Sunday, August 28, 2011

Myth Week: Unicorns.


Unicorns used to be solid badasses. Neither masculine nor feminine, the unicorn was able to cure any poison with its horn. Unicorns were lustful and wild, only able to be placated by a virgin girl. If you were not a virgin, you could safely be prepared for some serious pain. (The Eastern qilin is a different beast.)

Then My Little Pony and Lisa Frank got a hold on unicorns. No longer were they able to gore the knights of old even faster than a dragon. They were forever stamped on little girls' binders, notebooks, and customized by rabid MLP fans.

So much for badassitude.

But how did the unicorn get started, anyways? Was there really a one-horned ungulate that could cure poison AND kick ass?

In a word, no. Most unicorn horns (alicorn) came from a sea creature called a narwhal, which has already had its own entry. Other sources of alicorn included walrus tusks and the horns of various ungulates. It was basically a sugar pill for anyone hoping for a poison cure. Different story if their issue was a calcium deficiency.

1500 USD for a yearling pair of this nigh-extinct animal!

The particular ungulate that inspired the unicorn was probably the scimitar-horned oryx, which, when seen from the side, looks like it has only one horn. This creature is now only found on American game preserves, and has its own entry if you are more curious about it. Honorable mention goes to the rhinoceros, which Marco Polo mistook for a unicorn, and the aurochs, which, as the word "re'em," is frequently mistranslated as "unicorn" in the Bible.

Then there are instances of "unicorn deer." The roe deer above has a rare mutation that gives it only one antler. Having the 'horn' smack dab in the center is even rarer. We don't know if it can cure poison or has a lust for virgin women, but slap a white coat on a deer like that and it would look a lot like a unicorn. One researcher, Gilberto Tozzi, said that the unicorn deer was literally a "fantasy made real" - thus finally giving meaning to the title of this blog!


  1. According to what I've heard, the Hebrew "re'em" actually refers to the gemsbok or oryx instead of the rhinoceros.

  2. You mean instead of the aurochs?