The Unicorn and King Arthur

The legendary unicorn is probably one of the world’s most famous fantastic beasts. This white horse-like animal sporting a long, spiral horn on its forehead was said to live for a thousand years. Long held a symbol of purity and chastity; a protector of the just endowed with exceptional magical powers. Little wonder then that the unicorn myth developed its own associations with the fabled King Arthur and mystical Brittany.

The earliest reference we have of the unicorn is from the work of the Greek physician Ctesias who wrote an account of India around 390BC based on the reports of travellers he met during his seven year sojourn in Persia. According to Ctesias: “In India there are certain wild asses that are as large as horses; their bodies are white, their heads dark red and their eyes dark blue. They have a horn on the forehead which is about a cubit (half a metre or 18 inches) in length. The powder scraped from this horn is taken in a potion as a protection against poisons. The base of the horn, for the breadth of two hands above the brow, is pure white; the upper part is sharp and vivid crimson; the middle part is black. Those who drink from cups made of these horns are saved from the sacred disease (epilepsy) and are even immune to poisons.”

Medieval unicorn - King Arthur
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In his commentaries on the Gallic Wars of the 1st century BC, the Roman general who led that campaign, Julius Caesar, tells of the curious animals found in the Hercynian Forest. One of which he described as a beast with “the form of a stag, from the middle of whose brow there rises one horn, taller and straighter than any known.” Another Roman author, Pliny the Elder, writing in the 1st century, described the unicorn as a very fierce animal that “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, two cubits in length, that projects from the middle of its forehead. It is said, this animal cannot be taken alive.”

At the beginning of the 3rd century, the Roman author Aelian wrote of the very wild heart of India where, protected by inaccessible mountains, wild beasts such as the unicorn thrived. He described a fleet footed animal as large as a horse with a tawny mane, feet like those of an elephant and the tail of a boar. Between its brows grew a single black horn, not smooth but with natural spirals that tapered to a very sharp point. Like earlier accounts, the horn was noted for its powerful magic but Aelian also added that the unicorn was gentle when approached by other animals.

Unicorn - King Arthur - Brittany
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These brief references to the unicorn are worth noting because it is these few scant descriptions, likely of the Indian rhinoceros and a confused account of the antelope, that underpinned popular belief in the marvellous unicorn for the subsequent 1,500 years or so.

In the centuries that followed, the unicorn acquired religious connotations within the Christian Church as a symbol of grace and purity, even sometimes being used as an allegory for Jesus Christ; a process likely helped by the authoritative presence of unicorns in the Bible. The early Latin translations of the Bible and the vernacular translations derived from them mention the unicorn seven times; all in the Old Testament. Such references conjure the image of an animal remarkable for its strength and wild ferocity: “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of a unicorn.” (Numbers 23 v22).  “His glory is like the firstling of his bullock and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 33 v17).  “Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow or will he harrow the valleys after thee?” (Job 39 v9-10).

Unicorn - Licorne - King Arthur
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Clearly these passages relate to some actual animal of which the writers possessed clear impressions; a natural rather than supernatural creature yet mysterious enough to inspire a sense of awe and power. However, these references are likely legacies of translation errors that occurred when the Old Testament was translated into Greek in the 2nd century BC. In the Hebrew text, the word re’em is used to designate a type of wild ox but without an equivalent word in Greek, the translators used the word monoceros (one-horned animal). When the Bible was translated into Latin at the turn of the 5th century, the Greek monoceros was rendered as unicornis which, a thousand years later, was translated as licorne in French and unicorn in English. Unfortunately, the first Breton translation of the Old Testament, published in 1827, is a scarce book and I have not been able to see what word was used there!

The unicorn’s passage into the rich folds of Christian myth and symbolism gathered pace thanks to the bestiaries of the Middle Ages. These books of beasts discussed the appearance, habitat and habits of the creatures of the natural world as allegories to illuminate moral truths that might edify the faithful. Although condemned as heretical by Pope Gelasius in 496 (the same year he established the feast of Saint Valentine), such works were widely circulated and remained very popular even into the 15th century. Thus, the popular tradition of the marvellous unicorn was steadily spread throughout Europe.

