Mythical Monsters, chapter XEdit
A belief in the unicorn, like that in the dragon, appears to have obtained among both Eastern and Western authors, at a very early period. In this case, however, it has survived the revulsion from a fatuous confidence in the fables and concocted specimens of the Middle Ages, and even now the existence or non-existence of this remarkable animal remains a debateable question.
Until within a late period occasional correspondents of the South African journals continued to assert its existence, basing their communications on the reports of hunters from the interior, while but a few hundred years since travellers spoke of actually seeing it or of passing through countries in which its existence was absolutely affirmed to them. Horns, generally those of the narwhal, but occasionally of one species of rhinoceros, were brought home and deposited in museums as those of the veritable unicorn, or sold, under the same pretext, for large sums, on account of their reputed valuable medicinal properties. The animal is variously described as resembling a horse or some kind of deer; this description may possibly refer to some animal of a type intermediate to them, now almost, if not quite, extinct. In some instances it is supposed that a species of rhinoceros is indicated.
There has been much discussion as to the identity of the animal referred to in many passages of the Bible, the Hebrew name of which, Reem, has been translated "unicorn." Mr. W. Smith considers that a species of rhinoceros could not have been indicated, as it is spoken of in one passage as a sacrificial animal, whereas the ceremonial ritual of the Jews forbade the use of any animal not possessing the double qualifications of chewing the cud and being cloven-footed. The qualities attributed to it are great strength, an indomitable disposition, fierce nature, and an active and playful disposition when young. He considers that the passage, Deut. xxxiii. 17, should be rendered "his horns are like the horns of a unicorn," and not, as it is given, "horns of unicorns"; and is of opinion that some species of wild ox is intended.
Among profane Western authors we first find the unicorn referred to by Ctesias, who describes it as having one horn, a cubit long. Herodotus also mentions it in the passage, "For the eastern side of Libya, where the wanderers dwell, is low and sandy, as far as the river Triton; but westward of that, the land of the husbandmen is very hilly and abounds with forests and wild beasts, for this is the tract in which the huge serpents are found, and the lions, the elephants, the bears, the aspicks, and the horned asses"; and again, "Among the wanderers are none of these, but quite other animals, as antelopes, &c. &c., and asses, not of the horned sort, but of a kind which does not need to drink."
Pliny tells us that the Orsæan Indians hunt down a 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, projecting from the middle of its forehead, and two cubits in length. This animal, it is said, cannot be taken alive. In speaking of the Indian ass, he says, "the Indian ass is only a one-horned animal"; and of the oryx of Africa, "the oryx is both one-horned and cloven-footed."
Ælian transfers the locality back again from Africa to Asia, and it may be presumed, in the following quotation, that he indicates the country north of the Himalaya, Thibet, and Tartary, which still has the reputation of being one of the homes of the unicorn.
They say that there are mountains in the innermost regions of India inaccessible to men, and full of wild beasts; where those creatures which with us are domesticated, such as sheep, dogs, goats, and cattle, range about at their own free will, free from any charge by a shepherd or herdsman.
Both historians, and the more learned of the Indians, among whom the Brahmins may be specified, declare that there is a countless number of these beasts. Among them they enumerate the unicorn, which they call cartazonon, and say that it reaches the size of a horse of mature age, possesses a mane and reddish yellow hair, and that it excels in swiftness through the excellence of its feet and of its whole body. Like the elephant, it has inarticulate feet, and it has a boar's tail; one black horn projects between the eyebrows, not awkwardly, but with a certain natural twist, and terminating in a sharp point.
It has, of all animals, the harshest and most contentious voice. It is said to be gentle to other beasts approaching it, but to fight with its fellows. Not only are the males at variance in natural contention amongst themselves, but they also fight with the females, and carry their combats to the length of killing the conquered; for not only are their bodies generally indued with great strength, but also they are armed with an invincible horn. It frequents desert regions and wanders alone and solitary. In the breeding season it is of gentle demeanour towards the female, and they feed together; when this has passed and the female has become gravid, it again becomes fierce and wanders alone.
