Monday, May 20, 2013

U is for UNICORN

I am being self-indulgent here and this post is specially for EC and me; two people who still enjoy childhood fantasies and who refuse to completely grow up and occasionally enjoy journeying back to that wonderful world as an escape from our adult lives which at times can be a tad trying.


I am printing the first 6 lines of the poem that appears in Odell Shepard's "Love of the Unicorn".  I have only quoted the poem that appears there and if you should want to read a really delightful account of the unicorn I would suggest you try hhtp://unicorn-dream.co.uk/unicorn2.html   It truly is worth doing so.

Across the long millenia, in every land and time,
The Unicorn is present, in book, and art, and rhyme.
From Greece the written word came first about the one-horned beast;
Ctesias wrote of many things, the Unicorn not least.
Some mighty scholars lent weight to the infant legend then;
The Elder Pliny, Aelian, and Aristotle's pen.  etc. etc. etc.

The unicorn is a legendary animal from European folklore that resembles a white horse with a large, pointed, spiralling horn projecting from its forehead, and sometimes with a goat's beard and cloven hooves.  First mentioned by the ancient Greeks, it became the most important imaginary animal of the Middle Ages and Renaissance when it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace which could only be captured by a virgin.  In the encyclopaedias its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness.


Unicorns are not found in Greek mythology, but rather in accounts of natural history, for Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the reality of the unicorn, which they located in India, a distant and fabulous realm for them.  The earliest description is from Ctesias (A Greek physician and historian born in the 5th century B.C.) who described them as wild asses, fleet of foot, having a horn a cubit (1 cubit = 45.72cms) and a half in length and coloured white, red and black.  Aristotle must be following Ctesias when he mentions two one-horned animals the oryx (a kind of antelope) and the so-called "Indian ass".


Strabo (Greek geographer, philosopher and historian) says that in the Caucasus there were one-horned horses with stag-like heads.  Pliny the Elder (Roman scholar, encyclopaedist and nationalist) mentions the oryx and an Indian ox (perhaps a rhinoceros) as one-horned beasts, as well as "a very fierce animal called the monoceros which has the head of the stag, the feet of an elephant, and the tail of a 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, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits in length.  In "On the Nature of Animals" Aelian (Roman author and teacher), quoting Ctesias, adds that India produces also a one-horned horse, and says that the monoceros was sometimes called 'cartazonos" which may be a form of the Arabic 'karkadann', meaning  "rhinoceros".

Cosmas Indicopleustes, a merchant of Alexandria, who lived in the 6th century, made a voyage to India and subsequently wrote works on cosmography.  He gives a description of a unicorn based on four brass figures in the palace of the King of Ethopia.  He states, from report, that "It is impossible to take this ferocious beast alive; and that all its strength lies in its horn.  When it finds itself pursued and in danger of capture, it throws itself from a precipice and turns so aptly in falling, that it receives all the shock upon the horn, and so escapes safe and sound."

A one-horned animal (which may be just a bull in profile) is found on some seals from the Indus Valley Civilisation.  Seals with such a design are thought to be a mark of high social rank.


There is much more serious information regarding animals in the Hebrew Bible resembling the unicorn as well as the Authorised King James Version of the Bible from 1611 and many quotes from that bible where the word unicorn is used in various texts.  If you want to read more about the story of the unicorn you will find it on Wikipedia if you put 'unicorn' into Google.

I didn't want to get too serious as I believe in unicorns and I quote words from the beautiful song "The Unicorn" sung by the Irish Rovers, Roger Whittaker and others:

"A long time ago, when the earth was green,
There were more kinds of animals than you've ever seen.
They'd run around free while the earth was being born,
And the loveliest of them all was the unicorn.

It goes on to tell how Noah built the Ark and took with him two of each type of creature but....

"Then Noah looked out through the driving rain.
Them unicorns were hiding, playing silly games.
Kicking and splashing while the rain was pourin'
Oh them silly unicorn!"

.............."Close the door, cause the rain is pouring in
And we just can't wait for no unicorn."

"The Ark started moving, it drifted with the tide.
The unicorns looked up from the rocks and they cried.
And the waters came down and sort of floated them away
And that's why you've never seen a unicorn, to this very day."

I refuse to grow up completely and in my mind some unicorns did make it to dry land eventually and they are out there somewhere still playing silly games and having a wonderful time.  If you shut your eyes and concentrate I am sure you will see a unicorn.....sometime, somewhere.  Good luck!!
AND long live the unicorn!!!  We need wonderful things in our lives.


2 comments:

  1. Thank you Mimsie. I need there to be unicorns. If they aren't playing in a hidden glade in a forest somewhere, they are certainly in my heart. And I won't be evicting them either.

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  2. EC I am so glad you enjoyed this post and I need them too. They bring so much beauty into our lives where there is often not quite so much at times.

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