Killing a Unicorn - bestiary - Arthur
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The medieval Bestiaries generally describe the unicorn as a small animal, akin to a large goat or small horse, fast and fierce for its size, with a single horn growing from the middle of its head. No hunter was said able to catch it but the beast could be taken by deception; the most common ploy involved a virgin girl left alone in the woods to act as a lure. Upon sighting the girl, the unicorn was believed unable to resist her and would go and rest its head in her lap where it soon fell asleep; the insensible unicorn could then be captured or killed by the hunter. Some accounts embellished this ruse to say that the girl needed to bare her breast and even to allow the unicorn to suckle in order to gain its trust. The 12th century nun and visionary Hildegarde of Bingen went so far as to claim that “the girls by whom he is captured must be noble and not rustic, not quite grown-up or quite young but moderately youthful and … gentle and sweet”.

Many of the bestiaries highlighted the healing properties of the unicorn mentioned by the early Greek and Roman authors. The animal’s horn was said to be powerful against pestilential diseases and highly effective against all poisons. Hildegard of Bingen recommended a paste of powdered unicorn liver and egg yolk as a cure for leprosy and claimed that a girdle of the animal’s skin protected the wearer against pestilence and fever, even shoes made from its skin ensured healthy feet and legs.

Unicorn and Virgin - King Arthur
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Although best known for his work on the therapeutic power of thermal springs, the 16th century Italian scholar Andrea Bacci wrote an extensive treatise in defence of the unicorn and the virtues and possible uses of its horn. In his Discorso dell’Alicorno (1573) just ten grains scraped from the inside of the animal’s horn was considered enough to counteract any poison. Other Renaissance scholars also extolled the importance of the unicorn whose powdered horn was recommended as a remedy against the plague during the 16th and 17th centuries. In Johann Schröder’s influential work Pharmacopoeia Medico-Chymica (1672) unicorn horn was commended against poisons, infectious diseases and even epilepsy in children. 

The early-17th century French pharmacologist Laurent Catelan warned that unicorn horn must never be put into hot water, for this would destroy all its virtue; he advised that powdered horn be dissolved in cold water and drunk. Given the scarcity and thus high cost of unicorn horn, water that had simply been in contact with it was also considered to have powerful therapeutic virtues. Its rarity ensured that pieces of horn were highly prized; a supply challenge that proved fertile ground for the unscrupulous who touted other types of animal horn as unicorn. One means of testing the authenticity of unicorn horn was to observe the behaviour of spiders placed around it; if the spiders avoided it, the horn was believed genuine.

Unicorns and the virgin - King Arthur - Brittany
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The strong belief in the ability of unicorn horns to protect against poisons also saw them used as a means of detecting such substances; fragments of horn would be touched to plates of food or jugs of wine in the belief that they would alert to the presence of poison either by changing colour or giving off steam. Those that feared poisoning had pieces of horn fashioned into the stems of cups, the handles of knives and even set into salt pots; Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany possessed such a cup and King Henry V of England is known to have presented one to the Duke of Brittany in 1414. Indeed, unicorn horns were listed amongst the prized possessions of many European rulers such as King Charles VI of France, Philip III Duke of Burgundy and Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Given the unicorn’s reputation as a creature of both immense power and intense grace, it is perhaps of little surprise that the animal eventually found its way into literature. The first Arthurian legend to feature unicorns is Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, written in the early 13th century, which tells of Sir Percival’s long quest for the Holy Grail across the lands of Britain and Brittany. In an attempt to cure the Fisher King, wounded in the groin by a poisoned lance, many fantastic remedies are administered to him, such as the blood of the pelican and the herbs grown where a dragon had bled. One treatment was prepared with the heart of a unicorn and the carbuncle that was said to grow at the base of its horn but these also failed due to the will of God.

