Nature & It’s Symbols – The Unicorn

It is portrayed as a horse, usually white, with a long, pointed, spiralling horn on its forehead. It also sometimes has a goat-like beard, a lion’s tail, and bovine hooves.

The mythical figure of the unicorn dates back to antiquity and is know practically all over the world. The belief in its existence persisted for a very long time, remaining alive until the nineteenth century. The first accounts of its existence come from the ancient Greek historian Ctesias, who lived in the fifth to fourth centuries BC. In his writings on India, he tells of the existence of a wild animal similar to the horse, but having a horn on its head with extraordinary curative powers. He was probably talking about an Indian rhinoceros, but the strange, mysterious creature insinuated itself into the collective imagination, eventually assuming the features of a Unicorn.

The Christian Religion made it a symbol of purity and chastity. Its image appears in medieval bestiaries, which tell of the animal’s legendary powers, beginning with its horns ability to discover and neutralise poisons. Later the unicorn is described as a rather wild, rebellious animal, impossible to capture without resorting to trickery. Tradition has it that the unicorn can only be approached by a virgin girl. The hunters thus leave a maiden alone in a clearing and conceal themselves nearby. Seeing the girl, the animal approaches, lies down in her lap; as soon as it falls asleep, the hunters capture it. Although the story of the unicorn hunt has been read as an allegory of the Passion of Christ, the animal’s more direct symbolism of purity and chastity has prevailed over time.

Zuffi, S. (Ed.) Nature & It’s Symbols, The J. Paul Getty Museum, America, 2004 (p.368)