Unicorn History
Western Unicorns Of The Ancient World
Although unicorns certainly existed in Europe during pre - Christian times indeed they are mentioned repeatedly in the Old Testament, as a translation of the Hebrew re'em the animals were apparently so shy that most of the early writing about them seems to derive from the Arabian lore of the karkadann.
In Persia, Arabia, India, and North Africa, the ferocious karkadann, so different from the gentle ki-lin was greatly feared by humans as well as by other animals. However, people would occasionally attempt capture the karkadann for its horn, which could either be shaped into a magical flute or ground up an used as an antidote for poisons. Ctesias, a physician traveled from his home in Cnidus to practice medicine in the court of Darius II, then King of Persia. Between the time he left Cnidus, in 416 B. C., and when he returned to Cnidus in 398 B. C., he learned a great deal of the life and history of Persia, which he attempted to preserve. One of his works, Indica, has only been preserved in the form of fragmented abstracts that were transcribed about five centuries later. In the twenty-fifth fragment of Induce, Ketosis described the unicorn as follows: There are in India certain wild asses which are as large as horses, and larger. Their bodies are white, their
heads dark red, and their eyes dark blue. They have a horn on the forehead which is about a foot and a half in length. The dust filed from this horn is administered in a potion as a protection against
deadly drugs. The base of this horn, for some two hand's-breadth above the brow, is pure white; the upper part is sharp and of a vivid crimson; and the remainder, or middle portion, is black. Those who drink out of these horns, made into drinking vessels, are not subject, they say, to convulsions
or to the holy disease (epilepsy). Indeed, they are immune to poisons if, either before or after swallowing such, they drink wine, water, or anything else from these beakers.
Indeed, they are immune to poisons if, either before or after swallowing such, they drink wine, water, or anything else from these beakers. Other asses, both the tame and the wild, and in fact all animals with solid hoofs, are without the ankle-bone and have no gall in the liver, but these have both the ankle-bone and the gall. This ankle-bone, the most beautiful I have ever seen, is like that of an ox in general appearance and in size, but it is as heavy as lead and its color is that of cinnabar through and through. The animal is exceedingly swift and powerful, so that no creature, neither the horse nor any other, can overtake it. t was also in India, during the time of the Rishi, that a peasant boy once lived who was certainly the first to know the beauty of unicorns firsthand.
He was a farm boy, named Vibhandaka, who lived in a small village and helped his family with the rice fields that they tended. One day, during a religious ceremony, he caught sight of a visiting holy man whose very appearance changed his life and who made the boy vow to follow him should he ever again get the opportunity. Vibhandaka's chance came a year later, when the holy man again visited their village. After telling his parents of his determination,
he left his home and family forever and went to live with the master. For many years his life consisted of a simple existence, doing menial jobs for his chosen master, in an ashram deep in a forest. Eventually the master grew very old, and finally he died. Vibhandaka built a funeral pyre for his body, left the ashram, and wandered a long distance until he found an abandoned cave. Yet, although the cave was abandoned, wild animals often visit it to escape the monsoon rains or to visit Vibhandaka. He befriended a unicorn, who often came to sit beside the holy man.
A wild animal with one horn that was said by some to have been a karkadann had been captured and presented to Alexander's father, Philip. Neither Philip nor any of the noblemen of his court had been able to mount the animal without being thrown off immediately. Alexander the Great tamed him and named him Bucephalus. He proved his bravery by mounting him and riding him into battle. The question of how such a dangerous animal might have been captured alive is an interesting one. In the opinion of Aelian, a Roman writer of the third century A. D., only the youngest
"cartazons" could be captured at all, since the enormous strength of the adults made them almost impossible to subdue. The fieriocity of the karkadann influenced writer's discriptions of the unicorn. Thus, Isidore of Seville, writing about 600 A.D., considered the unicorn a "right cruell beaust" and one that frequently fought with elephants. He further noted that only by trickery and
the use of a maiden could a unicorn be captured. A unicorn would approach and willingly lay its head on the lap of a maiden and fall asleep, it could then be safely approached and slain by hunters.
It is felt that the single-horned beast that haunts the high snows of the Himalayas has the most ancient tradition; and many authorities cite Tibet as the most likely source of unicorn legends, though there was a time in history when the so - called Mountains of the Moon, heaving high over Abyssinia, held pride of place. The tradition was long and strong. It is not surprising that four brazen unicorns dominated the court of Abyssinian kings.