If you are familiar with mythologies around the world, you will know that there are tons, tons of mythical creatures. Most of these creatures are somewhat enigmatic and kind of… evil in nature. The best examples are probably from Greek mythology, featuring wide variety of unusual monsters like the hydra, harpy, Cerberus, minotaur, and more… However, not all mythical creatures are inherently bad. There are certain individual representing good side, such is the case of the popular Unicorn – a magical horse with majestic beauty. It has made lots of appearance throughout pop culture nowadays, but how much do we know about this legendary creature exactly? Let’s find out!
From the Greek history…
Frankly speaking, the origin of the unicorn is rather… mysterious. It does not exist in any sort of Greek mythology, or in any other ancient mythology. In terms of historical records though, the first recognized document which describes unicorn is written by a Greek author named Ctesias who lived in the 4th century B.C. Once he travelled to the land of Persia (or Iran in present day) and listened to various tales from Indian travelers. Among those tales were the stories of a certain creature which was later called as Unicorn. According to his writing, this creature was described as “wild asses as large as horses”. It had white body with red head and dark blue eyes. On its head there was “a horn on the forehead, which is about a foot and a half in length.” The horn has many colors and this creature was so agile, so fast that nothing could capture it.
By the look of it, Ctesias seemed to describe this creature based on his imagination and the stories he had heard, rather than seeing the creature himself. Of course, Ctesias was not the only one who described the creature. Many later writers also mentioned but their descriptions were quite different from one another, except for one common detail: the creature had one horn.
… To the Mediaval Age
Centuries later, the unicorn figure was still shared throughout history, notably during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It was described in many ways: horse, wild ass, or even goat. However, the most common used figure was the noble horse with a single horn which could only be tamed by maiden. In fact, there was a story of which an unicorn rested it head on the maiden’s lap and slept. Seizing the chance, the hunter captured it, leaving the maiden behind with her tear falling from her eyes.
In general, people highly considered unicorns as a pure beast. An unique horse which was both powerful and beautiful. It was so fast, so elusive that no one could capture it, except for the virgin, specifically in this case: a maiden. It was also believed to be a beast with magical power. It had the power of purification and it could cleanse any sign of corruption like poison or tainted water. In addition, unicorn’s horn was believed to have magical power and its substance was called as “Alicorn”. Many people believed Alicorn to have restoration and purification power and could heal any sort of diseases. This belief was so wide spread that there was a certain “Alicorn paranoid” occurred within the society, especially the royalty. Certain people even sold “Alicorn products” like cup or medicines since it reaped a fortune. Turned out, these products were fake which were made from ivory or tusk.
For such a fantastical creature, surely the royalty could not just let the unicorn figure go. It was so integrated into European culture that many royal families, cities, and even kings chose it as the main symbol of their heraldry.
Unicorn also made its appearance in Christian lore. Specifically, people considered it as the symbol for Christ. The story of the unicorn resting its head on the maiden’s lap was somehow… similar to the story of baby Jesus lying on the lap of Virgin Mary. Some even referred the unicorn’s power of purification to the story of Jesus sacrificing himself to cleanse the sins of mankind.
Even now, many people have been trying to search for the origin of this majestic beast. If we trace back further, the first depiction of unicorn may actually be the so-called “Unicorn seals” comes from the Indus Valley Civilization. These seals include the depiction of a unicorn-like creature and it is still troubling researchers to this day. If it is true then probably unicorn actually originated from ancient India. However, some argue against this idea since the depicted creature could have 2 horns, yet the seals could only represent one.
In another scenario, some still believe that unicorn was real, yet got extinct long time ago. Although truth be told, it was not sure how unicorn had come to pass. One of the popular beliefs is that it is purely a product of human’s fiction. Based on the first record of Ctesias, the beast was actually non-exist. The creature told from the tale of Stesias was purely his imagination based from many tales he had heard of from the Indian travelers. To prove this theory further, some argued that the beast which told by the Indian travelers was actually rhinoceros. During his time travelling, Marco Polo also described the unicorn as following:
– The head resembles that of a wild boar, and they carry it ever bent towards the ground. They delight much to abide in mire and mud. ‘Tis a passing ugly beast to look upon, and is not in the least like that which our stories tell of as being caught in the lap of a virgin.
