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Mythical Creatures -

The race of Amazons or fighting women, is not yet extinct, ...

The antitheses of men--Dwarfs, and Giants--must not be over...

This last sentence seems almost a compendium of The History...

Early Men
On the antiquity of man it is impossible to speculate, beca...

Wild Men
Sometimes a specimen of humanity has got astray in infancy,...

Hairy Men
If, as we may conjecture from the above, the ancient Briton...

The Ouran Outan
Transition from hirsute humanity to the apes, is easy, and ...

He also mentions and delineates a curious Ape which closely...

The Sphynx
"The SPHYNGA or Sphinx, is of the kind of Apes, but his bre...

Sluper, who could soar to the height of delineating a Cyclo...

Animal Lore
We are indebted to Pliny for much strange animal lore--whic...

The Manticora
Of curious animals, other than Apes, depicted as having som...

The Lamia
The Lamiae are mythological--and were monsters of Africa, w...

The Centaur
This extraordinary combination of man and animal is very an...

The Gorgon
In the title-page of one edition of "The Historie of Foure-...

The Unicorn
What a curious belief was that of the Unicorn! Yet what myt...

The Rhinoceros
The true Unicorn is, of course, the Rhinoceros, and this pi...

The Gulo
Olaus Magnus thus describes the Gulo or Gulon:--"Amongst...

The Bear
As Pliny not only uses all Aristotle's matter anent Bears, ...

The Fox
By Englishmen, the Fox has been raised to the height of at ...

The Wolf
The Wolf, as a beast of prey, is invested with a terror pec...

But of all extraordinary stories connected with the Wolf, i...

The Antelope
When not taken from living specimens, or skins, the arti...

The Horse
Aldrovandus gives us a curious specimen of a horse, which t...

The Mimick Dog
"The Mimicke or Getulian Dogge," is, I take it, meant fo...

The Cat
Aldrovandus gives us a picture of a curly-legged Cat, but, ...

The Lion
Of the great Cat, the Lion, the ancients give many wonderfu...

The Leontophonus The Pegasus The Crocotta
The Lion has a dreadful enemy, according to Pliny, who says...

The Leucrocotta The Eale Cattle Feeding Backwards
"There are oxen, too, like that of India, some with one hor...

Animal Medicine
We have already seen some of the wonderfully curative prope...

The Su
Topsell mentions a fearful beast called the Su. "There is a...

The Lamb-tree
As a change from this awful animal, let us examine the Plan...

The Chimaera
Aldrovandus gives us the accompanying illustration of a ...

The Harpy And Siren
The conjunction of the human form with birds is very eas...

The Barnacle Goose
Of all extraordinary beliefs, that in the Barnacle Goose, w...

Remarkable Egg
No wonder that a credulous age, which could see nothing ...

Moon Woman
One would have imagined that this Egg would be sufficien...

The Griffin
There always has been a tradition of birds being existent, ...

The Phoenix
Pliny says of the Phoenix:--"AEthiopia and India, more espe...

The Swallow
"And is the swallow gone? Who beheld it? Wh...

The Martlet And Footless Birds
Of the Martin, or, as in Heraldry it is written, Martlet, G...

Snow Birds
But we must leave warm climes, and birds of Paradise, and s...

The Swan
The ancient fable so dear, even to modern poets, that Swans...

The Alle Alle
"There is also in this Lake (the White Lake) a kind of b...

The Hoopoe And Lapwing
Whether the following bird is meant for the Hoopoe, or the ...

The Ostrich
Modern observation, and especially Ostrich farming, has ...

The Halcyon
Of this bird, the Kingfisher, Aristotle thus discourses:--"...

The Pelican
The fable of the Pelican "in her piety, vulning herself,...

The Trochilus
This bird, as described by Aristotle, and others, is of a p...

Woolly Hens
Sir John Maundeville saw in "the kingdome named Mancy, whic...

Two-headed Wild Geese
Near the land of the Cynocephali or dog-headed men, there w...

Four-footed Duck
Gesner describes a four-footed duck, which he says is li...

Terrestrial and Aerial animals were far more familiar to th...

