The unicorn is a mythological animal resembling a horse or a goat, with a single straight horn on its forehead. Popularised by European literature and art over the last thousand years, in medieval times it became established as an extremely wild woodland creature, which could only be tamed by a virgin maiden. The unicorn was usually described as white, symbolising purity and grace, and had magical healing powers.

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The unicorn, however, has a much longer history: it appeared in early Mesopotamian artworks and was referred to in ancient myths of India and China. Certain poetical passages of the Bible refer to a “strong and splendid horned animal.” In around 400 BC, Greek natural historian Ctesias authoritatively described an Indian wild ass with a white body, purple head and blue eyes, and with a long horn on its forehead that was red at the tip, black in the middle and white at the base. It ran extremely fast, he said, and was difficult to catch. If you did, its meat was too bitter to eat, but those who drank from its horn could be protected from stomach ache and epilepsy.


In the 15th century, James II of Scotland was so impressed by the legend and the famed power of the unicorn that he made sure it became the symbol of Scottish kings and nobility. The royal coat of arms of Scotland featured two tamed unicorns wrapped in gold chains. When, in 1603, King James VI also became James I of England, one unicorn was replaced by a lion, the national animal of England, as a display of unity and equal strength.


Because there are so many references to unicorns, many people believe that they actually exist or once existed but became extinct. The Magical Unicorn Society is one such global organisation dedicated to the beast. In America, National Unicorn Day is celebrated every 9 April. However, through the centuries many scientists have also tried to disprove the myth, claiming that early descriptions were actually rhinoceros. In 1825, Georges Cuvier, a prominent French naturalist, stated  that a horse-like animal with a split hoof could never grow a single horn from its head… although Cuvier also argued against theories of evolution.”