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The unicorn is a legendary animal that has been described since antiquity as a beast with a large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. The unicorn was depicted in ancient seals of the Indus Valley Civilization and was mentioned by the ancient Greeks in accounts of natural history by various writers, including Ctesias, Strabo, Pliny the Younger, and Aelian. The Bible also describes an animal, the re'em, which some translations have rendered with the word unicorn.

In European folklore, the unicorn is often depicted as a white horselike or goatlike animal with a long horn and cloven hooves (sometimes a goat's beard). This description seems to take root in an ancient tradition in Tibet. In pre-bouddhist Tibet, shepherds cloved the horn buds of goat kids, so the adults grew with only one horn on their forehead, for a mysterious reason; this is however told that it was to make goats more capable to defend themselves against predators (this single horn acted like a dagger). Ethiopean shepherds also had this habit, which explains why Arabians also saw unicorns. The tibetan goats with unified horns are often seen in local artworks representing the spirit Dorje Legpa, who is always shown riding a goat with its horns spiraling one around the other (or joined in some other way). Europeans who went to Asia for silk and spices saw those goats and took them for a new, unknown species and, in the Medieval period, unicorns were represented as animals no larger than a big dog. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin. In the encyclopedias its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness. In medieval and Renaissance times, the tusk of the narwhal was sometimes sold as unicorn horn by Vikings; this is how unicorn representations went from small-sized animals to beasts the size of horses. Today, unicorn representations look a lot more like horses; goat characteristics, very common in ancient representations, are most often forgotten.

For more information, visit the Wikipedia entry.

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