The Sea-mouse
"The Sea-Mouse makes a hole in the Earth, and lays her Eggs...

The Sea-hare
"The Sea-Hare is found to be of divers kinds in the Ocean, ...

The Sea-pig
Again we are indebted to Gesner for the drawing of thi...

The Walrus
Of the Walrus, Rosmarus, or Morse, Gesner draws, and Ola...

The Ziphius
This Voracious Animal, whose size may be imagined by compar...

The Saw Fish
"The Saw fish is also a beast of the Sea; the body is huge ...

The Orca
is probably the Thresher whale. Pliny thus describes it:--"...

The Dolphin
Pliny says:--"The Dolphin is an animal not only friendly to...

The Narwhal
generally called the Monoceros or Sea Unicorn, is thus show...

The Swamfisck
The accompanying illustration, though heading the chapte...

The Sahab
"There is also another Sea-Monster, called Sahab, which hat...

The Circhos
"There is also another Monster like to that, called Circhos...

The Remora
Of this fish Pliny writes:--"There is a very small fish tha...

The Dog-fish And Ray
Olaus Magnus writes of "The cruelty of some Fish, and th...

The Sea Dragon
Of the Ray tribe of fishes, the Sea Dragon is the most ...

The Sting Ray
Pliny mentions the Sting Ray, and ascribes to it marvellous...

Senses Of Fishes
He also tells us about the senses of fishes, and first of t...

Writing on the lower phases of Marine Animal life, he says:...

"We find three kinds of sponges mentioned; the first are th...

The Kraken
This enormous monster, peculiar to the Northern Seas, is sc...

Crayfish And Crabs
Pliny tells us that in the Indian Ocean are Crayfish four c...

The Sea-serpent
Of the antiquity of the belief in the Sea-Serpent there can...

Of Serpents Topsell has written a "Historie," which, if not...

The Crocodile
The largest of the Saurians which we have left us, is the C...

The Basilisk And Cockatrice
Aldrovandus portrays the Basilisk with eight legs. Topse...

The Salamander
Many writers have essayed this fabled creature, but almost ...

The Toad
Toads were always considered venomous and spiteful, and the...

The Leech
The Leech has, from a very early age, been used as a means ...

The Scorpion
Of the Scorpion, Pliny says:--"This animal is a dangerous s...

The Ant
No one would credit the industrious Ant, whose ways we are ...

The Bee
The Busy Bee, too, according to Olaus Magnus, developed, in...

The Hornet
So also, up North, they seem to have had a special breed...

The Unicorn

What a curious belief was that of the Unicorn! Yet what mythical animal
is more familiar to Englishmen? In its present form it was not known to
the ancients, not even to Pliny, whose idea of the Monoceros or Unicorn
is peculiar. He describes this animal as having "the head of a stag, the
feet of an elephant, the tail of the boar, while the rest of the body
is like that of the horse: it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a
single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two
cubits in length. This animal, it is said, cannot be taken alive."

Until James VI. of Scotland ascended the English throne as James I., the
Unicorn, as it is now heraldically portrayed (which was a supporter to
the arms of James IV.) was almost unknown--vide Tempest, iii. 3. 20:--

"Alonzo. Give us kind keepers, heavens: what were these?

Sebastian. A living drollery. Now I will believe that there are

Spenser, who died before the accession of James I., and therefore did
not write about the supporters of the Royal Arms, alludes (in his
Faerie Queene) to the antagonism between the Lion and the Unicorne.

"Like as the lyon, whose imperial poure
A proud rebellious unicorn defyes,
T'avoide the rash assault, and wrathful stoure
Of his fiers foe, him to a tree applyes,
And when him rouning in full course he spyes,
He slips aside: the whiles that furious beast,
His precious horne, sought of his enimyes,
Strikes in the stroke, ne thence can be released,
But to the victor yields a bounteous feast."