Unicorn and Stag - Peredur - King Arthur
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Von Eschenbach’s tale builds on that found in French poet Chrétien de Troyes’ unfinished Perceval ou le Conte du Graal (Percival or the Tale of the Grail) written in the late 12th century. Another medieval romance that tells a broadly similar story is the 14th century Welsh tale Peredur fab Efrawg (Peredur son of Efrawg). Scholars are divided as to how much the anonymous author of Peredur borrowed from de Troyes or whether both tales share the same ancient, lost source. One notable incident in the Welsh tale is a character known as the black maiden commanding Peredur to kill the stag with one sharp horn on its forehead that is plaguing the forest. While stag hunting is a familiar trope in Arthurian romances and there is a similar incident recorded in de Troyes’ work, could Peredur’s stag with one horn actually have been a unicorn rather than a battle-scarred stag?

Le Chevalier au Papegau is an anonymous medieval tale known in only one original manuscript dating from the end of the 14th century; much of the action takes place here in Brittany. It tells how, almost immediately after his coronation, the newly crowned King Arthur sets out from Camelot, without his retinue, to help a lady terrorised by a brute who has already killed 60 of her best knights. Championing the Lady Without Pride, the unrecognised Arthur defeats the monstrous Sir Bad Boy of Causuel in single combat thanks to his trusty sword Chastiefol (the punisher of fools) and, in doing so, excites the attention of a magical parrot who proclaims him as the one “about whom Merlin prophesised” beseeching Arthur to allow him to accompany him because: “I am rightfully yours for you are the best knight in the world”.

Knight of the Parrot - King Arthur - Unicorn
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Now acclaimed as The Knight of the Parrot, Arthur continues his mission in company with the Countess Beauty Without Villainy and a cowardly dwarf who carries the magical parrot in its richly bejewelled golden cage. When Arthur encounters the knight who has been terrorising the lands of the fay Lady of the Blonde Hair a furious battle ensues. After hours of hard fighting, Arthur finally slays the evil knight; a giant whose horse was the size of an elephant and a creature that was later discovered to be one beast.

Alas, Arthur’s adventures do not end with the restoration of Lady of the Blond Hair to her lands. Love’s arrow is fired, Arthur’s honour is shamed and there are more damsels in distress to be rescued. Amid the pangs of unrequited love and the restoration of honour, Arthur and his parrot undergo a series of marvellous adventures. He encounters giants, sea monsters, a bridge of knives and a dwarf whose son grew into a giant thanks to having been suckled by a unicorn.

Unicorn - Arthur - Knight of the Parrot
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This creature was described as a beast of extraordinary size, as tall as a horse and with a horn sharper than any razor in the middle of its forehead. She had fourteen large teats, the smallest of which was the size of a cow’s udder. After having nursed her foals, the unicorn continued to succour both the dwarf and his son with delicious sweet milk; the dwarf’s son grew prodigiously on account of its miraculous properties. Arthur’s ship had run aground on the dwarf’s island and he was only able to re-float it with the aid of the giant and the unicorn who pulled the vessel back into deep water. Once afloat, the dwarf and his son boarded Arthur’s ship but the unicorn could not be parted from the giant whom he loved deeply and together all safely reached the lands of the Lady of the Blond Hair.

A more recent tale tells that one stormy February night, the great forest of Brocéliande was briefly illuminated by an immense ball of fire that raced across the black sky. In that one moment, a fierce bolt of lightning cleft the heavens; striking ground deep in the forest. People claim that it was in that twinkling of an eye that a most peculiar beast first appeared on Earth. A marvellous creature that might have been taken for a mare but for the magnificent horn that stood proud upon its head; in recognition of which the fairies of the forest called it Unicorn.

Unicorns - Brocéliande - Fairies - Arthur
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Over time, the Fairy Queen became firm friends with the Unicorn who would often allow her to sit upon its back and it was in this manner that the Queen, accompanied by her attendants, undertook a great journey around the farthest boundaries of her realm. It was during this grand tour that, one evening, the darkness was so complete that even the Unicorn could no longer find its way through the forest.

