Unicorn - the story about the myth
The unicorn is a legendary creature that has been described since antiquity as a beast with a single large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. The unicorn was depicted in ancient seals of the Indus Valley Civilization and was mentioned by the ancient Greeks in accounts of natural history by various writers, including Ctesias, Strabo, Pliny the Younger, Aelian and Cosmas Indicopleustes. The Bible also describes an animal, the re'em, which some versions translate as unicorn.
In European folklore, the unicorn is often depicted as a white horse-like or goat-like animal with longhorn and cloven hooves (sometimes a goat's beard). In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could be captured only by a virgin. In the encyclopedias, its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness. In medieval and Renaissance times, the tusk of the narwhal was sometimes sold as unicorn horn.
The unicorn continues to hold a place in popular culture. It is often used as a symbol of fantasy or rarity
The horn itself and the substance it was made of was called alicorn, and it was believed that the horn holds magical and medicinal properties. The Danish physician Ole Worm determined in 1638 that the alleged alicorns were the tusks of narwhals. Such beliefs were examined wittily and at length in 1646 by Sir Thomas Browne in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica.
False alicorn powder, made from the tusks of narwhals or horns of various animals, has been sold in Europe for medicinal purposes as late as 1741. The alicorn was thought to cure many diseases and have the ability to detect poisons, and many physicians would make "cures" and sell them. Cups were made from alicorn for kings and given as a gift; these were usually made of ivory or walrus ivory. Entire horns were very precious in the Middle Ages and were often really the tusks of narwhals.
In heraldry, a unicorn is often depicted as a horse with a goat's cloven hooves and beard, a lion's tail, and a slender, spiral horn on its forehead (non-equine attributes may be replaced with equine ones, as can be seen from the following gallery). Whether because it was an emblem of the Incarnation or of the fearsome animal passions of raw nature, the unicorn was not widely used in early heraldry but became popular from the 15th century. Though sometimes shown collared and chained, which may be taken as an indication that it has been tamed or tempered, it is more usually shown collared with a broken chain attached, showing that it has broken free from its bondage.
Golden coins known as the unicorn and half-unicorn, both with a unicorn on the obverse, were used in Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the same realm, carved unicorns were often used as finials on the pillars of Mercat crosses, and denoted that the settlement was a royal burgh. Certain noblemen such as the Earl of Kinnoull were given special permission to use the unicorn in their arms, as an augmentation of honor. The crest for Clan Cunningham bears a unicorn head.
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