Sunday, August 1, 2010

Giraffes and Unicorns

I suppose the rhinoceros was the seed that blossomed into the many unicorn rumors that turned out to be medieval urban myths.

One can hardly blame the folks of the time: a unicorn is a lot like a horse, only it has a single horn in its head. That isn't all that much unlike a cow or a deer or a gazelle, which have two horns. What's so odd about a single horn?

Now, a giraffe is truly odd. A horse-like creature covered in leopard's spots, thrice the height of a man, and whose neck is as long as its body? Really? Yet it turns out the unicorn was the tall tale and the giraffe was the true one.

Yet plenty of medieval folks knew that the unicorn and the basilisk and the siren and the lamia and the dragon were mythical and fabulous. To such poets and visionaries it was reasonable that as the unicorn was serviceable as a symbol. Thus, the legend came into being that because a unicorn permitted itself to be captured only in the lap of a pure virgin, it was a fit representation of the Incarnation.

These days the unicorn sees service in the handiwork of, among other things, new agers. In my view this is a sad turn of events for the noble creature. Unicorns are resilient creatures, however, so I'm sure it's just a matter of time before it leaps out of the odd constraints people fashion for it.

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