Fortuitously, the fairy Viviane appeared and with a single stroke of her wand she made a burst of pure white light stream forth from the Unicorn’s horn, and day won over night; to the great astonishment of the Fairy Queen and her party. Enraged at the victory of light over darkness, the Devil suddenly materialised in their midst and violently attacked the unwary Unicorn. During the struggle, the Lord of Darkness managed to snap off the Unicorn’s horn and instantly disappeared into the darkness with his trophy.

It was said that, to restore balance to the Earth, the enchanter Merlin toiled tirelessly to recover the magical horn and that after he had managed to secure this prize, he worked in secret with a master smith to forge a magnificent sword from the finest steel and the horn of the Unicorn. Later, Merlin bestowed upon Arthur the responsibility of wielding this magical sword and charged him with driving evil further into the darkness.

Raphael - unicorn - Arthur
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The unicorn’s position in the popular imagination is a curious one for it was not a beast that flourished much beyond the pages of dry histories and fantastic bestiaries; domains reserved for the privileged few able to afford and read such texts. Perhaps if Pliny, the most widely read of the early authors, had spoken of the magical qualities of the unicorn’s horn the legend of the unicorn would have buried itself deeper into European folklore?

For millennia, the fact that no one ever saw a unicorn did not affect belief in its existence and yet the unicorn did not enter popular mythology and folklore to the same extent that other marvellous creatures, once held to exist such as the basilisk, dragon or griffin, did. As the world became smaller, belief in the unicorn had all but disappeared in Europe by the middle of the 17th century but faith in the healing power of its horn somehow survived here for another century.

Published by Bon Repos Gites

Enjoying life in Kalon Breizh - the Heart of Brittany.

139 thoughts on “The Unicorn and King Arthur

  1. Again a fascinating story, thank you very much! I was wondering if you ever stumbled upon the Chinese version of a unicorn, the Qilin. This mythological creature is also known in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

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  2. A little bit of truth, a little bit of fantasy, a slight linguistic deviation and there you have a wonderful legendary creature. If everyone was after the poor beast to use its body parts for medicine and magic….would there be remains even to be found? It’s nice to believe such a beautiful creature could have existed!

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  3. You have to wonder how such myths came to be so common. Was it something the viewer ate, drank or smoked that gave such hallucinations or are the rest of us too suspicious to see such a beast? Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Allan, you are right, it does make you wonder what was at the root of it all! I think it is also important to factor in the human element – one story gets re-told and re-told again and again until it has a life of its own. For the first few centuries around the dawn of the Common Era, many authors simply just copied what they had read before and often passed it off as their own. It is ‘easy’ to spot this now but back then when books and readers were very rare, not so easy!

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      1. A great explanation. Kind of like how the Dark Web operates now. Somebody writes something outrageous, someone believes it and passes it on. Like the party game, where a secret is whispered to from one person to another in a line of people. By the time it gets to the last person, it has vastly changed. Thanks for clarifying. Allan

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Kate!! It would be wonderful to know for sure but I also think that would remove – whatever the answer – a lot of the mystique! 😉
      I have to admit, I had expected to uncover lots of unicorn legends and was really surprised how few there are prior to the 20thC. Perhaps they are more deeply hidden 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks! I am happy that you liked it! 🙂
      Yes, the refinements to the idea of a “pure” girl became quite extreme. In addition to the ones I mentioned (not too young-not too old, a refined person rather than a farmer’s daughter etc) some texts call for the virgin to be beautiful and naked and to suckle the unicorn. Even then, that must have been bizarre notions to heap onto young women! 😦

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  4. “The strong belief in the ability of unicorn horns to protect against poisons .” This belief may explain its extinction.

