Searching for unicorn myths is a bit like searching for unicorns themselves.unicorn is a legendary creature that has been described since antiquity as a beast with a large, pointed, spiralling horn projecting from its forehead. The unicorn was depicted in ancient seals of the Indus Valley Civilization and was mentioned by the ancient Greeks in accounts of natural history by various writers, including Ctesias, Strabo, Pliny the Younger, and Aelian. The Bible also describes an animal, the re'em (auroch), which some versions translate as a unicorn.
To put it simply, as far as ancient myths are concerned, there is no such thing as 'unicorn mythology'.
This is not unlike the griffin, who many ancient Greeks also believed came from India. And like the griffin, very few specific tales can be told about the unicorn, despite its popularity around the world.
The strangest part has to be the fact that ancient scholars believed that unicorns were real. While this is true of other mythical creatures, unicorns are unique in that they aren't from mythology. For example, ancient people might believe that a Pegasus, the winged horse of Bellerophon, was real because there was a specific myth that spoke of him. The unicorn, on the other hand, has no such myth, so where does the belief in unicorns come from?
The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.The unicorn, tamable only by a virgin woman, was well established in medieval lore.
One traditional method of hunting unicorns that involved entrapment by a virgin.
In one of his notebooks, Leonardo da Vinci wrote:
The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.
A Maiden with a Unicorn by Leonardo da Vinci.Interpretations of the unicorn myth focus on the medieval lore of beguiled (charm or enchant (someone), often in a deceptive way) lovers. The unicorn also figured in courtly terms: for some 13th-century French authors such as Thibaut of Champagne and Richard de Fournival, the lover is attracted to his lady as the unicorn is to the virgin.
The Throne Chair of Denmark is made of "unicorn horns" – almost certainly narwhal tusks. It is guarded by three life-size silver lions, based on Biblical references, and was a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Twin Kingdoms. The same material was used for ceremonial cups because the unicorn's horn continued to be believed to neutralise poison.The horn itself and the substance it was made of was called alicorn, and it was believed that the horn holds magical and medicinal properties.
The Hunt of the Unicorn.
Another famous set of six tapestries of Dame à la licorne ("Lady with the unicorn") in the Musée de Cluny, Paris, were also woven in the Southern Netherlands before 1500, and show the five senses (the gateways to temptation) and finally Love ("A mon seul desir" the legend reads), with unicorns featured in each piece. Facsimiles of these unicorn tapestries are currently being woven for permanent display in Stirling Castle, Scotland, to take the place of a set recorded in the castle in a 16th-century inventory.
My interest has grown in the unicorn and this mystical creature has inspired a new novel called 'The Paper Unicorn'. I'm really excited about this story, it is quite different to my others. However, I must complete book two for publishing this year 'A Carpet of Purple Flowers' series and then I'm free to play with this idea. Can't wait. :o) Meanwhile, in my spare time I'm compiling a mood book so I don't lose track of the tale. I'll share pieces that I create here on the blog.
Love and light,