Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Website io9 has an interesting book review of a new work by geographer Chris Lavers on the natural history of the unicorn and how this legendary creature has become somewhat of an obsession and a symbol pregnant with associations, connotations of all sorts, employed by many different agencies.

It turns out that the earliest reports of an illusive and ferocious beast in the wilds of distant India, which probably referred to a third-hand sighting of a rhinoceros, propagated by ancient Greek naturalists, is completely unrelated to the unicorn as it appears in the Bible. Early translators were at a loss as to what animal Hebrew word re'em ( רֶאֵם ), often used metaphorically, could refer to. Literally the word stood for the extinct aurochs, the European bison—and other animals like goats and cattle and camels were recognisable, but re'em was used in the text, with license, for any beast of burden and symbol of strength and, alternately, for submission—which makes more sense when read in context. The authorities substituted the Greek and Latin words for unicorn, however, sanctifying and popularizing the pensive creature.