Unicorns are majestic creatures of myth and legend, and have long been a favorite of girls of all ages. Some individuals are convinced that unicorns do or at least did exist, but most scholars now believe unicorns are animals created by early civilizations, much like dragons, or simply a case of mistake identity that has permeated the centuries. Unicorns exist today because we like them, even if real evidence of their existence has never been found.
What is a Unicorn?
Different societies have depicted unicorns in their own unique way. The earliest unicorns ranged from descriptions that sounded quite a bit like a modern-day rhinoceros, to smaller animals with cloven hooves, Billy-goat beards, and the bodies of horses. Modern depictions range from a standard horse, usually white, to a smaller version of the horse complete with the same beard and hooves of the past. The unifying characteristic throughout all time, of course, is the long horn rising from the animalís forehead.
The Middle Ages
While unicorns today make routine appearances in fantasy books and movies, they had their true heyday during the Middle Ages in Europe. During the Middle Ages, about 600 years ago, magic and mystical creatures were as much a part of life as work and food. Unicorns were well-known as fierce noble creatures that could only be tamed by a maiden. In fact, they were drawn to a young virgin for her soothing presence, and are often represented in medieval art as lying by the girl or with its head in her lap.
In the middle ages, unicorns were impossible to catch through legitimate means. You had to trick a unicorn to catch it, and there is a famous series of tapestries depicting this very thing. Noblemen, accompanied by their grooms and dogs, would ride off in pursuit of the unicorn, and often would employ the assistance of a young maiden to tame the unicorn. Unicorns were extremely rare and valuable. As they are magical creatures, their horn, blood, and even feces have magical abilities- the most common of which is to drive out poison.
Unicorn Horn and Blood
The horn of a unicorn, or alicorn, is the most valuable part of the animal. Alicorns can drive out poison and have special healing properties, so they were highly coveted by royalty and serf alike. Apothecary shops sold vials of alicorn powder, and royalty kept intact horns amongst the rest of their treasure. Royalty also often fashioned the horns into drinking goblets to neutralize any poisons in their drink. Unicorn blood also has mystical healing properties, and is sometimes described as appearing silver or blue.
Testing a Horn
As it was extremely difficult to distinguish between a true alicorn and the long tapering horn of other animals, scientists of the day determined means by which to test the authenticity of the horn.
The most popular of these tests include:
- A true horn from a unicorn would boil cold water when submerged.
- A true alicorn smells sweetly when burned.
- Poisonous plants and animals will burst when brought near an alicorn
- Draw a circle with a true horn, and a spider will not be able to escape the circle and will starve to death inside it.
Tales of unicorns are as popular today as they were hundreds of years ago. They grace the pages of countless novels and appear in many forms of artwork. The beauty and fantasy of unicorns will live on as long as there is a fascination with their magic and majesty.