What we know about unicorns
What we know about unicorns

They are larger than an ordinary horse, meeting them promises good luck, and their horn has magical properties. Or not? What do we know about unicorns?

As is often the case in supernatural stories, unicorns are the result of a mistake, even a series of mistakes. The seals, found more than 4 thousand years ago in the cities of the Harappan civilization, depict an animal that looks like a bull and has one horn. Most likely, this animal was a tour and, of course, had two horns, but the image was not three-dimensional.

Ancient scientists considered unicorns to be real animals that lived in India and Africa. He talked about unusual creatures in the 400s. BC e. physician to the Persian king Ctesias of Cnidus. The unicorn was depicted as a horse-sized donkey, completely white, but with a reddish head and azure eyes. Its horn was one and a half cubits long and was white at the base, black in the middle, and crimson at the end.

Animals used it to attack, and people who drank from the horn of a unicorn received immunity from all diseases and poisons. This description is rather doubtful, because Ctesias himself has never been to India and, according to the memoirs of his contemporaries, he liked to embellish the truth. Most likely, the Greek described a rhinoceros, stories about which he heard in Persia, because then the horn of a rhinoceros was really considered miraculous, and glasses made from it were painted in the colors mentioned.

Unicorn on the seal of the Harappan civilization

In a later description of the animal by Pliny the Elder, the unicorn was presented as a creature with elephant legs and a pig's tail. So it becomes obvious that it was the rhino that was the outlandish Indian creature.

The mankind owes the Bible, or rather its careless translators, to the classic unicorn, the very one that we can now see in the paintings and frescoes: “Will the unicorn want to serve you and sleep at your nursery? Can you tie the unicorn to the furrow with a rope and will he harrow the field after you? " This is not the only mention of the beast in the holy book. But why should a unicorn harrow the field?

This job does not seem the most suitable for a noble animal. Indeed, in modern translations of the Bible, we are not talking about a unicorn, but about a bull or a tour, the same one that is depicted on the Harappan seals. It so happened that the ancient linguists who were translating the Bible from Hebrew into Greek did not know the animal named in the book "Reem", and therefore decided to call it "monokeros", which in translation meant "unicorn". It is difficult to say what influenced this strange decision, but most likely it happened because of the myths about Noah's ark, in which the unicorn did not fit, and therefore he had to sail after the ship, resting on it with his horn.

Multicolored rhino and unicorn

Then the popular rumor entered the matter. Every traveler who returned from the East could not help but tell at least something about the unicorn, otherwise why would one have to travel at all? Many described the rhino, but there were those who did not meet the animal, and it was a matter of honor to tell something, because over time, the noble magical creature became more beautiful and more unusual, and the rhino was recognized as a completely different animal, in no way connected with the unicorn.

Time passed, and various outlandish animals came to Europe: elephants, giraffes, monkeys, but there was still no unicorn among them, and people began to doubt whether there was one at all. Fortunately for the unicorn, faith in it was supported by various healers and healers who sold its horn. There were two categories of horns: "Unicornum verum" and "Unicornum falsum", that is, the true horn and the counterfeit. The first was replaced by the tusks of a mammoth, the second was the tooth of a narwhal.Regardless of the category, a magical item was worth a lot of money due to its incredible healing properties: the horn could heal from any disease, and the poisoned food that it touched became harmless.

The unicorn hunters put a premium on the horns by talking about an extremely difficult method of catching a wonderful animal: unicorns were so strong that it was not possible to catch them with their bare hands, but they could be deceived. The sly ones argued that for this it was necessary to bring a beautiful virgin into the forest and leave her to wait under a tree. The animal came out to the girl, put its head on her lap and fell asleep.

Here she called the hunters, they caught the beast and cut off his horn. Needless to say, a beautiful story raised the price of a product several times. In Russia, by the way, this myth did not take root at all, because neither mammoths nor narwhals were a special wonder for the northern peoples. Tusks of mammoths and teeth of narwhals were used as materials for various crafts, but they were not given any magical properties.

The Girl and the Unicorn, a fresco at the Palazzo Farnese

The last pharmaceutical handbook in English, in which, among other medicines, the unicorn's horn is also mentioned, was printed in London in 1741. After that, the belief in a magical creature began to fade, and over time, the story finally turned into a legend. An ordinary bull was recognized in the Harappan seals, a mistake in the translation of the Bible was corrected, and rhinos have long ceased to amaze anyone. But centuries of mysterious stories were not in vain, and now the unicorn, namely a horse with a narwhal's tooth instead of a horn, is a symbol of wisdom, strength and purity in almost all cultures.

Ekaterina Morozova

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