As the Unicorn was not found in the flesh near home, and as its terrestrial existence was firmly believed in, it became necessary to locate the animal in some distant region. Perhaps the most celebrated of this supposed haunts in the English Version of the Old Testament, where the word 'unicorn,' in deference to the Μονόκερως of the LXX., the Unicornis of the Vulgate, has unfortunately been introduced in several passages. The animal really referred to is the Rêm, the Assyrian Rimu or Wild Bull, respecting which the Rev. W. Houghton observes:—
'The species of wild cattle hunted by the Assyrian monarchs is either the Bos primigenius or some closely allied species; it is apparently identical with the gigantic urus, which Caesar and the Roman legions saw in the forests of Belgium and Germany.'
Thus we read;—'He hath as it were the towering horns (lit. eminences) of a wild bull.'
And again;—'Glorious is the firstling of his bullock, and his horns (i.e., two horns) are like the horns of a wild bull.' Here the LXX. absurdly read κέρατα μονοκέρωτος τὰ κέρατα αὐτοῦ, and our translators render the singular by the plural to preserve consistency. The other passages in the Old Testament where the Unicorn is mentioned are similar.
The cuneiform ideograph for the Rêm is or , each of which forms show the two projecting horns in front. Compare our letter A, originally the Phoenician and Moabite Stone , i.e., the rude representations of a bull's horns.
Pliny observes that the Unicorn 'cannot be taken alive;' and Guillim remarks that 'some have made doubt whether there be any such beast as this or not. But the great esteem of his Horne (in many places to be seen) may take away that needlesse scruple.' Horns, no doubt, can be seen in various places, and 'the spiral tusk of the Narwhal was accustomed to be sold as the real horn of the unicorn; and as an accredited part of that animal, forming [a supposed] direct proof of its existence, it used to fetch a very high price.' 'The heirs of the Chancellor to Christian Frisius of Denmark valued one at 8,000 imperials. In an inventory of the sixteenth century, we have, 'Item, two unicorns' bones, garnessyed with gold.' 'An unicorn horn at Somerset House, valued at 500l., occurs in the Inventory of the Plate of King Charles I.' 'When the whale fishery was established, the real owner of the horn was discovered, and the unicorn left still enveloped in mystery. The name Monodon ["One-tooth"] is not strictly correct, as the Narwhal possesses two of these tusks, one on each side of its head.' These twister ivory tusks made excellent unicorns' horns.
The next animal in this competition is the Oryx (a name used by Aristotle, who probably refers to the Indian Nylghau), supposed by some to be the Unicorn of the Old Testament, and having long straight horns, which when seen in profile exactly cover each other, and so give an unicornic appearance. 'There is in the Museum at Bristol a stuffed antelope from Caffraria, presented in 1828. It is of the shape and size of a horse, with two straight taper horns, so nearly united, that in profile it shows only a single horn.' The Oryx, however, is no Unicorn.
Next, as to the Rhinoceros. Pausanias describes the African species, 'Aithiopian Bulls, which they call "Nose-horn" (Ῥινόκερως), because each has a horn at the end of its nose, and another small one above it'—the Rhinoceros 'gemino cornu' of Martial—'but on its head there are no horns.' The Keitloa, a kind of black Rhinoceros, is two-horned; as are the Muchocho and Kobaoba, the two white kinds. The Indian Rhinoceros, however, is one-horned; but 'the so-called "horn" is not a true horn, being nothing but a process of the skin, and composed of a vast assemblage of hairs.' The 'Indian Ass' of Aristotle, which he describes as having but one horn, is probably the one-horned Rhinoceros, the horn of which, like that supposed to belong to the Unicorn proper, has always been highly valued, and regarded as a detectant of poison. But no kind of Rhinoceros at all resembles the various representations of the Unicorn, is an opponent of the Lion, or answers generally to the mythical character of the mysterious creature.
Aldrovandus, amongst his other monsters and curiosities, speaks of a unicornic animal called the Camphurch, which apparently not being one of the fittest, has not survived. Apropos of the lusus naturae, it may be remembered that Plutarch mentions how 'a ram's head with only one horn' was brought to Perikles from one if his farms, which occasioned a prophecy that he would attain to supreme power in the state. Here we trench on the symbolical, and so are reminded of Daniel's goat with 'a notable horn between his eyes,' namely that Alexander, who, strange to say, adopting the horns of Ammon, reappears in the Korân as Dhoulkarnain, 'the Two-horned.'
Having noticed the various actually existing animals that have been named in this connexion, it only remains to add that the Unicorn has been prudently relegated to those remote regions which are, or rather were, the special abodes of many wondrous creatures. Amongst these favoured localities was the great Hercynian Forest, in which, according to a report repeated by Caesar:—
'Est bos [a vague term applied to any large and strange animal] cervi figura, cujus a media fronte inter aures Unum cornu existic, excelsius majisque directum his, quae nobis nota sunt, cornibus.'
The vague description of Pliny, seems to point to a kind of Rhinoceros. Cardan, following Pliny 'with advantages,' describes the Unicorn as rare, with the hair of a weasel, the head of a deer, the body of a horse, thin legs and mane, and one horn three cubits in length.
Garcias has preserved a very interesting incident, namely, that the Unicorn 'was endowed with a wonderful horn, which it would sometimes turn to the left and right, at others raise, and then again depress.' The progress of the lunar horn, of course, here supplies the basis of the myth.
- ↑ Gleanings from the Natural Hist. of the Ancients, 172-3.
- ↑ Numbers, xxiii. 22.
- ↑ Deuteronomy, xxxiii. 17.
- ↑ Hist. Nat. viii. 21; vide sec. I.
- ↑ D. H.
- ↑ Rev. J. G. Wood, Illustrated Natural History, 85-6.
- ↑ Fosbroke, E. A. I. 393.
- ↑ Rev. J. G. Wood, Illustrated Natural History, 86.
- ↑ Brunet, Regal Armorie of Great Britain, 218
- ↑ Paus. IX., xxi. 2.
- ↑ Rev. J. G. Wood, Illustrated Natural History, 153.
- ↑ Perikles, vii.
- ↑ Daniel, viii. 5.
- ↑ Sura, xviii.
- ↑ De Bello Gallico, vi. 26.
- ↑ Hist. Nat. viii. 21.
- ↑ Vide the Monoceros, Unicornu, Einhorn, etc., described in Jonston, Historia Naturalis, 1657.
- ↑ Apud Penny Cyclopaedia, in voc. Unicorn
- ↑ In voc. Monokeratos.
- ↑ In voc. Monokerôs.