    It’s hard to say if such an animal ever existed for so many creatures are now extincted due to mankind’s loving to kill… but who knows…? There may had once been such a creature to sprung people’s imagination or they were describing what they actually saw. A similar creature have been mentioned in several literary works throughout the world. It’s called by different names, but the description is pretty much the same. Unicorns were supposed to lived in Africa, India, Asia Minor, some even mentioned them in Ethiopia, Arabia, North America and there are myths of Chinese unicorns too. So there’s a possibility that these people were all talking about the same type of horse-like creature.

    There were no media or phone back then for them to discuss with each other what they saw. So they couldn’t have gotten together and made up the story. They didn’t even know North America existed back then. 🙂

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    1. Ha, yes, that is very true indeed!! Sadly, it is the same with rhinos and their horns today 😦

      Thank you!! I was not aware of any supposed unicorns out side of India and, as you say, that is a very global spread! What were the North American ones called and whereabouts were they claimed to be? Did they possess any special traits?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Don’t forget elephants being killed for their tusks, some species of elephants are almost extinct because of poaching. In America, many birds are now extinct they were killed for their feathers in making women hats.

        They are mentioned in many more societies than India, They were in the art work of the early Mesopotamian, Chinese and Japanese and some part of Africa artworks.

        Each society described them somewhat different in appearance but the central trait was the horn in the forehead.

        Yes, the American one had a special trait. Their specialty was gouging offenders with that horn. 🙂 There nothing said about their horns being magical.

        They were said to be able to do as Odin’s eight legged horse. Run through realms and dimensions. So the story was “Don’t get on its back. You won’t come back.”

        Each tribe had a different name for the sounding like pretty much the same creature. It was called a Ningodeshkani by the Ojibwe tribe. The Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Chippewa, or Saulteaux are an Anishinaabe people in what is currently southern Canada, the northern Midwestern United States. Once upon a time they were located throughout the great plains of North America.

        Cherokees called it a soquili unullgi, or a ᏐᏈᎵ ᎤCᎩ meaning a form of single horned bay horse or brook horse that could be nice or mean, depending on its mood. Some were spotted like a pinto. These were found in the eastern part of North America.

        There are many more names for them dating all the way back to ancient Sumeria.
        As I said, the unicorn was depicted in Mesopotamian art. The word “unicorn” is based on the Hebrew word re’em (“horn”), in early versions of the Old Testament translated as “monokeros”, meaning “one horn”, which became “unicorn” in English.

        A re’em, also reëm, is an animal mentioned nine times in the Hebrew Bible. It has been translated as “unicorn” in the King James Version, and in some Christian Bible translations.

        In the West it was first mentioned by the Greek historian Ctesias @ 398 BCE. According to him, these beautiful wild beasts lived in India, Asian Minor and Eurasia. He described them as ‘wild asses’ which are as big as a horse, some even bigger. Their bodies were white, their heads dark red with a single horn in the forehead. Sounds a lot like some of the Native Americans descriptions of them.

        Some cultures taught that when darkness and evil threaten to overwhelm the mortal world, the gods sometimes saw fit to pair a unicorn mount with a human champion to defend that society. They are supposedly where the art of lancing comes from.

        I think it was something ancient man saw to create this story and in each part of the world they may have looked different. It could have been a Elasmotherium sibiricum they saw.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you! When you talk of Chinese and Japanese unicorns, are these separate from the qilin? I have read a decent amount of native American mythology and folklore and cannot recall ever coming across a reference to unicorns. Sadly, a quick search on the web resulted nothing, so, that is another to add to the “to do” pile one day! 😉 To that list will also be those unicorn human champion pairings you mentioned – another new one to me. 🙂

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      3. I’m sorry, I forgot to list this account was found in the Cherokee Book Of Knowledge. Sadly, with colonization so much of this information was lost or misinterpreted.

        There’s mention of a Chinese and Japanese unicorn: a unicorn like creature that’s not scary looking like the qilin. A qilin dealt with or is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious rule. Some called it a Kirin.

        I think the Kirin was supposed to lead the spirit of sage, a wise person through the next life the way Ba or some say Anbuis to lead a soul. One become a sage by learning about many different things, taking time to think about them, and sharing your knowledge with others. In classical philosophy, a sage was someone who had the wisdom to understand the depths of existence and reality.

