What is a unicorn? How the legend about the mythical animal came about

The unicorns are on the loose! At least since the animated film "Ich - Simply incorrigible" from 2010, the unicorn has been back in fashion. But where does the legend about the mythical animal actually come from? And why are unicorns so popular? The unicorn owes its "existence" to a translation error in the Bible - Shutterstock / Marben

When little Agnes spotted a plush horn in a booth on the fairground with shining eyes in the film "I - Despicable Me", it happened to her. "It's so fluffy, I'm going crazy!" She squeals delightedly - and starts a new hype about unicorns.

There is hardly anything that cannot be sold as soon as a unicorn has its hooves in the game: soft toys, slippers, socks, pink smoothies, sweets and even sausages and toilet paper. You can find out what the myth is all about here.

What is a unicorn? Magical properties of the mythical being

The unicorn is now represented as a kind of horse with a long, sinuous horn on its forehead. In the past, the unicorn could also come in the form of a young goat with a horn. Its fur is mostly silvery-white, it looks graceful and of bewitching beauty. