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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Fig. 334—Unicorn: Bibos cavifrons

The radical meaning of the Hebrew word (reem) thus rendered furnishes no evidence that an animal such as is now understood by 'unicorn' was known to exist, or that a rhinoceros is thereby absolutely indicated; and here is no authority whatever for the inference that either was at anytime resident in Western Asia.


Fig. 335—Horn of the unknown species of Rhinoceros

The Indian rhinocerotes are essentially tropical animals, and there is no indication extant that in a wild state they ever extended to the west of the Indus. Early colonies and caravans from the East most probably brought rumors of the power and obstinacy of these animals to Western Asia, and it might have been remarked that under excitement the rhinoceros raises its head and horn on high, as it were in exultation, though it is most likely because the sense of smelling is more potent in it than that of sight, which is only lateral, and confined by the thickness of the folds of skin projecting beyond the eye-balls. The rhinoceros is not absolutely untamable—a fact implied even in Job. Thus we take this species as the original type of the unicorn; but the active invention of Arabic minds, accidentally, perhaps, in the first instance, discovered a species of Oryx (generically bold and pugnacious ruminants), with the loss of one of its long, slender, and destructive horns. In this animal the reem of the Hebrews and the far East became personified, being most probably an Oryx Leucoryx, since individuals of that species have been repeatedly exhibited in subsequent ages as unicorns, when accident or artifice had deprived them of one of their frontal weapons. In Africa, however, among three or four known species of rhinoceros, and vague rumors of a Bisulcate species of unicorn, probably only the repetition of Arabian reports, there appears to exist between Congo, Abyssinia, and the Cape, precisely the terra incognita of Africa, a real pachydermous animal; which seems to possess the characteristics of the poetical unicorn. In the narratives of the natives of the different regions in question there is certainly both exaggeration and error; but they all incline to a description which would make the animal indicated a pachyderm of the rhinoceros group, with a long and slender horn proceeding from the forehead, perhaps with another incipient behind it, and in general structure much lighter than other rhinocerotes.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Unicorn'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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