        No, this is not what I once read. These creatures were supposed to be gentle and very beautiful having nothing to do with a sage. They could express wisdom shall they deemed the person worthy of it.

        Yes, it was once believe that the gods and goddesses paired human champions with a unicorn to do battle against the evils of the world. Once such story was a version of Sir Lancelot. There are versions of Lancelot having nothing to do with Camelot. In some versions stories his white horse was a unicorn and that’s why he was given the horse-like creature. There are lots of art works featuring knights and unicorns.

        I’m not sure how the Pegasus like Unicorn Sir Lancelot supposed have ridden was much like Bellerophon’s Pegasus in Greece mythology. This version is considered Gaulish than Celtic. I don’t it was winged.

        I find the difficulties in researching old mythology or myths is that each culture had its own name for the same creature. In the Americans it looked more like a roan.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Many thanks! I am still stuck on the humans and unicorns doing battle etc. I would genuinely like to learn more of this and would be grateful if you could point me towards a few sources or books that I might get hold of to read. Lancelot on a unicorn must be from a most obscure source and it would be great to read it!

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      5. Yes, according to lores, sometimes humans and unicorns fought together to defeat an evil and sometimes they fought each other. As you can see, it was always the humans attacking first and the poor creatures were forced to defending themselves.

        Yes, the older version of Sir Lancelot, it was an incomprehensible find when I at first discovered it. But I was not entirely surprised, considering how ancient cultures often borrowed from each other. That’s when I realized that Lancelot was far older than the character mentioned in Camelot. It sounds like to me Camelot adopted the character, not created him.

        I remember the Gaul’ god Cernunnos was supposedly the one who sent Lancelot to find the Unicorn.

        Sure, if I can find the source online I will gladly sent them to you. Sometimes I’m able to find nitbits online that has slipped out the librarians.

        I was once a librarian and got to read lot of things that are usually locked away. Some of these book were highly collectibles as to why were kept under lock and key. I couldn’t photocopy even them either.

        There are a lot of exquisite books locked away from the public. For example the original “Childe Rolande To The Tower Cometh” is worth millions. No, I’m not referring to Robert Browning’s poem published in 1855. It’s where he got the idea from. Nor, Stephen King’s Gunslinger’s Roland. The book is longer than Browning poem. No one really knows how old it is. It’s like Gilgamesh which was orally told for centuries before being written down. Childe Rolande was written down in two languages Old Saxon and Viking. Making historians believe it may had been eventually written down around the 4th to 5th century. The original book is written in Old Saxon without vowels and consonants. This book told why the hero was called Rolande of Gilead. They came from what’s now called Gilead. I see Mr. King kept the part in his series about these people being from Canaan.

        Sometimes I find myself looking for the works I’ve read offline, online, and some of it—I don’t think the libraries have placed it online yet. I don’t think nearly a quarter of their books on line yet. But I still look for them, anyway. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly!! 🙂 I am pleased that you liked it! Yes, here in France it is also accepted as an imaginary creature now 😉 When we look carefully at the old descriptions, it seems incredible that they did not link the description of the unicorn with the rhinoceros. They didn’t even make the connection when Marco Polo returned from India saying that they liked to wallow in mud! 😉

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      1. Glad to learn about Marco Polo’s visit to India and also that the old descriptions did not make a connection between the unicorn and the rhino 🦏. I personally see no connection at all. I don’t see the elegant and beautiful unicorn wallowing in mud. Ah non! Du tout pas. Merci pour votre réponse, Bon Repos Gites. Bon Dimanche.

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  5. 🦄Greek physician Ctesias🦄

    Treatise on the River is also such a captivating title, which I have never read. I do wonder if I ever will or if I have sufficient time to ponder them.
    Everything governmental is so exhausting to ponder or navigate
    But wait, I digress.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 🦏likely of the Indian rhinoceros and a confused account of the antelope, that underpinned popular belief in the marvellous unicorn for the subsequent 1,500 years or so.🦏

    To think the strong, fierce, sprinter
    Short-legged horse is actually the now hound and hunted stunning rhinoceros
    Fascinating how its physique was portrayed over time.

