Book: The Unicorn: A Mythological Investigation
Author: Robert Brown

The Unicorn: A Mythological Investigation By Robert Brown

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 69
Publication Date: 1881

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This short book (with extensive footnotes) covers some of the same ground as the more popularly oriented Lore of the Unicorn, by Odell Shepard, before it ventures into comparative mythology. The present volume was written in the late 19th century at a time when all mythological and folklore narratives were believed to be astronomical metaphors. Brown sees the Unicorn as a lunar symbol, and draws on mythology from a wide range of sources to make his case, from Northern European to Vedic and Zoroastrian.

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A UNICORNIC animal frequently appears in archaic art, but whilst asserting that all non-natural animal-figures or partly human figures when used in a religious connexion are symbolical, I do not for a moment contend that all unicornic animal-figures represent the moon; but merely that the creature whose form is familiar to us in heraldry, a kind of horse-stag or antelope, is a lunar emblem. Thus on a Babylonian Cylinder representing Bel encountering Tiamat, who, whatever else she may represent, is the Dragon of Chaos, the monster who rises on her hind legs, has a beak, crest, wings and a single horn; and is altogether very similar to one of the Seven Wicked Spirits that make war against the Moon-god Sin, as the representative of kosmic order. This latter creature, a reduplication of the drakontic Tiamat, rises similarly on its hind legs, and has a crest, wings, and single horn. Tiamat herself is elsewhere represented as two-horned. The horn has various meanings in symbolism, the majority of which are not of a lunar character. But the following examples of the Unicorn, its allies, and opponents, are, in my opinion, certainly more or less connected with lunar symbolism;—

I. On an Assyrian sardonyx Seal in the Louvre Museum, is represented a crowned personage, behind whom is a serpent erect on its tail; his right hand grasps a dagger, and his left the horn of a Unicorn-goat, standing on its hind legs with the fore legs bent and head turned from him, the mouth touching the conventional Tree; above the animal, the crescent moon. The King (?) is about to slay the Unicorn, beneath the fore legs of which is a lozenge. With this design must be considered;—

II. Another Babylonian Gem figured by Lajard, on which is shown the king in the same attitude, grasping by the head a crowned and apparently human-headed and winged goat, in the same attitude as the Unicorn-goat. Beneath the fore legs of the crowned goat is a representation, apparently the yoni, the equivalent of the lozenge; and above the creature the crescent moon and behind it the conventional Tree, on the other side of which is a Goat in the same attitude as the crowned anima] except that its head is regardant towards the Tree, as in No. I. The goat's two horns are close together so as to form but one, and beneath its fore legs is a figure composed of two crescent moons addorsed and fastened together. All the animals are salient. With both these designs let us consider;—

III. An Assyrian Cylinder of great interest, said to portray 'Merodach, or Bel, armed for the conflict with the Dragon;' but which I prefer to call 'The Sun-god and the Moon-god arranging the preservation of Kosmic Order.' On each side of the representation is a palm-tree; in front of the one on the right hand Merodach ('the Brilliance-of-the-Sun') stands fully armed, on a leopard-like animal, and above his crowned head is the solar star, the key to the symbolism. Merodach's right hand is raised as if in oath on a treaty, as is the right hand of a human figure in another long garment, in front of and apparently conversing with him. Behind this second figure are two Unicorn-goats, counter-salient, with heads regardant as in the last example. Above the Unicorns and the second figure, which I believe represents the Moon-god, is a crescent moon, curiously divided into three parts, by what seem to be handles. Beyond the Unicorns is a second Palm-tree. The unarmed Moon commissions the warrior Sun to go forth to the great contest.

In all three instances we find the Unicorn, the Crescent-moon, and the Tree. In the first two representations the Unicorn is being attacked and overcome by a personage whose crown and attire are very similar to those of Merodach. The type is evidently a familiar one; the Unicorn's horn in each case almost touches the Tree, to which its head always turns. In No. II. the Man-goat strives with the Man; the Goat, the reduplication of the former, does not: there is sometimes peace between the Unicorn and its assailant, and sometimes war. In No. III. the Leopard, which, as it could be trained to hunt, was a fit type of the Hunter-sun, is at peace with the Unicorns; whilst Sun and Moon consult together against darkness and chaos. The remarkable position of the two Unicorns indicates, I think, the monthly cycling progress of the moon, 'there and back' (counter-salient). Reduplication is a noted feature in symbolism; and we have here (1) the Moon-god, (2) the crescent moon, (3) the young moon, and (4) the old moon.

The next type to be noticed in this connexion consists of a divine personage between two other symbolical beings, whose hands or arms he grasps in a friendly manner;— IV. Divine four-winged personage, with round cap on head, and long fringed robe reaching to the ankles, but leaving the right leg exposed as ready for action as in the case of Merodach. His right hand grasps the wrist of an androkephalik winged animal rampant, with human hands but lion's feet; his left hand grasps the right fore foot of a winged Unicorn, rampant, with hoofs.