Pliny makes no mention of the Unicorn as we have it heraldically
represented, but speaks of the Indian Ass, which, he says, is only a
one-horned animal. Other old naturalists, with the exception of AElian,
do not mention it as our Unicorn--and his description of it hardly
coincides. He says that the Brahmins tell of the wonderful beasts in the
inaccessible regions of the interior of India, among them being the
Unicorn, "which they call Cartazonon, and say that it reaches the
size of a horse of mature age, possesses a mane and reddish-yellow hair,
and that it excels in swiftness through the excellence of its feet and
of its whole body. Like the elephant it has inarticulate feet, and it
has a boar's tail; one black horn projects between the eyebrows, not
awkwardly, but with a certain natural twist, and terminating in a sharp

indifferently the tail of this animal, as horse or ass; and, as might be
expected from one of his craft, magnifies the Unicorn exceedingly:--"The
Unicorn hath his Name of his one Horn on his Forehead. There is another
Beast of a huge Strength and Greatness, which hath but one Horn, but
that is growing on his Snout, whence he is called Rinoceros, and both
are named Monoceros, or One horned. It hath been much questioned
among Naturalists, which it is that is properly called the Unicorn: And
some hath made Doubt whether there be any such Beast as this, or no.
But the great esteem of his Horn (in many places to be seen) may take
away that needless scruple....

"Touching the invincible Nature of this Beast, Job saith, 'Wilt thou
trust him because his Strength is great, and cast thy Labour unto him?
Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it
into thy Barn?' And his Vertue is no less famous than his Strength, in
that his Horn is supposed to be the most powerful Antidote against
Poison: Insomuch as the general Conceit is, that the wild Beasts of the
Wilderness use not to drink of the Pools, for fear of the venemous
Serpents there breeding, before the Unicorn hath stirred it with his
Horn. Howsoever it be, this Charge may very well be a Representation
both of Strength or Courage, and also of vertuous Dispositions and
Ability to do Good; for to have Strength of Body, without the Gifts and
good Qualities of the Mind, is but the Property of an Ox, but where both
concur, that may truly be called Manliness. And that these two should
consort together, the Ancients did signify, when they made this one
Word, Virtus, to imply both the Strength of Body, and Vertue of the

"It seemeth, by a Question moved by Farnesius, That the Unicorn is
never taken alive; and the Reason being demanded, it is answered 'That
the greatness of his Mind is such, that he chuseth rather to die than to
be taken alive: Wherein (saith he) the Unicorn and the valiant-minded
Souldier are alike, which both contemn Death, and rather than they will
be compelled to undergo any base Servitude or Bondage, they will lose
their Lives.'...

"The Unicorn is an untameable Beast by Nature, as may be gathered from
the Words of Job, chap. 39, 'Will the Unicorn serve thee, or will he
tarry by thy Crib? Can'st thou bind the Unicorn with his Band to labour
in the Furrow, or will he plough the Valleys after thee?'"

Topsell dilates at great length on the Unicorn. He agrees with Spenser
and Guillim, and says:--"These Beasts are very swift, and their legges
have no Articles (joints). They keep for the most part in the desarts,
and live solitary in the tops of the Mountaines. There was nothing more
horrible than the voice or braying of it, for the voice is strain'd
above measure. It fighteth both with the mouth and with the heeles, with
the mouth biting like a Lyon, and with the heeles kicking like a
Horse.... He feereth not Iron nor any yron Instrument (as Isodorus
writeth) and that which is most strange of all other, it fighteth with
his owne kind, yea even with the females unto death, except when it
burneth in lust for procreation: but unto straunger Beasts, with whome
he hath no affinity in nature, he is more sotiable and familiar,
delighting in their company when they come willing unto him, never
rising against them; but, proud of their dependence and retinue, keepeth
with them all quarters of league and truce; but with his female, when
once his flesh is tickled with lust, he groweth tame, gregall, and
loving, and so continueth till she is filled and great with young, and
then returneth to his former hostility."

There was a curious legend of the Unicorn, that it would, by its keen
scent, find out a maiden, and run to her, laying its head in her lap.
This is often used as an emblem of the Virgin Mary, to denote her
purity. The following is from the Bestiary of Philip de Thaun, and, as
its old French is easily read, I have not translated it:--

"Monoceros est Beste, un corne ad en la teste,
Purceo ad si a nun, de buc ad facun;
Par Pucele est prise; or vez en quel guize.
Quant hom le volt cacer et prendre et enginner,
Si vent hom al forest u sis riparis est;
La met une Pucele hors de sein sa mamele,
Et par odurement Monosceros la sent;
Dunc vent a la Pucele, et si baiset la mamele,
En sein devant se dort, issi veut a sa mort;
Li hom suivent atant ki l'ocit en dormant
U trestont vif le prent, si fais puis sun talent.
Grant chose signifie."...

