias. The tusk of the narwhal was frequently marketed as unicorn horn throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The unicorn has maintained its popularity in popular culture. It’s frequently used as a sign of enchantment or rarity.
Seals from the Indus Valley Civilization have been discovered that appear to represent unicorns. Seals with this pattern are regarded to be an indication of great social status. Because the animal is usually represented in profile, indicating there may have been another horn, they have alternatively been interpreted as images of aurochs—a species of giant wild cow that originally roamed Europe, Asia, and North Africa—or derivatives of aurochs.
Unicorns do not appear in Greek mythology, but rather in natural history chronicles, since Greek natural history authors were persuaded of the existence of unicorns, which they thought dwelt in India, a faraway and fantastic place for them. Ctesias, in his book Indika (“On India”), characterized them as wild asses, swift on their feet, with a horn a cubit and a half (700 mm, 28 inches) in length and colored white, crimson, and black.
Ctesias acquired his knowledge while residing in Persia. Unicorns on a relief sculpture have been discovered in Iran’s Persepolis, the ancient Persian capital. When Aristotle cites two one-horned creatures, the oryx (a kind of antelope) and the so-called “Indian ass” (o), he must be following Ctesias. The one-horned “Indian ass” was also mentioned by Antigonus of Carystus. According to Strabo, the Caucasus had one-horned horses with stag-like heads. Pliny the Elder mentions the oryx, an Indian ox (possibly a rhinoceros), and “a very fierce animal called the monoceros, which has the head of a stag, the feet of an elephant, and the tail of a 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 crows, and has Aelian, quoting Ctesias, adds in On the Nature of Animals (, De natura animalium) that India also produces a one-horned horse (iii. 41; iv. 52), and says (xvi. 20) that the monoceros (Greek: ) was sometimes called cartazonos (Greek: ), which could be a form of the Arabic karkadann, meaning “rhinoceros.”
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