They say that the young, while still of tender age, are carried to the King of the Prasians for exhibition of their strength, and exposed in combats on festivals; for no one remembers them to have been captured of mature age.
Cæsar records the reputed existence in his day, within the bounds of the great Hercynian Forest, of a bull, shaped like a stag, with one horn projecting from the middle of its forehead and between the ears.
Cosmas, surnamed Indicopleustes, a merchant of Alexandria, who lived in the sixth century, and made a voyage to India, and subsequently wrote works on cosmography, gives a figure of the unicorn, not, as he says, from actual sight of it, but reproduced from four figures of it in brass contained in the palace of the King of Ethiopia. He states, from report, that "it is impossible to take this ferocious beast alive; and that all its strength lies in its horn. When it finds itself pursued and in danger of capture, it throws itself from a precipice, and turns so aptly in falling, that it receives all the shock upon the horn, and so escapes safe and sound." It is noteworthy that this mode of escape is attributed, at the present day, to both the musk ox and the Ovis Ammon.
Marco Polo may or may not indicate a rhinoceros in the passage, "Après avoir descendu ces deux journées et demie, on trouve une province au midi qui est sur les confins de l'Inde, on l'appelle Amien—on marche quinze journées par des lieux desertes et par de grands bois où il y a beaucoup d'éléphants et de licornes et d'autres bêtes sauvages. Il n'y a ni hommes ni habitations aussi, nous laisserons ce lieu."
The first says:
The unicorn is found in the mountains of high Ethiopia. It is of an ash colour and resembles a colt of two years old, excepting that it has the head of a goat, and in the middle of its Morehead a horn three feet long, which is smooth and white like ivory, and has yellow streaks running along from top to bottom.
This horn is an antidote against poison, and it is reported that other animals delay drinking till it has soaked its horn in the water to purify it. This animal is so nimble that it can neither be killed nor taken. But it casts its horn like a stag, and the hunters find it in the deserts. But the truth of this is called in question by some authors.
Here is also another beast, called arucharis, with one horn, fierce and strong, of which unicorn several have been seen feeding in the woods.
Coming down to later days we find the unicorn described by Lewes Vertomannus —he who, having visited, among other places, the site of the legend of St. George and the Dragon, and undergone a variety of adventures, visits, in the course of them, the temple of Mecca, and, as follows, gives a description "of the unicorns of the Temple of Mecha, which are not seen in any other place."
On the other part of the temple are parks or places enclosed, where are seen two unicorns, named of the Greeks monocerotæ, and are there showed to the people for a miracle, and not without good reason, for the seldomness and strange nature. The one of them, which is much higher than the other, yet not much unlike to a colt of thirty months of age; in the forehead groweth only one horn, in manner right foorth, of the length of three cubits. The other is much younger, of the age of one year, and like a young colt; the horn of this is of the length of four handfulls.
This beast is of the colour of a horse of weesell colour, and hath the head like a hart, but no long neck, a thynne mane hanging only on the one side. Their leggs are thin and slender like a fawn or hind. The hoofs of the fore-feet are divided in two, much like the feet of a goat. The outer part of the hinder feet is very full of hair.
This beast doubtless seemeth wild and fierce, yet tempereth that fierceness with a certain comeliness.
These unicorns one gave to the Sultan of Mecha as a most precious and rare gift. They were sent him out of Ethiope by a king of that country who desired by that present to gratify the Sultan of Mecha.
Visiting the interior of Arabia from Aden, and afterwards starting for Persia, Vertomannus was driven back by a contrary wind to Zeila (in Africa), which he describes as being an important city with much merchandise—when again he says, "I saw there also certain kyne, having only one horn in the middle of the forehead, as hath the unicorn, and about a span in length, but the horn bendeth backwards. They are of bright shining red colour."
In an account of the travels of Johann Grueber, Jesuit (about 1661), contained in Astley's collection of voyages, we find:—
Sining is a great and populous city, built at the vast wall of China, through the gate of which the merchants from India enter Katay or China. There are stairs to go a-top of the wall, and many travel on it from the gate at Sining to the next at Soochew, which is eighteen days' journey, having a delightful prospect all the way, from the wall, of the innumerable habitations on one side, and the various wild beasts which range the desert on the other side.
