The unicorn, white horned horse: what is this animal?


This majestic horse white with a horn on the forehead feeds fantastic stories. In the imagination, the unicorn can live up to 1000 years and has powers magical. Let’s unravel the mystery of a legendary animal.

Unicorn Identity Card

The unicorn is a fabulous animal with a horn on its forehead unique, long and twisted. Its controversial genesis emanates from multiple sources, in particular from descriptions of animals such as the rhinoceros and the antelope, drawn from the tales of explorers. This species of white horse, sometimes called unicorn, borrows its name from Latin unicornis, meaning “with a single horn” itself coming from the ancient Greek monokeros.

The first evocations of the unicorn

The unicorn is mentioned for the first time in West in the texts of the Greek historian Ctesias, around 389 BC, on the basis of accounts of travelers in Persia and India who called the animal “monoceros”. The author describes the beast as a wild ass as large as a horse or larger, with a white coat, dark red head, and deep blue eyes. On the creature’s head stands a long horn, about two feet long, usually white at the base, black in the middle, and red at the tip. According to Ctesias, the unicorn is a mixture of indian rhino, Himalayan antelope and hemione (wild ass).

Physical characteristics of the unicorn

At the end of the Middle Ages in the West, the physical representation of the unicorn fluctuated between the horse and the white goat : the animal is decked out with an equine body, a goatee of goat, split hooves and a long horn in the middle of the forehead, straight, spiral and pointed. At the time of the great explorations, many sailors claim to have seen unicorns and make very precise portraits of them, but often contradictory which either cast doubt on their existence or relate them to different races.

Animals at the source of legend

If the Greek author Ctesias brings the unicorn closer to a wild donkey, accounts from explorers lead us to conclude that multiple species in the myth. This is the case with Elasmotherium, an extinct genus of rhinocerotidae having lived in Asia and Europe from the end of the Pliocene until the end of the Pleistocene (between approximately −2.6 million years and −26,000 years). Nicknamed “giant unicorn”, this family of animals sported a very large single horn in the middle of the head, usually between the eyes, the description of which could have been transmitted orally in some legends. Type african white antelope oryx, wearing two long, thin horns pointing backwards, might also have contributed to the fantasy. The indian rhino, smaller than the African and equipped with a single horn, was also presented as a possible inspiration. Nicknamed the “sea unicorn”, the narvathe played a central role in the long belief in this fairy-like creature.

The supposed powers of the unicorn horn

From the Middle Ages until the late Renaissance, the unicorn became the most important imaginary animal in the Christian West thanks, in particular, to its evocation in certain translations of the Bible. The belief in its existence has also long been maintained by the trade of his horn to which powers were attributed: those, for example, to purify the waters, to neutralize the poisons and cure most diseases. The King of France had a horn for this purpose while the object was offered as a gift between princes. Many dignitaries had knives whose horn handles were supposed to blacken if the dishes presented at meals were poisoned. Reinforcing the magic around the unicorn, these products sold for their therapeutic virtues were in reality defenses narwhal.

The symbolism of the unicorn

The fabulous beast intrigued doctors like naturalists, historians, writers or poets. The works that feature it often have a strong symbolic like the tapestries and bestiaries of the Middle Ages. The unicorn is femalee, but its horn gives it an attribute male, an ambivalence reflecting the duality of the human being. According to legend, the creature embodying wisdom and purity could only be approached and tamed by a virgin maiden. Often described as admirable for its whiteness and its innocencee, the unicorn reflects love and protection. At the same time, the animal exhibits on its forehead a phallic-shaped protuberance which makes it a symbol. virile, supported by a wild and indomitable behavior.

The unicorn in modern fairyland

Today, the unicorn remains a tremendous source of inspiration for the authors and creators of popular culture, in particular works relating to literatures of the imagination and fantasy cinema. As such, we can cite the novels The Other Side of the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and the movie Legend by Ridley Scott. Today, the physical representation of the unicorn has changed. Sometimes losing her goatee and cloven hooves, she is most often depicted as a magic white horse with a single snow-colored, golden or silver-colored horn on the front. If you manage to photograph a unicorn, don’t be disappointed with the result. Legend has it that his horn disappears photos and you will only get the image of an equine …

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