All About Unicorns

In the West

An animal called the re'em is mentioned in several places in the Bible, often as a metaphor representing strength. In the King James Version, as well as some other translations, the word is translated as "unicorn," producing such phrases as "His strength is as the strength of a unicorn." These references allude to the re'em as a wild, untamable animal of great strength and agility, with mighty horns. (Job 39:9-12Psalms 22:21Numbers 23:22Numbers 24:8Deuteronomy 33:17.) These references may have been referring to the aurochs (Bos primigenius). This view is supported by the Assyrian rimu, which is also used as a metaphor of strength, and is depicted as a powerful, fierce, wild, or mountain bull with large horns. This animal was often depicted with only one horn visible in ancient Mesopotamian art.

Ancient Greek writers were convinced of the reality of the unicorn. Imagine them today conference calling about unicorn myths. The earliest description is from Ctesias, who described "wild asses, fleet of foot, having on the forhead a horn a cubit and a half in length, colored white, red and black; from th ehorn were made drinking cups which were a preventive of poisioning." Aristotle also mentioned two one-horned animals: the oryx, a kind of antelope; and the so-called "Indian ass."

In Roman times, Pliny the Elder's Natural History mentions the oryx and an Indian ox (which may have referred to the rhinoceros) as one-horned beasts. He called the Indian ass "a very ferocious beast, similar in the rest of its body to a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, a deep, bellowing voice, and a signle black horn, two cubits in length, standing out in the middle of its forehead." Pliny added that "it cannot be taken alive." Aelian, quoting Ctesias, added that India produces also a one-horned horse, and said that the "monoceros" was sometimes called "carcazonon," which may be a form of the Arabic "carcadn," meaning "rhinoceros." Strabo said that in India there were one-horned horses with stag-like heads.

In the East

The k'i-lin, an ancient Chinese predecessor to the modern unicorn.

The Indus Valley Civilization, who inhabited what now is known as Pakistan, had some carved seals, which resembled a bull, and may have been a way of depicting bulls in profile. This has been interpereted by some as the symbol of the unicorn, which may have symbolized a powerful group.

In ancient China, there was a miraculous creature called the k'i-lin that radiated excuisite colors, had a voice like the tinkling of bells, and lived for a thousand years. Although the k'i-lin was like a dragon—it had fish scales which shimmered in every color of the rainbow—it had a mane and cloven hooves as well.

The k'i-lin was first observed in 2697 B.C., as it wandered through the palace of Emperor Huang-ti. This was seen as an omen, as an announcement of lucky years. It is said that in the following years, huang-ti invented musical instruments, taught his people how to build houses with bricks, and united the Chinese tribes. Legend has it that the k'i-lin appeared once again to the emperor at the end of his life to carry him to the land of the dead on its back.