Besides wild bulls, here are tigers, lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, and monoceroses, which are a kind of horned asses.
Thus the merchants view the beasts free from danger, especially from that part of the wall which, running southward, approaches Quang-si, Yunnan, and Tibet; for at certain times of the year they betake themselves to the Yellow River, and parts near the wall which abound with thickets, in order to get pasture and seek their prey.
In the province of Agaus has been seen the unicorn; that beast so much talked of and so little known. The prodigious swiftness with which the creature runs from one wood into another has given me no opportunity of examining it particularly; yet I have had so near a sight of it as to be able to give some description of it.
The shape is the same with that of a beautiful horse, exact and nicely proportioned, of a bay colour, with a black tail, which in some provinces is long, in others very short; some have long manes hanging to the ground. They are so timorous that they never feed but surrounded with other beasts that defend them.
Deer and other defenceless animals often herd about the elephant, which, contenting himself with roots and leaves, preserves the beasts that place themselves, as it were, under his protection, from the others that would devour them.
There is a somewhat doubtful story contained in the Narrative of a Journey from St. Petersburg, in Russia, to Peking, in China, in 1719, to the effect that between Tobolsky and Tomski—
Our baggage having waited at Tara till our arrival, we left that place on the 18th, and next came to a large Russian village sixty versts from Tara, and the last inhabited by Russians till you pass the Baraba and come to the river Oby. . . . . One of these hunters told me the following story, which was confirmed by several of his neighbours, that in the year 1713, in the month of March, being out a-hunting, he discovered the track of a stag, which he pursued. At overtaking the animal he was somewhat startled on observing it had only one horn, stuck in the middle of its forehead. Being near this village, he drove it home, and showed it, to the great admiration of the spectators. He afterwards killed it, and ate the flesh, and sold the horn to a comb-maker in the town of Tara, for ten alteens, about fifteen pence sterling.
I inquired carefully about the shape and size of this unicorn, as I shall call it, and was told that it exactly resembled a stag.
The horn was of a brownish colour, about one archæon or twenty-eight inches long, and twisted from the root till within a finger's length of the tip, where it was divided, like a fork, into two points, very sharp.
One of the most trustworthy of observers, the Abbé Huc, speaks very positively on the subject of the unicorn. He says: "The unicorn really exists in Thibet. . . . We had for a long time a small Mongol Treatise on Natural History, for the use of children, in which a unicorn formed one of the. pictorial illustrations. . . . The Chinese Itinerary says, on the subject of the lake you see before your arrival at Atzder (going from east to west), 'The unicorn, a very curious animal, is found in the vicinity of this lake, which is forty li long.'"
The unicorn is known in Thibet by the name of serou; in Mongolia, by that of kere; while in a Thibetan manuscript examined by the late Major Lattre, it is called the one-horned tsopo.
Mr. Hazlitt, in his notes appended to the statement by Huc as to the unicorn, states that Mr. Hodgson, of Nepaul, sent to Calcutta the skin and horn of a unicorn that died in the menagerie of the Rajah of Nepaul.
It was described as being very fierce, and abundant in the plains of Tingri, in the southern part of the Thibetan province of Tsang, watered by the Arroun; it assembled round salt beds. The form is graceful, colour reddish, two tufts of hair project from the exterior of each nostril, and there is much down round the hair and mouth. The hair is rough and seems hollow. Doctor Able designated it Antelope Hodgsonii.
I met, on the 17th of April 1848, a man who was in the habit of selling to me specimens of animals. One day he asked me if I wished also for an a'nasa, which he described thus: 'It is the size of a small donkey, has a thick body and thin bones, coarse hair, and tail like a boar. It has a long horn on its forehead, and lets it hang when alone, but erects it immediately on seeing an enemy. It is a formidable weapon, but I do not know its exact length. The a'nasa is found not far from here (Melpes), towards the south-southwest. I have seen it often in the wild grounds, where the negroes kill it, and carry it home to make shields from its skin.' N.B.—This man was well acquainted with the rhinoceros, which he distinguished, under the name of fetit, from the a'nasa.
