The use of unicorn horn in medicine
By William Jackson
Pharmaceutical Journal, Vol.273 (December 2004)
Introduction: The unicorn is a mythical beast that has been associated with medicine and pharmacy for hundreds of years. It was said to be resemble a horse that had a single spirally twisted horn projecting from its forehead. Its origin has been the subject of a great deal of speculation but I should like to believe the story dates it from the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). It is said that his stallion, Bucephalus, wore golden horns in battle and that this gave rise to the legend of the unicorn. Unfortunately, Bucaphalus was black and unicorns were said to be white. Another possibility is that their existence could be based on early reports of the rhinoceros, though belief in unicorns was still prevalent when this beast was relatively well known. There were also reports on an animal called the monoceros and, although this was thought by some to be another name for the unicorn, others believed it to be the rhinoceros, and yet others considered it to be a species distinct from either of these.
Descriptions of the unicorn are to be found in bestiaries (books that contained illustrations and descriptions of many species of animals, both real and imaginary) of the 12th and 13th centuries. The unicorn is unusual among the mythical animals in that people still believed in its existence up to and after the Renaissance. One manuscript said that it was sufficiently fierce to kill an elephant by stabbing it with its horn, and a drawing showing the animals engaged in combat depicts the unicorn as being considerably larger than the elephant. According to another story, the unicorn was so swift that hunters were unable to catch it, except by using a subterfuge – a young virgin was sent into the forest where the unicorn was known to exist and, when it saw here, it would leap into her lap and the hunters could then capture it.