Topsell, of course, tells the story:--"It is sayd that Unicorns above
all other creatures, doe reverence Virgines and young Maides, and that
many times at the sight of them they grow tame, and come and sleepe
beside them, for there is in their nature a certaine savor, wherewithall
the Unicornes are allured and delighted; for which occasion the Indian
and Ethiopian hunters use this stratagem to take the beast. They take
a goodly, strong, and beautifull young man, whom they dresse in the
Apparell of a woman, besetting him with divers odoriferous flowers and

"The man so adorned they set in the Mountaines or Woods, where the
Unicorne hunteth, so as the wind may carrie the savor to the beast, and
in the meane season the other hunters hide themselves: the Unicorne
deceaved with the outward shape of a woman, and sweete smells, cometh to
the young man without feare, and so suffereth his head to bee covered
and wrapped within his large sleeves, never stirring, but lying still
and asleepe, as in his most acceptable repose. Then, when the hunters,
by the signe of the young man, perceave him fast and secure, they come
uppon him, and, by force, cut off his horne, and send him away alive:
but, concerning this opinion wee have no elder authoritie than
Tzetzes, who did not live above five hundred yeares agoe, and
therefore I leave the reader to the freedome of his owne judgment, to
believe or refuse this relation; neither is it fit that I should omit
it, seeing that all writers, since the time of Tzetzes, doe most
constantly beleeve it.

"It is sayd by AElianus and Albertus, that, except they bee taken
before they bee two yeares old they will never bee tamed; and that the
Thrasians doe yeerely take some of their Colts, and bring them to their
King, which he keepeth for combat, and to fight with one another; for
when they are old, they differ nothing at all from the most barbarous,
bloodie, and ravenous beasts. Their flesh is not good for meate, but is
bitter and unnourishable."

It is hardly worth while to go into all the authorities treating of
the Unicorn; suffice it to say, that it was an universal belief that
there were such animals in existence, for were not their horns in proof
thereof? and were they not royal presents fit for the mightiest of
potentates to send as loving pledges one to another? for it was one
of the most potent of medicines, and a sure antidote to poison. And
they were very valuable, too, for Paul Hentzner--who wrote in the time
of Queen Elizabeth--says that, at Windsor Castle, he was shown, among
other things, the horn of an Unicorn of above eight spans and a half in
length, i.e., about 6-1/2 feet, valued at L10,000. Considering that
money was worth then about three times what it is now, an Unicorn's horn
was a right royal gift.

Topsell, from whom I have quoted so much, is especially voluminous and
erudite on Unicorns; indeed, in no other old or new author whom I have
consulted are there so many facts (?) respecting this fabled beast to be
found. Here is his history of those horns then to be found in Europe:--

"There are two of these at Venice in the Treasurie of S. Marke's
Church, as Brasavolus writeth, one at Argentoratum, which is
wreathed about with divers sphires.[30] There are also two in the
Treasurie of the King of Polonia, all of them as long as a man in his
stature. In the yeare 1520, there was found the horne of a Unicorne in
the river Arrula, neare Bruga in Helvetia, the upper face or out
side whereof was a darke yellow; it was two cubites (3 feet) in
length, but had upon it no plights[31] or wreathing versuus. It was very
odoriferous (especially when any part of it was set on fire), so that it
smelt like muske: as soone as it was found, it was carried to a Nunnery
called Campus regius, but, afterwards by the Governor of Helvetia,
it was recovered back againe, because it was found within his

"Another certaine friend of mine, being a man worthy to be beleeved,
declared unto me that he saw at Paris, with the Chancellor, being Lord
of Pratus, a peece of a Unicorn's horn, to the quantity of a cubit,
wreathed in tops or spires, about the thicknesse of an indifferent
staffe (the compasse therof extending to the quantity of six fingers)
being within, and without, of a muddy colour, with a solide substance,
the fragments whereof would boile in the Wine although they were never
burned, having very little or no smell at all therein.