On June the 14th I was at Kursi, also in Kordofan, and met there a slave merchant who was not acquainted with my first informer, and gave me spontaneously the same description of the a'nasa, adding that he had killed and eaten one long ago, and that its flesh was well flavoured.
Mr. Freeman, in the South African Christian Recorder (vol. i.), gives the native account of an animal not uncommon in Makooa, and called the Ndzoodzoo, described as being about the size of a horse, extremely fleet and strong, with a single horn from two feet to two and a half feet in length, projecting from its forehead, which is said to be flexible when the animal is asleep, and capable of being curled up at pleasure, but becoming stiff and hard under the excitement of rage. It is extremely fierce, and invariably attacks a man when it discerns him. The female is without a horn.
Our latest information as to this species comes from Prejevalski, who, speaking of it as the orongo, says that it has elegant black horns standing vertically above the head; the back is dun-coloured; the middle of the breast, stomach, and rump, white; seen at a distance it appears white; it is very numerous in Northern Thibet. He adds: "Another prevalent superstition is that the orongo has only one horn growing vertically from the centre of the head. In Kansu and Kokonor we were told that unicorns were rare, one or two in a thousand. The Mongols in Tsaidan deny it, but say it may be so in south-west Thibet."
Turning to the Chinese classics and books of antiquity, we find references, sometimes vague and mythical, sometimes exact, to several distinct unicorn animals. These may be enumerated as:—
- The Ki-Lin, represented in Japan by the Kirin.
- The King.
- The Kioh Twan.
- The Poh.
- The Hiai Chai.
- The Too Jon Sheu.
Besides these there are clear descriptions of the rhinoceros, which cannot in any way be confounded with the above. The only one of these popularly familiar is the Ki-Lin, the history of which is interwoven with that of remote ages. The first mention of it is made in the Bamboo Books—only in that part, however, of them which is apparently a commentary, note, or subsequent addition, though some authorities hold it to be a portion of the actual text. The work states that, during the reign of Hwang-Ti (B.C. 2697), Ki-Lins appeared in the parks.
Their appearance was generally supposed to signalise the reign of an upright monarch, and Confucius considered that the appearance of one during his epoch was a bad omen, as it did not harmonise with the troubled state of the times. The name Ki-Lin is a generic or dual word, composed of those of the Ki and the Lin, the respective male and female of the creature.
This peculiar species of word formation is adopted in other instances in reference to birds and animals; thus we have the male Fung and the female Hwang united in the Fung Hwang, or so-called Chinese phœnix, and the Yuen and Yang in the Yuen Yang, or mandarin duck.
Sometimes the word Lin alone is used with the same generic meaning.
The Rh Ya, in the original text, defines the Lin as having a Kiun's body (the Kiun is a kind of muntjack or deer), an ox's tail, and one horn. The commentary states that the tip of the horn is fleshy, and that the King Yang chapter of the "Spring and Autumn Annals" of Confucius defines it as a horned Kiun.
The preface to the Shi Shu quotes Li Sian to the effect that the Lin is an auspicious and perfect beast.
Sun Yen says it is a spiritual beast. The Shwoh Wan says the Lin is the female of the K‘i and the K‘i is a beast endowed with goodness, possessing a Kiun's body, an ox's tail, and one horn. According to the Shwoh Wan, the Lin may be considered as a large female deer. Now the Shu King considers that many of these beasts are comprised under the Ki-Lin, only the characters, though retaining the sound, have become altered in form.
Chen Nau calls it Lin-che-chi and Man Chw‘en says that the Lin is truthful, and reducible to rule.
The Li Yuen says: "If the unicorn can once be tamed, then the other beasts will not show terror."
Ta Tai, in the Li Ki, quoting the Yih [King], says there are 360 kinds of hairy creatures, and the Ki-Lin is the chief of them.
