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Unicorn is a horselike animal with a single horn (from Latin unus 'one' and cornu 'horn'). Unicorn legends have a long and cosmopolitan history ranging throughout most of Europe, Africa, and Asia. The Unicorn of Western lore is based on a complex number of traditions and animals that can be grouped into three major trends: Unicorns in classical Western literature, the Unicorn of the medieval bestiaries, and reports of one-horned animals in the Renaissance and afterward. Though the modern popular image of the unicorn is sometimes that of a horse differing only in the horn on its forehead, the traditional unicorn also has a billy-goat beard, a lion's tail, and cloven hooves—these distinguish it from a horse. and his single horn was said to neutralize poison. In addition, the visual conventions of Christian art and heraldry turned the small, goatlike animal of the bestiaries into a conventional white horse with a horn.

Legends of an Asian unicorn (KI-LIN) also fed into the popular imagination. There are only a few eyewitness reports of a living animal. Most accounts are rumors or artistic depictions. One of the earliest mentions is in the Indika of Ctesias, a Greek physician of the late fifth century B.C. who visited Persia and heard fabulous stories about India. He described a white wild ass with an 18-inch-long horn on its dark-red head. In the first century B.C., Julius Caesar wrote that an animal like a one-horned stag lived in the Erzgebirge of southern Germany. Unicorn horns were highly prized as curios by European royalty in the Renaissance.

Nobles and monarchs said to possess one or more of them included Edward IV of England, James III of Scotland, Pietro de’ Medici, Pope Clement VII, Pope Julius III, and Philip II of Spain. Felix Fabri and other pilgrims saw a large, one-horned animal from a distance near Mount Sinai, Egypt, on September 20, 1483. Lodovico de Varthema reported hearing in 1503 that there were two Unicorns in a park outside Mecca, Arabia. One was as large as a colt and had a horn 4 feet 6 inches long, while the younger one was smaller and had a 16-inch horn. The animals’ hooves were cloven. They had been given as a gift from a king in Ethiopia to the sultan of Mecca. At the port of Saylac, Somalia, he also observed cattle with single horns that bent backward from their brows.

Around 1630, the Jesuit Jeronimo Lobo noted the common occurrence of the Unicorn in Ethiopia. It looked like a bay horse with a black tail and long mane. Some time before 1669, a group of Portuguese soldiers ran across a Unicorn in Ethiopia, where the animals were said to be often seen grazing in the mountains. In 1673, Olfert Dapper wrote that Unicorns were said to live in the woods near the Canadian border, presumably in Maine. They resembled horses but had cloven hooves, a long and straight horn on the forehead, and a curled tail like a boar’s. Most likely, he was referring to the Moose (Alces alces).

In the late eighteenth century, an unnamed Boer saw an ash-gray Unicorn with cloven hooves in South Africa. In 1820, John Campbell came across a “real unicorn” that had been killed by the inhabitants of South Africa. It had a 3-foot horn projecting 10 inches above the tip of its nose, and its head was 3 feet from mouth to ear. In the nineteenth century, caves in the interior of South Africa were said to contain drawings of Unicorn-like animals. Eduard Rüppell (in the 1820s) and Baron von Müller (in 1848) both heard of a horse- or donkeylike, one-horned animal in the Kurdufa¯n region of Sudan. Müller said it was called A’nasa and had a movable horn. In April 1843, Fulgence Fresnel, the French consul at Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, wrote that several Arabs he knew often killed a Unicorn-like animal in eastern Chad. The animal looked like a wild bull with legs like an elephant’s, a short tail, and a single movable horn. Most of it was gray, but the front part was a vivid scarlet.

(Sources : Mysterious Craetures : “A Guide to Cryptozoology” by George M. Eberhart; and Wikipedia)

(Pic source : Mysterious Craetures : “A Guide to Cryptozoology” by George M. Eberhart page 568)

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