Ancient Mysteries Mythology Lore of the Unicorn

Lore of the Unicorn

Lore of the Unicorn
Catalog # SKU3888
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Odell Shepard
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000


Lore of the Unicorn

Odell Shepard

WE may never know precisely when or where or how the legend of the unicorn began. It pervades recorded time and may be dimly visible even in the clouds that hover just above history's sunrise.



The mystery of its origin, leaving a wide field for speculation and surrounding even the facts of which we are certain with bands of twilight, is one of the legend's most evident charms, but it precludes the possibility of tracing that legend from its beginnings. We can best take up the tale of the unicorn at the point where it first emerges into the literature of the western world, early in the fourth century before Christ.

Few need to be reminded that at just this time Mediterranean civilization was sweeping rapidly up to one of the summits, perhaps the highest, of human achievement. In structures of stone and of words and of pure thought the Greek world was then creating marvels which compel us to accept the assurance with which the men of that world ruled out all who did not belong to it as "barbarians". There are two aspects of that Greek civilization, however, from which we barbarians of the modern world are accustomed to draw a little comfort: in the first place, it was an affair of a few small cities and, even in these, of few individuals; in the second place, it was achieved in spite of what we must regard as an abysmal ignorance. Greece in the Age of Pericles was like the hand's-breadth of lighted country, surrounded by shadow, that may be seen from a hill-top on a lowering day. The best minds in the Hellenic world knew little--and, with a few exceptions, they cared less--about what lay beyond the circle of their light, and even of what lay within it their ignorance is likely to seem to us pathetic. This may well remind us to what a slight extent deep wisdom and high intellectual attainment depend upon mere information, but the interesting fact remains. Greek notions of geography, with regard to every part of the earth's surface remote from the Mediterranean, were grotesquely few and wrong; in the field of zoology there were no clear ideas about species, and, before Aristotle, no ideas whatever about orders and genera; with regard to the animals of distant lands where no Greek had ever been men were completely at the mercy of travellers' tales.

It was from this civilization and this intermingling of intellectual brilliancy and ignorance that the physician Ctesias went out in the year 416 B.C., going eastward from his native town of Cnidus to accept an appointment at the court of Darius II, King of Persia. This appointment he owed partly to the already great prestige of Greek medicine and partly, perhaps, to the fact that he was a member of the priestly caste of the Asclepiadai in which medicine was a hereditary profession. He remained in Persia for some seventeen years, serving both Darius and Artaxerxes. For a single instant he appears in familiar history, for Xenophon tells us that when Cyrus broke through the bodyguard of the Great King at Cunaxa and struck him through his breastplate, it was Ctesias, one of those fighting near at hand, who healed the wound. About the year 398 he returned to Cnidus and there wrote his two works, a History of Persia in twenty-three books, now largely lost, and his Indica, preserved in a fragmentary abstract made in the ninth century by one Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople.

There is reason to suspect that Photios subordinated the more commonplace passages of his original and stressed the marvels, yet that original work was the Mandeville's Travels of its time and even the Greeks who knew the text of Ctesias regarded him as a romancer. It is fair to remember, however, that he wrote, confessedly, about a district which he had never seen, so that he had to depend upon the tales of travellers and the reports of Persian officials, and that his most remarkable stories have usually some discernible foundation in fact. In justice to him we may ask ourselves what would be the present reputation of Herodotus, his great contemporary, if the History had been preserved only in a few selections chosen by a credulous cleric of the Dark Ages. In the thirty-third and final fragment of the Indica Ctesias asserts roundly--or perhaps it is Photius who does it for him--that his book is all perfectly true, that he has set down nothing which he has not either seen himself or else heard from the mouths of credible witnesses. Indeed, says he, many more wonderful things than he has put into his book have been left out simply because he does not wish to be thought a liar. We do well to keep this assurance in mind when we come to consider his twenty-fifth fragment, the earliest and one of the most important of European documents relating to the unicorn:--

272 pages - 7 x 8½ softcover - Print size, 12 point font