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Unicorns Just the Facts

Updated on July 11, 2020

The legendary Unicorn

Legend, myth and fairy tales paint a beautiful image of the Unicorn as a white, winged horse with a single horn in the center of its head. There are countless stories of this mythological creature flying through the air, swooping down and rescuing maidens or carrying star crossed lovers far beyond the sea. There are many images of this fairy tale animal surrounded by rainbows and beautiful scenery.

Who among us has not at one time or another envisioned the mythical version of the Unicorn emerging from an enchanted foggy forest with bits of sunlight shining through? There is a saying that truth is often stranger than fiction and facts often burst the bubble of the imagination. This seems to be true in the case of the Unicorn. The creature of magic, miracles, and enchantment seems to be, in reality, just another dumb beast.

An Internet search brings up numerous books that are dedicated to the image of the beautiful winged creature that legend has told us to believe. Children's animated programs have Unicorns in pink, blue, and rainbow colors, with long shiny manes that reflect the hue of the animal. These cartoon characters always save the day and become heroes. Asian culture, however, suggests the Unicorn which they also refer to as a kirin, looks somewhat different. It has the body of a horse and the head of a stag and the feet of an elephant. It is said to be fierce and strong and this version of the mythological creature has more of a resemblance to what some believe to be the real thing.

Asian Kirin/AKA Unicorn
Asian Kirin/AKA Unicorn

Biblical references to Unicorns

The Bible indicates something quite different in regard to the unicorn.

There are a number of Old Testament references to Unicorns, which indicate they are not magical but just like other wild animals.

In Psalms 29 KJV we read in verses five and six:

5 The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.

6 He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.

Isaiah 34:7 says: And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.

Job 39:9-12 indicates:

9 Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?

10 Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?

11 Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him?

12 Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?

These scriptures do not bring to mind a beautiful winged horse with a single horn but sound more like an ordinary beast who bleeds, walks the ground and has brute strength. The translators of the King James Version suggested this creature could be a rhinoceros, as they included a note in the margin of Isaiah 34:7 which states, “or rhinocerots.”

Elasmotherium the real Unicorn
Elasmotherium the real Unicorn

Historical references to Unicorns

Some believe the historical unicorn is actually the elasmotherium, which is a giant rhinoceros, that is now extinct. There is a line of thinking that this could possibly be the single-horned creature who is depicted on an obelisk, in the company of two-horned bovine creatures in Ninevah. Archaeological reports as well as fossils found by Austen Henry Layard support this option.

It is also worth noting Marco Polo’s description of unicorns in Sumatra which says the animals are slightly smaller than elephants, with pachyderm feet. He added that they have a single black horn in the center of their foreheads and hair that resembles a buffalo. This indicates that Unicorns are nothing like what has been depicted in mythology.

There are ancient writers who have described a realistic unicorn, which debunks the stuff of fairy tales. These include Tertullian, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Claudius Aelian the Hebrew word re’em, translated as the unicorn in the King James Bible and as a wild ox in other English translations, is similar to the Assyrian word for rimu which means a wild ox and there is an assumption that the beast did have only one horn. No one wants to imagine having a romp with an ugly beast who resembles a rhinoceros, with a big head and elephant feet but that description is probably closer to the truth than what the legends have told us to believe.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Cheryl E Preston


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