– The Travel of Marco Polo, Book 3, Chapter 9 –
Of course we can imagine that many people were extremely disappointed by such “real description”. Then again, such description of his actually referred to the rhino and it was possibly that he mistook them as unicorn. But no matter how disappointing it might sound, in the end we still see tons of its depiction as beautiful one-horned horse nowadays.
As we mentioned above, unicorn already tied deeply in European history since the Middle Age. Again, around this time most of its depictions resembled a mystical creature with appearance of a wild ass, a goat, or more commonly, a horse with a single horn. It was a symbol of purity and it only fought against evil. Besides its gorgeous appearance, it was powerful, fast, and agile. No one could capture the unicorn and only the maiden could tame it. It also had the power of purification in which it could repel any sort of corruption or poison from the water. This explained why the unicorn was so extremely popular in European culture of that time. And of course, even the Christian adopted the unicorn figure as the symbol for Christ.
Interestingly enough, the Eastern mythology also has a mystical creature which shares quite lot of similarities to the Western unicorn:
According to Chinese legend, there is a certain mythical beast named as “Qilin” which is one of the Four Benevolent Animals (the others are Dragon, Turtle, and Phoenix). Qilin shares quite a great similarity with the Western unicorn; specifically they are both benevolent creatures which represent peace and good nature. Qilin also share certain similarities in appearance to unicorn, specifically it often described to have Chinese-dragon like heads and manes, the body like an ox, deer, or horse with dragon-like scale. In later depiction, Qilin was described to have more giraffe-like features (without the long neck). The Chinese considers Qilin as a creature of peace and purity. It only attacks the evil and it is capable of detecting the good and the evil. In English, people tend to translate Qilin as “unicorn”; however, this can be misleading since Qilin often depicted to have two horns.
In Japan, they also had another version of Qilin called as “Kirin” (yes, the same name with that famous Japanese beer). The Kirin in Japanese version also had the similar features like the original Qilin. It still has a deer-like body with the scale, head, and mane of the Chinese dragon. It also has the tail like an ox and its body is covered by holy fire. Similar to Qilin, Kirin is peaceful in nature. It is so kind and gentle that even when it walks, it tries not to harm even a single grass. Kirin is revered as the symbol of purity and the good. Legend said that Kirin only appeared in the land of peace and prosperity, ruled by the benevolent and wise emperor. Based on these descriptions, Kirin indeed shares certain similarities with the unicorn, but it is hard to say whether they are the same since Kirin does not has single horn.
Another interesting fact is that Kirin is considered as the most powerful of all sacred beasts, while the Qilin in China only ranks third after dragon and phoenix.
Nowadays unicorn appears like… everywhere. We can see it in most pop culture materials like comics, games, fairy tales, and more… Unicorn of modern often depicted as a white horse with silver mane and a brilliant horn. We rarely see people say “fast like an unicorn” but it is still considered to be agile and fast creature. People also revere it as symbol of light and purity. For most of the time we see unicorn described as holy creature with the power to repel darkness and corruption.
Aside from that, unicorns are surprisingly popular nowadays. It is like a booming time of unicorn where we see unicorn reference everywhere and it is mostly tied to rainbow and colorful things. For example we have the famous My Little Pony, unicorn reference for beauty, make-up, and other colorful stuffs. Even movie or music stars nowadays also adopt this unicorn depiction widely. To explain such “bizarre phenomenon”, some people said that it is due to the dark and oppressing political world nowadays. And colorful unicorn figure is exact the thing people need (especially women) to lighten their day and motivate themselves. If that’s the case, it quite matches the idea of unicorn as symbol of purification, isn’t it (although we are not sure about the “colorful” part).
And what about you? What do you think about unicorn? Feel free to share with us and for now, thank you and stay tune for more news in the future!
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