"When Joannes Ferrerius of Piemont had read these thinges, he wrote
unto me, that, in the Temple of Dennis, neare unto Paris, that there
was a Unicorne's horne six foot long, ... but that in bignesse, it
exceeded the horne at the Citty of Argentorate, being also holow
almost a foot from that part which sticketh unto the forehead of the
Beast, this he saw himselfe in the Temple of S. Dennis, and handled
the horne with his handes as long as he would. I heare that in the
former yeare (which was from the yeare of our Lord), 1553, when
Vercella was overthrown by the French, there was broght from that
treasure unto the King of France, a very great Unicorn's horne, the
price wherof was valued at fourscore thousand Duckets.[32]

"Paulus Poaeius describeth an Unicorne in this manner; That he is a
beast, in shape much like a young Horse, of a dusty colour, with a maned
necke, a hayry beard, and a forehead armed with a Horne of the quantity
of two Cubits, being seperated with pale tops or spires, which is
reported by the smoothnes and yvorie whitenesse thereof, to have the
wonderfull power of dissolving and speedy expelling of all venome or
poison whatsoever.

"For his horne being put into the water, driveth away the poison, that
he may drinke without harme, if any venemous beast shall drinke therein
before him. This cannot be taken from the Beast, being alive, for as
much as he cannot possible be taken by any deceit: yet it is usually
seene that the horne is found in the desarts, as it happeneth in Harts,
who cast off their olde horne thorough the inconveniences of old age,
which they leave unto the Hunters, Nature renewing an other unto them.

"The horne of this beast being put upon the Table of Kinges, and set
amongest their junkets and bankets, doeth bewray the venome, if there be
any suche therein, by a certaine sweat which commeth over it. Concerning
these hornes, there were two seene, which were two cubits in length, of
the thicknesse of a man's Arme, the first at Venice, which the Senate
afterwards sent for a gift unto Solyman the Turkish Emperor: the other
being almost of the same quantity, and placed in a Sylver piller, with a
shorte or cutted[33] point, which Clement the Pope or Bishop of
Rome, being come unto Marssels brought unto Francis the King, for
an excellent gift."... They adulterated the real article, for sale.
"Petrus Bellonius writeth, that he knewe the tooth of some certaine
Beast, in time past, sold for the horne of a Unicorne (what beast may be
signified by this speech I know not, neither any of the French men which
do live amongst us) and so smal a peece of the same, being adulterated,
sold 'sometimes for 300 Duckets.' But, if the horne shall be true and
not counterfait, it doth, notwithstanding, seeme to be of that creature
which the Auncientes called by the name of an Unicorne, especially
AElianus, who only ascribeth to the same this wonderfull force against
poyson and most grievous diseases, for he maketh not this horne white as
ours doth seeme, but outwardly red, inwardly white, and in the Middest
or secretest part only blacke."

Having dilated so long upon the Unicorn, it would be a pity not to give
some idea of the curative properties of its horn--always supposing that
it could be obtained genuine, for there were horrid suspicions abroad
that it might be "the horne of some other beast brent in the fire, some
certaine sweet odors being thereunto added, and also imbrued in some
delicious and aromaticall perfume. Peradventure also, Bay by this means,
first burned, and afterwards quenched, or put out with certaine sweet
smelling liquors." To be of the proper efficacy it should be taken new,
but its power was best shown in testing poisons, when it sweated, as did
also a stone called "the Serpent's tongue." And the proper way to try
whether it was genuine or not, was to give Red Arsenic or Orpiment to
two pigeons, and then to let them drink of two samples; if genuine, no
harm would result--if adulterated, or false, the pigeons would die.

It was also considered a cure for Epilepsy, the Pestilent Fever or
Plague, Hydrophobia, Worms in the intestines, Drunkenness, &c.,
&c.,--and it also made the teeth clean and white;--in fact, it had so
many virtues that "no home should be without it."

And all this about a Narwhal's horn!

Next: The Rhinoceros

Previous: The Gorgon

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