The Li Ki, commenting on the King Fang I Chw‘en, says: "The Lin has a Kiun's body, an ox's tail, a horse's hoof, and is of five colours. It is twelve feet high."
Again, in commenting on Fuh Kien's Ho Chwen, it says:
The Lin springs from the earth's central regions. It is a beast of superior integrity, is attached to its mother, and reducible to rule. The Shu King, quoting Luh Li, says the Lin has a Kiun's body, an ox's tail, a horse's feet, and a yellow colour, round hoofs, and one horn; the tip of the horn is erect and fleshy.
Its call in the middle part thereof is like a monastery bell. Its pace is regular; it rambles only on selected grounds and after it has examined the locality. It will not live in herds, or be accompanied in its movements. It cannot be beguiled into pitfalls, or captured in snares. When the monarch is virtuous, this beast appears.
At present there are Lin existing on the frontiers of Ping Cheu. Even the large or small Lin are always like deer, so that this species is not the auspicious Ying Lin; although Tsz Ma Siang Su, in his odes on the shooting of the Mi and trapping Lin, says that it is.
The top of the horn being fleshy is a characteristic of the Lin, and Mao Chw‘en says that the Lin's horn is an emblem of goodness. Ching Tsien says that the horn has a fleshy termination, indicating the peaceful character of the beast, and that it has no use for it.
The "Book of Rites," quoting the Kwang Ya, says that on account of its elegant style it takes place, par excellence, among the large-horned beasts; the existing edition of the Kwang Ya omits this.
The Kung Yang Chw'en says the Kiun also has horns.
Kung Ssun Tsz, in the annals of the fourteenth year of the Duke Ngai (State of Lu), says that the Kiun has fleshy horns.
Kwoh, in his preface, proves the Lin to have a Kiun's body.
The Rh Ya gives the drawing of a unicorn animal called the Ki; but no reference to the horn is given in the text, which simply describes it as a large Kiun with a yak's tail and dog's feet.
The Ki is not defined in the Rh Ya, and the only information I have as to it is derived from Williams' dictionary, where it is stated to be "a fabulous auspicious animal, which appears when sages are born; the male of the Chinese unicorn. It is drawn like a piebald scaly horse, with one horn and a cow's tail, and may have had a living original in some extinct equine animal." But there is a very full account of an animal called the King. It is not impossible that it is identical with the King which, in the usual brief style of the original text of the Rh Ya, is epitomised as a large Biao (a kind of stag), with an ox's tail and one horn; and the several commentaries on it are as follows:—
In the time of the Emperor Wu, of the Han dynasty, during the worship of heaven and earth at the solstices at Yung, there was captured a unicorn beast like a Piao; it was at that time designated the Lin; it was, however, a Piao related to the Chang (a kind of deer).
The Shwoh Wan says: "The King is a large stag with an ox's tail and one horn." It may be a large form of the Piao. The Wang Hwu Analects say that the Piao is an object of the chase, and that it is as swift as a stag.
Kwan Tsz, in the Ti Yuen volume, says that as there are Mi and Piao and many species of deer, so also the Piao is a species of deer.
The "Shi Ki," in the book Fung Shen, says that during the worship at the solstices at Yung, there was captured a one-horned beast like a Piao, and that the local authorities assert that as His Majesty was making reverential invocations on the country altar to the Supreme Being, he was recompensed for the sacrifice by a beast which was a unicorn.
Wu Chao's preface to the Loh Yiu says: "The body is like that of a muntjack, and it has one horn"; while the Spring and Autumn (Annals) allude to this animal in speaking of the horned Kiun.
The inhabitants of Ch‘u say the Kiun is a Piao. Kwoh, in his preface, says that the capture made in the time of Wu, of the Han dynasty, was actually a Piao, as demonstrated by the Han books. The Chung Kiun narrative states that in Shang Yung was captured a white Lin bearing one horn, of which the tip was fleshy. At the present day nothing has been heard of a Piao with a fleshy tip, therefore these must be different beasts.
Kwoh also says that the Piao is identical with the Chang, and the Chang with the Kiun. This corresponds with what Wei Chao So had already stated, that the people of Ch'u assert that the Kiun is a Piao, and that the Piao is certainly a kind of deer.
