Posted by: Ticktock | May 7, 2009

Monsters, Myths, and Legends: Unicorns!


Perhaps the most believable of mythical beasts is the unicorn, a horse with a single spiral horn emerging from it’s head. The unicorn of myth was also described as having a billy goat beard and the tail of a lion.


The unicorn is a symbol of virility and strength. The horn is clearly phallic in nature, which is why the unicorn’s myths are sexualized. Leonardo Da Vinci was one of many who wrote that the way to capture a unicorn is to drag a virgin out into the woods to lure the horned stags from hiding. Unicorns can’t resist virgins (I bet they can’t) – they apparently lose all willpower and lay their heads in the virginal lap. Can you imagine how many times some soldier seduced a virgin by telling her that he wanted to hunt for unicorns?

The true unicorn is probably the rhinoceros. Marco Polo returned from his expeditions with a description of a unicorn that sounds familiar: scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant’s. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead… They have a head like a wild boar’s… They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at. They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions.

The unicorn even makes a presence several times in the bible, though Christians dispute the accuracy of the translation.

It should come as no surprise that unicorns horns are said to have healing properties, that they can neutralize poison. If indeed unicorns are rhinos then we know that people would have projected healing qualities on the phallic horns as the Chinese still do to this day, no matter how endangered (or mythical) the species may happen to be.

Narwhal tusks were often used to forge unicorn horns. One queen reportedly paid the price of a castle for her “unicorn horn” (narwhal tusk). A modern example of a “unicorn” is this image of a deer with antlers that have fused together, a very rare trait.


It bears some significance that the unicorn and griffin were not feared like so many other beasts and monsters have been. Perhaps this is because they were symbols of Jesus, or it’s because they were known animals (rhino), or it’s because the people of the time interpreted unknown creatures as powerful and divine.

At the time that unicorns legends began, I’m betting there were sudden expeditions to the continent of Africa. The people of the time didn’t know how to process or understand the types of beasts being discovered on other continents, so they contextualized rhinos and antelope into mythical magical creatures to be revered.


Elasmotherium – Elasmotherium Caucacasicum – A possible, but, inspiration for unicorns, this relative of the rhino had features like a horse and could gallop quickly. The Elasmotherium, extinct since prehistoric times, is a favorite of some cryptozoologists, who claim that the creature has been described in medieval literature.

Narwhal – monodon monoceros – The horn of the male narwhal whale is actually a single tooth. It’s latin name means “one toothed, one horned”.Charles Darwin, and others, have hypothesized that the long tusk is a secondary sexual feature that evolved due to mate selection over the years.

Narwhal can dive up to 2,500 feet and can spend 25 minutes at those depths. The males do a little playful sword fighting with their tusks called “tusking”, but this is thought to establish social hierarchy. They rarely, if ever, use the tusks for actual fighting.



  1. That Elasmotherium brought back memories of one of my eldest’s favorite books: After the Dinosaurs by Stan & Jan Berenstain. Eldest was especially in love with the early elephants – especially the Megatherium (which was IIRC a later form of Elasmo). When he was about 2-2.5, we went to the zoo. My little geek took one look a the elephants and yelled, “Look, Eema! Megatherium!”…

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