    Wonderful research and storyteller
    It’s just a mix of the two.
    The antelope and the rhinoceros
    Telling powers of the unicorn.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. 🦏Those who drink from cups made of these horns are saved from the sacred disease (epilepsy) and are even immune to poisons.”🦏

        As you so aptly explained. Still today they are hunted by the Irish and the Asians mainly.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmm so fact or fiction – that is where imagination comes in and fills in the blanks 👏

    At first I was gonna mention the India Rhino because it did have fur and was closely matching description ??

    There probably could have been some kind of creature ? You never know what nature can do.

    Now a days – we call someone who is amazing in all aspects “a unicorn”

    Because so rare and awe inspiring

    But back then – they also had dragons lol … so what were those?

    Unicorns 🦄 and dragons 🐉… must have been a fantastical and incredible time to live 😮 wow!

    When I was a kid I wanted a dragon lol – after watching Pete’s dragon ❤️ the 1970’s version

    I was so sure they real lol … and I would see China and their dragon things and think they all lived over there ?? Lol

    Unicorns I dunno? They just always “seemed” like imagination ?

    As a young girl still at heart – I would LOVE for unicorns to be real!!! 🦄 ❤️

    Interesting though that they depicted in several writings. So was something?

    Very cool post to remind the imagination ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think you are right! Someone knew somebody who had seen an Indian rhino and, after a long journey, re-told their tale. Maybe 7-10 years later, Ctesias wrote-up what he remembered. Even Marco Polo claimed disappointment with the “unicorn” saying they were not as he’d imagined and they were very ugly, spending time wallowing in mud and slime!

      But you are right, it was a time of unicorns, dragons and griffins and even ant-lions, so, anything is possible! 😉 Kinda strange that dragons punched deep into folklore and magic practices – as did griffins but less so – but unicorns really only made it big in heraldry.

      Haha, I recall Pete’s Dragon and that desperately sad song by Peter, Paul and Mary!

      I think history teaches us to never say never – who know, they might find a unicorn skeleton tomorrow!! 😉

      Thanks for reading and hope the pup is not playing-up tooo much 😉

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      1. Hahaha ahhhh the game of telephone ☎️ and imagination … way better than an ugly muddy slimy unicorn 😄😮

        So I know what the other things are – but what is an “Antlion”? When I ask phone to look it up – it’s an insect lol … is that what you mean?

        I do find an insect little humorous when compared to unicorns, dragons and griffins lol – kinda no contest

        Well… I dunno … dragons are still thought of today in China aren’t they? Chinese folklore keeps them always alive 😉… so dragons 🐉 punched very deep – there is even “How to Train Your Dragon” lol 😘✌️🐉

        Yes – that song always makes me cry!! Lol … I always wanted him to never die lol

        Then I would say unicorns 🦄… mostly because of Lisa Frank for me – if being honest lol ✌️😘 was lots of hearts rainbows and unicorns lol ✌️

        But also some fantastic book or tale. ✌️

        Griffins I know a few tales about but not too many. Some movies maybe?

        But antlion – I got nothin 🤷‍♀️ I am excited to hear what is though – now I am very curious – is really an insect?? It can’t be?? It must be something else

        Lol … maybe but might still be muddy and slimy? 😉

        Hahaha omg puppies lol 🐾❤️ like another child – but he doing really good for only 2 months old ❤️ he’s doing incredible – really really smart

        But also handful – now all my energy taken lol ❤️🐾🐾

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      2. Yes, your first instinct was right! Antlions were said to have been creatures that were the result of a union between an ant and a lion! Supposedly, they had the face of a lion and and the body of an ant. As it shared the traits of both parents, the ant part could only eat seed and the lion only meat and so the beast was destined to starve to death! Weird huh? 😉

        Enjoy time with your pup! 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Omg – that is weird imagine to my mind lol

        I remember as a child … do you remember my story about the weeping willows ?