Its meat is eminently savoury.
Luh Ki says that of all four-footed creatures, the Piao is the most excellent.
Yeu Shi states in the Kiao Sz annals ("Sacrifices to Heaven and Earth"), that the Piao is a kind of deer. Its body exactly resembles that of the Chang.
Finally, the explanatory prefaces of many classical works, when commenting on the Rh Ya, say that the Piao is identical with the Chang and of a black colour; and they confirm Kwoh's opinion, although the Rh Ya forgets to allude to the three characters denoting the black colour.
It was probably some unicorn animal which is referred to in the General History of China, called the Tong Kien Kang Mu (vide Père de Mailla's translation), as having been presented to the Emperor Yung Loh of the Ming dynasty, in A.D. 1415, by envoys from Bengal. De Mailla says it was called a Ki-Lin by the Chinese out of flattery.
Again, the same History says that in the succeeding year the kingdom of Malin sent as tribute a Ki-Lin similar to that from Bengal.
The Ki-Rin, a Japanese version of the Ki-Lin, is simply borrowed from Chinese sources. It is figured in the illustrated edition of the great Japanese Encyclopedia Kasira gaki zou vo Sin mou dzu wi tai sei, and represented, as in the Chinese drawings, as covered with scales; but it must be noted that nothing in any of the texts of either country warrants this furniture of the body.
The same encyclopedia figures another unicorn beast under the name of the Kai Tsi, and describes it as being an animal of foreign countries, resembling a lion, and having a single horn. It is also called the Sin You or divine sheep. It is able to distinguish between right and wrong. When Kau You exercised criminal jurisdiction, he handed over those whose crime was doubtful to the Kai Tsu, and it is said that this animal destroyed the guilty and spared the innocent.
A synonym for it was the Chiai Tung. It states that, according to the Si Yang Y Shu, a one-horned spiritual lamb was born in the Ping Shen district, and in the twenty-first year of Kai Yuen. The horn was fleshy, and the top of the head covered with white hair. The second chapter on the same subject says that, in ancient times, if parties were at law, the judge brought this animal out, and it would gore at the guilty one.
The Kioh Twan is yet another unicorn animal described in the Yuen Kien Léi Han, which is said to have the appearance of a deer with the tail of a horse, but to be of a greenish colour, with one horn above the nose, and to be capable of traversing eighteen thousand li in one day.
The Li Kau Sing Sha Shao says that the Emperor Yuen Ti Su sent his ambassadors to the western part of India, who procured animals several tens of feet in height, unicorn, like the rhinoceros. The rumour went that these were inauspicious for the Emperor, and they were immediately returned.
The Shan Hai King describes an animal as existing among the plains of Mongolia, having the appearance of a horse, with a white body, black tail, one horn, teeth and claws like a tiger, which howls like the roll of a drum, devours tigers and leopards, and is capable of being used instead of soldiers; it is called Poh.
The Rh Ya describes the same animal as like a horse, with saw teeth, existing on tigers and leopards.
The "History of the North" says that in the Kingdom of Peh Chi (?) a magistrate named Chung Wa held office, who was very equitable in his rule. His district was invaded by some ferocious animals. Suddenly six of the Poh came and killed and devoured them as a reward for his good rule.
The Sung History says that a man named Leu Chang, an ambassador, arrived at a district called Shen Su, where the mountains contained a strange animal, in appearance like a horse, but capable of eating tigers and leopards. The people were unacquainted with it, and asked Leu Chang what it was, who said it was called the Poh, and referred them to the Shan Hai King for a description of it.
Among other remarkable and interesting drawings which have come down from antiquity in the San Li T'u, or illustrated edition of the three (ceremonial) rituals, are some representing the various targets used by officials of different ranks in the military examinations, in which the arrows had to be lodged by shooting upwards from a distance. These are fashioned in the form of animals, one realising the idea of the sphynx, and two representing unicorn animals, called respectively the Lu—which, according to some, is like an ass with one horn, but, according to others, differing from a donkey in having a cleft hoof—and the Sz, which is said to be like an ox with one horn.
