Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Unicorn

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UNICORN, an animal with one horn. The name is applicable and has sometimes been applied to the rhinoceros, which is, for example, the Sumatran unicorn of Marco Polo. But the figure usually associated with the name is the well-known heraldic one of an animal with the form of a horse or ass, save that a long straight horn with spiral twistings, like the tusk of the narwhal, projects from its forehead. The belief in the existence of a one-horned animal of this kind goes back to Aristotle (Part. An., iii. p. 663), who names as one-horned "the oryx and the Indian ass." Later descriptions of the Indian unicorn, e.g., that of Ælian (Nat. An., xvi. 20), are plainly influenced to some extent by accounts of the rhinoceros, but the authority of Aristotle determined the general form ascribed to the animal. The twisted horn, of which Julian already speaks, seems to have been got by referring to Aristotle's unicorn actual specimens taken from the narwhal; see Yule's Marco Polo, ii. 273. The ancient and mediaeval lore of the subject may be seen in Bochart, Hierozoicon, iii. 26. The familiar legend that the unicorn could be taken only by the aid of a virgin obtained currency through the Physiologus (see voL xix. p. 7). The English Bible, following the Septuagint (/iovoVfpus), renders the Hebrew reem (EN" 1 ) by "unicorn." But two horns are ascribed to the reem in Deut. xxxiii. 17, and the Hebrew word reappears in Arabic as the name of the larger ante lopes, probably the Antilope leucoryx, while in Assyrian the rimu appears to be the wild ox. There are recent fossil remains in the Lebanon both of Bos primigenius and Bison urus, though both have been long extinct in Palestine.