The Unicorn on the Royal British Arms of James I (1603-1625): "Evil to him who thinks evil" & "God and my right"
This heraldic evidence of the Unicorn and Lion is portrayed in John Guillim's Display of Heraldry-1611
The Unicorn is often thought of as an imaginary[i] animal, but the evidence indicates otherwise. Amie’s Universal Encyclopedia maintains that “according to an examination of accounts given of the Unicorn in ancient and modern times, the opinion of its fabulous character, which has prevailed since the time of Buffon,[ii]does not seem to rest on a foundation absolutely certain.
The Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder described the Unicorn of his day as “an exceedingly fierce animal, resembling a horse.”[iii] However, among harder ancient evidence for the existence of the Unicorn are the figures of unicorns, in various attitudes, according to Niebuhr,[iv] among the ancient ruins of the Persian kings’ palace at Persepolis. Sir R. K. Porter,[v]whose illustration of the Persian Unicorn is reproduced below, believed it to be the representation of a bull with a single horn.
An Ancient Persian relief repeated on the Processional stairways at Persepolis,
from Sir Robert Ker Porter's "Travels in Georgia, Persia," etc.,
Apparently, Pliny’s variety of Unicorn was still around in more modern times. According to the 1832 revised edition of Calmet’s Dictionary of the Holy Bible, its editor, Edward Robinson, pointed that
In 1530, Ludovica de Bartema, a Roman patrician, traveled to Egypt, Arabia and India; and having assumed the character of a Mussulman, he was able to visit Mecca with the Hadj, or great caravan of pilgrims. In his account of the curiosities of this city,[vi]he says: “On the other side of the Caaba is a walled court, in which we saw two unicorns, which were pointed out to us as a rarity; and they are indeed truly remarkable. The larger of the two is built like a three-year-old colt, and has a horn upon the forehead about three ells[vii] long.—This animal has the color of a yellowish-brown horse, a head like a stag, a neck very long, with a thin mane; the legs are small and slender, like those of a hind or roe; the hoofs of goat. These two animals were sent to the sultan of Mecca, as a rarity of great value, and very seldom found, by a king of Ethiopia, who wished to secure, by this present, the good will of the sultan of Mecca.”
Don Juan Gabriel, a Portuguese colonel, who lived several years in Abyssinia, assures us, that in the region of Agamos in the Abyssinian province of Damota, he had seen an animal of the form and size of a middle-sized horse, of a dark chestnut color, and with a whitish horn about five spans[viii] long upon the forehead; the mane and tail were black, and the legs short and slender. Several other Portuguese, who were placed in confinement upon a high mountain in the district Namna, by the Abyssinian king Adamas Saghedo, related that they had seen, at the foot of the mountain, several unicorns feeding.[ix]
These accounts are confirmed by father Lobo, who lived for a long time as a missionary in Abyssinia. He adds, that the unicorn is extremely shy, and escapes from closer observation by a speedy flight into the forests, for which reason there is no exact description of him.[x]
[i] American politics probably generated a lot of the Unicorn’s imaginary character. A magnificent Unicorn stood beside the Lion on the British Royal Arms, a symbol of British authority over American colonists, when its subjects had revolution in mind. Questioning the existence of the Unicorn conveniently challenged a powerful symbol of authority—the British Crown.
[ii] The French naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1701-1788)
[iii]Natural History, viii, 21
[iv] See volume II, plate xxiii, of Niebuhr’s Travels. Carsten Niebuhr was a renowned eighteenth-century German traveler and explorer who visited Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Persia, and Asia Minor.
[v] See Volume I, pp. 594 and 595 of the Travels of Sir R. K. Porter. Sir Robert Ker Porter (1777-1842) traveled to Persia and Baghdad between 1817 and 1820 and published notable accounts of his travels.
[vi] “In Ramusio’s Collection of Travels (Racotta di Viaggi, Venet. 1563.)”
[vii] The ell is a measure of length, now ranging from 27 inches in Holland to 45 inches in England. It comes from Old English, the length of the forearm, also known in ancient times as the cubit, which also varied substantially in length; but the ancient cubit was usually around 18 inches. See an example of its use in antiquity by clicking: http://einhornpress.com/pharos.aspx
[viii] A general measurement of length, equal to the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger when the hand is fully spread out, usually considered nine inches.
[ix] “Ludolf’s Hist. Aethiop. Lib. l, c. 10. n. 80 seq.”
[x] “Voyage history. D’Abyssinie, Amst. 1728, vol I, p. 83, 291.”
So here we have a little more important unicorn evidence extracted from Historical Evidence for Unicorns.
This page was last modified on Wednesday, July 15, 2015