The Too Jon Shen is the name of an animal with a lion-like body and head, cloven hoofs, and a blunt short horn projecting from the centre of the forehead. Two pairs of these form a portion of the avenue of stone figures of animals leading up to the Ming tombs, about eighty miles north of Pekin. I have not found it described in any book.
A writer in the China Review endeavours to prove that the Ki-Lin is a (From the Ming Tombs.) reminiscence of the giraffe, which he supposes may once have spread over Asia, and, in addition to various passages included among those which I have quoted above, adduces one from the Wu Tsah Tsu, which states that, "In the period Yung Loh of the Ming dynasty (1403-1425) a Ki-Lin was caught, and a painter was ordered to make a sketch and hand it up to the high magistrates. According to the picture, the body was perfectly shaped like that of a deer, but the neck was very long, perhaps three or four feet." I must admit that I cannot agree with him in his conclusions. Harris has given much better arguments in favour of the unicorn being merely a species of oryx. He appears to me, however, to speak too absolutely, to make his facts too pliant, and to base his main belief on the untenable theory that the myth, tradition, or theory is based on the profile drawing of an oryx, exhibiting one horn only. We might just as soon expect people to start stories of two-legged cows or horses, or one-legged races of men, if so slender a basis for forging a species were sufficient. What the zoological status of the unicorn may be I am not prepared to show, but I find it impossible to believe that a creature whose existence has been affirmed by so many authors, at so many different dates, and from so many different countries, can be, as mythologists demand, merely the symbol of a myth. There is a possible solution, which does not appear to have struck previous writers on the subject, viz., that the unicorn may be merely a hybrid produced occasionally and at more or less rare intervals.
By accepting this view we could explain the extraordinary combinations of character assigned to it, and the discrepancy which exists between the qualities of courage and gentleness ascribed to it by Western and Chinese authors. A valuable chapter remains to be written by naturalists and progressionists on the limits within which hybridization exists in a state of nature among the higher animals; its prevalence among the lower and among plants is, of course, well known. A cross between some equine and cervine species might readily result in a unicorn offspring, and either the courageous qualities of the sire or the gentleness of the dam might preponderate, according to the relations of the species in each of the instances.
As an alternative, we may speculate on the unicorn being a generic name for several distinct species of (probably) now extinct animals; missing links between the three families, the Equidæ, Cervidæ, and Bovidæ; creatures which were the contemporaries of prehistoric man, and which, before they finally expired, attracted the attention of his descendants, during early historic times, by the rare appearance of a few surviving individuals.
The supernatural qualities ascribed to these by various nations must be considered merely the embroidery of fancy, designed to enrich and adorn an article esteemed rare and valuable.
- ↑ "At length, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they were thrown open for examination by the desire which then existed in Germany to possess the ebur fossile, or 'unicorn's horn,' a supposed infallible specific for the cure of many diseases. The unicorn horn was to be found in the caves, and the search for it revealed the remains of lions, hyænas, elephants, and many other tropical and strange animals." Pop. Sci. Monthly, No. 32,.
- ↑ Book iv. ch. cxci, and cxcii.
- ↑ Book ii. ch. ii. § 8.
- ↑ Book viii. ch. xxxii.
- ↑ Book xi. ch. cvi.
- ↑ Ibid.
- ↑ Ælian, De Naturâ Animalium, Book xvi. ch. xx.
- ↑ De Bello Gallico, ch. ii. p. 26.
- ↑ Vide Chartou's Voyageurs du Moyen Ages, vol. ii. p. 25.
- ↑ Harris' Voyages, vol. i. p. 362; "Africa," by John Leo.
- ↑ Pinkerton's Voyages, vol. i. p. 392; "Ethiopia," by Jobus Ludolphus.
- ↑ The Navigation and Voyage of Lewes Vertomannus, of Rome, into Arabia, Egypt, &c., in 1503, contained in "The History of Travayle in the East and West Indies," done into English by Richard Eden. London, 1577.
