Pliny the Elder


Natural History 8:29Edit

Latin originalEdit

Isdem ludis et rhinoceros unius in nare cornus, qualis saepe, visus. Alter hic genitus hostis elephanto cornu ad saxa limato praeparat se pugnae, in dimicatione alvum maxime petens, quam scit esse molliorem. Longitudo ei par, crura multo breviora, color buxeus.

English translation (J. Bostock, H.T. Riley, 1855)Edit

At the same games [of Pompeius Magnus] the rhinoceros was also exhibited, an animal which has a single horn projecting from the nose; it has been frequently seen since then. This too is another natural-born enemy of the elephant [in addition to the dragon]. It prepares itself for the combat by sharpening its horn against the rocks; and in fighting directs it chiefly against the belly of its adversary, which it knows to be the softest part. The two animals are of equal length, but the legs of the rhinoceros are much the shorter: its skin is the colour of box-wood.


In Middle Ages the rhinoceros became synonymous with the unicorn. People like Saint Gregory and Albertus Magnus cited the boxwood color and the enmity to elephants right before or after their admiration to virgins.

The Arabs took the fight with the elephant as the central trait of the karkadann.

Natural History 8:31Edit

Latin originalEdit

In India et boves solidis ungulis, unicornes, et feram nomine axin hinnulei pelle pluribus candidioribusque maculis, sacrorum Liberi patris — (Orsaei Indi simias candentes toto corpore venantur) —, asperrimam autem feram monocerotem, reliquo corpore equo similem, capite cervo, pedibus elephanto, cauda apro, mugitu gravi, uno cornu nigro media fronte cubitorum duum eminente. Hanc feram vivam negant capi.

English translation (J. Bostock, H.T. Riley, 1855)Edit

There are in India oxen also with solid hoofs and a single horn; and a wild beast called the axis, which has a skin like that of a fawn, but with numerous spots on it, and whiter; this animal is looked upon as sacred to Bacchus. The Orsæan Indians hunt down a kind of ape, which has the body white all over; as well as 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, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits in length. This animal, it is said, cannot be taken alive.


It is frequently overlooked that Pliny refers to two kinds of unicorns, not just one. The "oxen with solid hoofs" are likely the one-horned Indian asses known from Ctesias and Aristotle. The word "oxen" (boves) does not specify the species; it is a generic name for an unknown animal, per Roman fashion. For some reason, perhaps skepticism, Pliny did not mention the purple head or the tricolor horn.

The monoceros is another beast, likely taken from Megasthenes and later elaborated by Aelian.

Natural History 11:106Edit

Latin originalEdit

Cornigera fere bisulca; solida ungula et bicorne nullum, unicorne asinus tantum indicus; unicorne et bisulcum oryx. Talos asinus indicus unus solidipedum habet.

English translation (J. Bostock, H.T. Riley, 1855)Edit

Nearly all the horned animals are cloven-footed, no animal having solid hoofs and two horns. The Indian ass is only a one-horned animal, and the oryx is both one-horned and cloven-footed. The Indian ass is the only solid-hoofed animal that has pastern-bones.


This fragment is lifted verbatim from Aristotle.

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