The definition of the Unicorn given in dictionaries and encyclopedias goes something like this:
"Unicorn. French, Unicorne; Italian, Unicornio; Spanish, Unicornio; German, Einhorn. Nashorn (from the Latin Unicornis). n. A mythical animal with the body of a horse and a straight horn in the middle of its forehead. Rhinoceros-Ivory mastodon fossil, which the ancients believed came from the Sea-Unicorn, Narwhal."
|In 1913, an International Congress of Zoologists was held in Budapest. The Rumanian representative, Dr. Roman Landescu, was interviewed about the Unicorn by Jonas Spaulding, a correspondent for the North American journal, Golden Bird. As we consider this interview to be very illustrative, following is a transcription of the entire text:|
S. Dr. Landescu, when you spoke in your talk today about the origins of zoological science, and of the mythical animals which the first treatises described, you made reference to the Unicorn, is that not so?L. Yes indeed, when I spoke about the Phisiologus, one of the first known zoological treatises, I mentioned the Unicorn one amongst other fantastic animals described in it.
S. Dr. Landescu, I have the impression that when you spoke about flying dragons and mermaids etc., you referred to the Unicorn in a different way. That is, you referred to it in a tone that made the audience believe that for you this animal is not as fantastic as the other examples described. I would like to ask you: Do you believe that Unicorns existed?
L. Mr. Spaulding, it seems to me that your question strays from the scientific nature of this conference.
S. Dr. Landescu, forgive my insistence. If I ask this question it is because when you referred to it, I repeat, you did so in a very special tone. In the mind of all those present the notion remained that the aforementioned animal was real and not fantastic.
L. Well, in truth, perhaps I used, let's say, a somewhat vehement tone, but I don't believe I gave the impression that you mention. Well, perhapsÉ
S. Dr., you are a scientist reputed internationally. Maybe you are afraid of saying something that does not correspond to the general criterion of science? I think that anything that you raise will be difficult to dismiss. For this reason I venture to repeat my question: Do you believe that unicorns existed and that they are not just a fable?
L.Look Mr. Spaulding, as scientists we have very strict norms. We only speak about things that we can prove. For us, everything that is improbable remains in the field of speculation. However, if you promise me that you will not publish my words as scientific claims, but rather as the outcome of an informal chat outside this conference, I will tell you some things that I believe about Unicorns.
S. Agreed Dr., it is understood that everything that you tell me from now on will be totally informal and should not be taken as scientific truth.
L. Thank you, Mr. Spaulding. So many things have been said about Unicorns that, frankly, I don't know how to begin. It is thought that their legend originated when the first Western travelers saw a rhinoceros and thought that it was a horse with a horn. In short, in the field of pure speculation, much can be said about it.
S. Dr. Landescu, hypothetically is there any possibility that the Unicorn could have existed?
L. Well, many animal species existed which, for various reasons, later became extinct. In the same way, the Unicorn could have existed hundreds, thousands, or maybe millions of years ago.
S. If the Unicorn had lived, in what species would you have classified it, Dr. Landescu?
L. In the equine family, naturally, derived from the "Equus caballus ferus". Of course this is an informal opinion. Don't you forget that.
S. Could you give a description of it, just as you imagine it hypothetically, and could you refer to the places where it could have lived?
L. I think of the Unicorn as a medium-sized equine with a long, arched neck, abundant, swaying manes, fine hooves, and a large horn on its forehead, slightly curved on the upper part. As far as the places it inhabited are concerned, it could have lived in some areas of Central Asia, Africa, and Europe.
S. Dr., could such a species disappear without leaving any trace? One assumes that vestiges of at least the horn would have remained.
L. Mr Spaulding, you have touched upon an interesting subject. It is usual to think of an animal's horn being made up of hard matter. This is correct in the case of a bull, a goat, a deer, etc. In the case of the Unicorn the horn might not have been made of bone, but a cartilaginous protuberance made up of organic matter. Therefore, upon the death of the animal, this protuberance disappears through decomposition.
S. Dr. Landescu, could you deduce from this that many of the prehistoric equine remains that have been found, could have been from Unicorns and not horses?
L. Yes, that is likely.
S. Dr. Could you tell us something about its extinction? What do you put down to the disappearance of this probable species?
L. Many factors could be considered. There are so many that to list them would be almost impossible. As we are talking in an imaginary, hypothetical way, I am going to name a few: The first would be man. If man appeared when the Unicorn already inhabited the earth, it is almost certain that he would have exterminated it for food or sporting reasons. Another factor could be a climate change that was so severe that the Unicorn did not have time to adapt. And another, which is the one that I fall for, is that the Unicorn was a hybrid.
S. Are you trying to say that it could have resulted from a cross between two different species?
L. Exactly. Just as the hinny is the result of the cross between a horse and a donkey, the Unicorn, for example, could come from the cross between a horse and a gazelle. By wiping out any one of the two main components, the third disappears. Personally I think that, in this case, the first to disappear was the gazelle.
S. Through extinction?
L. Through extinction or migration.
S. Dr., I understand that gazelles have a hard horn made of bone. How is it possible that, the Unicorn being a derivative of it, its horn should have been made of cartilage?
L. Everything is possible in nature. It is common that stupid children are born of brilliant parents and vice versa. Thus it is not strange that a soft horn should have emerged from a hard one.
S. Dr., I consider everything said to be very interesting. I hope to interview you on another occasion on a subject closer to your specialty. I want to ask you a final favor. During our chat I noticed that, perhaps absent-mindedly, you sketched a silhouette of a Unicorn with your pen. Would you be so kind as to present it to my journal, so that the readers could have a graphic image of the informal chat that we have had?
L. You embarrass me, Mr. Spaulding. I draw very badly and I think that the Unicorn deserved something better....