- ↑ Berynto, a city on the seacoast of Syria, Phœnicia.
- ↑ Sining is on the western frontier of Kansuh, towards Kokonor.
- ↑ Pinkerton's Voyages, vol. xv. p. 23.
- ↑ Pinkerton's Voyages, vol. vii. p. 333.
- ↑ Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China. Huc and Gabet. Translated by W. Hazlitt, vol. ii. p. 245.
- ↑ Gosse, Romance of Natural History.
- ↑ Prejevalski's Mongolia, vol. ii. p. 207; London, 1876.
- ↑ See 'Rh Ya and Yuen Keen Luy Han, vol. ccccxxix. p. 1.
- ↑ This height will have to be reduced in accordance with the difference between the magnitude of old and new standards of measurement.
- ↑ A poet, native of Hang Cheu.
- ↑ Vide the translation into French by L. Serrurier, Leyden, 1875.
- ↑ "The Chinese have a tradition that this animal skips, and is so holy or harmless that it won't even tread upon an insect, and that it is to come in the shape of an incomparable man, a revealer of mysteries, supernatural and divine, and a great lover of all mankind, who is expected to come, about the time of a particular constellation in the heavens, on a special mission for their benefit. The Japanese unicorn answers the description of the animal bearing that name, and supposed to be still extant in Ethiopia, and which is equal to the size of a small horse, reddish in colour, and slender as a gazelle, the male having one horn. The unicorn is the ancient crest of the kings of Israel, and is still retained by the Mikado." Epitome of the Ancient History of Japan, p. 116; N. McLeod, Nagasaki, 1875.
- ↑ Vol. ccccxxx. p. 18.
- ↑ Vol. ccccxxxii. p. 38.
- ↑ This will have to be reduced by nearly one-half, to equate it with the present measures of length.
- ↑ San Li T'u, vol. viii. p. 3. The San Li T'u is an illustrated, modern, edition by Nieh Tsung I. of the old San Li; it was written during the reign of the great patron of literature, Kang Hi (A.D. 1661 to 1723).
- ↑ Vol. vii. No. 1, p. 72.
- ↑ Harris, Game and Wild Animals of Southern Africa. The Oryx Capensis—The Gemsbock.
The figure of the renowned unicorn can be traced in all the ancient ear-rings, coins, and Latin heraldic insignia, to some one of the members of the oryxine family; of all the whimsies of antiquity, whether emanating from the unbridled and fertile fancies of the people of Egypt and Persia, or devised by the more chaste and classic taste which distinguished Greece and Rome, the unicorn—unquestionably the most celebrated—is the chimera which has in modern ages engrossed the largest portion of attention from the curious.
The rhinoceros is supposed to be the animal so often alluded to in Scripture under the name of reem or unicorn, yet the combination presented in the oryx of the antelopine and equine characters, the horns and cloven hoof of the one, blended with the erect mane, general contour and long switch tail of the other, corresponds in all essential particulars with the extant delineations and descriptions of the heraldic unicorn, which is universally represented to have been possessed of a straight slender horn, ringed at the base, and to have the hoof divided; to have worn a mane reversed, a black flowing tail, and a turkey-like tuft on the larynx, whilst both the size and ground colour were said to be those of the ass, with the addition of sundry black markings, imparting to the face and forehead a piebald appearance.
The alterations required to reduce the African oryx to the standard of this model, are slight and simple, nor can it be doubted that they have been gradually introduced by successive copyists; the idea of the single horn having been derived in the first instance from profile representations of that animal given in bas-relief on the sculptured monuments of ancient Egypt and Nubia . . . . . . They have in their aspect a certain bovine expression; and Arabs and other natives never consider them as antelopes but as a species of buffalo . . . . . . The oryx boldly defends itself when pressed by the hunters, is quarrelsome during the rutting season, and it is said that even the lion dreads an encounter with it.
- ↑ Even the patient ass, in a state of nature, is endowed with great courage. Baharan, one of the early Persian monarchs, received the surname Baharan Guz from his transfixing, with one arrow, a wild ass and a lion engaged in active combat.