        In that same field there were these ant hills we had to be careful of because they were FIRE ANTS

        They bite and hurt and itch!

        They liked meat!!

        Depends on how big this lion head is

        And as female ant, how they even give birth lol damn! No thank you!

        That is really weird – that is definitely imagination ✌️

        We are totally enjoying him ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Haha, yes, a totally strange creature – a very active imagination somebody had!

        Ha … that’s nature’s need for balance 😉 Gives you wonderful willows but then yucky fire ants! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi! Thanks for all the research you did to compile this article and the art work! I really enjoyed it. Around here the unicorn is wildly popular with children- for parties, stuffed animals, etc. They usually are done in pastel rainbow colors. There is even a breakfast cereal that has little marshmallow unicorns in it. Your article is very fact-filled and fun. A joy to read! Hope you are well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I am pleased that you liked it! 🙂
      Yes, the unicorn seems to have been reborn in the last fifty years or so and is certainly more well known and popular nowadays than it ever was!

      Like

    1. Thank YOU for reading it!! 😉 I am glad that you liked it! You are right, the unicorn has a place in the popular imagination now that it never had in previous centuries! Makes you wonder what else might get a re-imagining! 😉

      Like

  9. I knew this one would be great! I can definitely see why they thought they were magically and had powers to heal. They have to be the nose beautiful looking creatures to see in books and magazines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am happy that you liked it! Agreed, some of the representations of unicorns are simply magical, so, I suppose that it is no wonder they have developed a big following especially since the dawn of digital arts etc! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. So much fascinating information, as usual! What could be better than Arthur mythology (which I love?) Arthur mythology mixed with unicorns!
    And I love the somewhat unflattering painting of that one unicorn eating cherries, lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!!! I have to admit that I was surprised at how little unicorns featured in literature before about the middle of the 19thC; they are simply just not around. So, it was a joy to uncover those Arthurian references! I left out the tale from The Once and Future King as such things couldn’t possibly have happened in Brittany! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  11. So fascinating! And I am currently reading a Christian fiction book (Worthy of Legend by Roseanna M. White) that talks a bit about King Arthur. So this especially jumped out at me. You always provide such in depth details. Thank you! I enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is very kind of you to say! Thank you, I am most happy that you liked it! 🙂
      I have just ‘googled’ that book!! It sounds a very interesting read. I know nothing of the legends of the Scilly Isles but imagine they will be fascinating!!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. A beautiful narrative and paintings. Few things are more beloved than the elusive Unicorn. I was unaware that Fascination with its beauty and powers extend so far back in history. Is there a small child who doesn’t want a unicorn ? This is lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am most happy that you enjoyed this read Holly! Yes, the unicorn was certainly more elusive than one would have thought, especially given its popularity today! I guess that shows that folklore is an evolving thing! 🙂

      Like

  13. I was always curious about the origins of the mythical unicorn and you have sated me. My assumption was that it might be a natural mutation on a horse or deer. It was lovely to read a historical account of the famed beast. Unicorns have become rather ubiquitous these days although I can understand why children love the backpacks and stuffed toys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I am pleased that you liked it! You are right, there are certainly strong grounds for thinking that at least some of the early written appearances of the unicorn were actually speaking of battle-scarred stags and, of course, genetic deformities in deer are not as rare as one might think! But, as you say, that will not capture the imagination as much as a noble unicorn! 😉

      Like

  14. I was never convinced of one of the explanations of a unicorn being a narwhal, with its long tusk. I assumed it was a rhinoceros that was vastly misinterpreted (especially given with its elephant-like feet), but when you suggested a misinterpreted gazelle, with its colouring, I think that’s the best contender!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the narwhal link is pretty tenuous as they were very clear that the beast was found in India. I assume that narwhals came into the equation when people started to realise that their treasured unicorn horns were really from a narwhal and ergo : “I have not been duped – this is the unicorn!” 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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