Unicornology

 

Digitised image from the British Library “Title” page 342

 

This is unicorn that Alexander Calder produced for R. Wilbur’s book A Bestiary. The entire book was illustrated by Calder and features some beautiful illustrations of creatures both real and imaginary alongside a selection of poems and quotes about the beasts.

 

 

 

 

The Lion & The Unicorn

An extract from Lewis Carrol's "Alice Through the Looking Glass" in which the lion and the unicorn meet

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Carrol, L.. Through The Looking Glass (And What Alice Found There), Chapter 7

 

 

 

It is sayd that Unicorns above all other creatures, doe reverence Virgines and young Maides, and that many times at the sight of them they growe tame, and come and sleepe beside them, for there is in their nature a certain savor, wherewithall the Unicornes are allured and delighted: for which occasion the Indian and Ethiopian hunters use this stratagem to take the beast. They take a goodly strong and beautiful young man, whom they dresse in the apparrell of a woman, besetting him with divers odoriferous flowers and spices.

 

The man so adorned, they set in the Mountaines or Woods where the Unicorn haunteth, so as the wind may carrie the savor to the beast, and in the meane season the other hunters hide themselves: the Unicorne deceaved with the outward shape of a woman and sweete smells commeth unto the young man without feare, and so suffereth his head to bee covered and wrapped within his large sleeves, never stirring but lying still and asleepe, as in his most acceptable repose. Then when the hunters by the signe of the young man perceave him fast and secure, they come uppon him, and by force cut off his horne and send him away alive: but concerning this opinion wee have no elder authoritie then Tzetzes, who did not live above five hundred years agoe, and therefore I leave the reader to the freedome of his owne judgement, to beleeve or refuse this relation….

 

Source: Topsell, E. Foure-Footed Beasts

 

 

 

Of The Unicorn via the University of Houston Libraries

 

Horn Mutilation

 

The following extract is taken from notes written by Francois Levaillant, a French author, explorer and naturalist.

I had not yet taken a near view of the horned cattle which (the herdsmen) brought with them, because at the break of the day they strayed to the thickets and pastures, and were not brought back by their keepers until the evening. One day, however, having repaired to their kraal very early, I was much surprised when I first beheld one of these animals. I scarcely knew them to be oxen and cows, not only from account of their being much smaller than ours, since I observed them in the same form and the same fundamental character, in which I could not be deceived, but on account of the multiplicity of their horns, and the variety of their different twistings.

Being at this time persuaded that these concretions (horns), of which I had no idea, were a peculiar present of nature, I considered the Kaffir* oxen as a variety of the species, but I was undeceived by my guide, who informed me that this singularity was only the effect of their invention and taste; and that, by means of a process with which they were well acquainted, they could not only multiply these horns, but also give them any form that their imaginations might suggest.

They take the animal at as tender an age as possible, and when the horns begin to appear they make a small vertical incision in them with a saw, or any other instrument that may be substituted for it, and divide them into two parts. This division makes the horns, yet tender, separate of themselves, so that in time the animal has four very distinct ones.

If they wish to have six, or even more, similar notches made with the saw produce as many as may be required. But if they are desirous of forcing one of these divisions to form, for example, a complete circle, they cut away from the point, which must not be hurt, a small part of its thickness, and this amputation, often renewed, and with much patience, makes the horn bend in contrary direction, and, the point meeting the root, it exhibits the appearance of a perfect circle. As it is certain that incision always causes a greater or less degree of bending, it may be readily conceived that every variation that caprice can imagine may be produced by this simple method

In short, one must be born a Kaffir*, and have his taste and patience, to submit to that minute care and unwearied attention required for this operation, which in Kaffir-land can only be useless, but in other climates would be hurtful. For the horn, thus disfigured, would become weak, whereas, when preserved strong and entire, it keeps at a distance the famished bears and wolves of Europe.

Clearly a uniconred animal could be produced by this sculpting of horns and it would not be such a ridiculous claim to suggest that one horned beasts once existed as a result of this practice.

*Note: This is now an offensive word in South Africa; so offensive as to be actionable, but it was originally a term used to describe black southern African Bantu-speaking peoples.

 

Extract via Lavers, C. The Natural History of Unicorns 2009

 

 

 

 


 

“The Unicorn itself is a lunar creature, and as such it constantly fights with the solar lion.”

“The lunar unicorn is in perpertual confilst with the solar lion. One of the odlest reports of their antagonism occurs in the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (known as the Septuagint), in which an immense mythic beast called a Re’em is identified with a unicorn. In one Hebrew tale of the young King David, he leads his father’s sheep up what he thinks to be a mountain, but which is in fact a huge sleeping Re’em. Suddenly the monster awakes and starts to rise to its feet. David clasped the Re’em’s right horn, which reached to heaven, praying: ‘Lord of the Universe, lead me to safety, and I will build you a temple one hundred cubits in span, like the horns of this Re’em.’ God mercifully sent a lion, the King of Beasts, before hwom the Re’em crouched in obeisance. Since, however, David was himself afraid of the lion, God sent a deer for it to pursue. David then slid down from the Re’em’s shoulder and escaped.”

Williamson, J. The Oak King, The Holly King and The Unicorn 1986

The juxtaposition of the Lion and the Unicorn can be seen through history from images such as The Lady with Unicorn tapestry (Musee de Cluny, Paris) to literature including Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass. Both of these magnificent beats can aslo be seen together on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom which you may be familiar with.

 

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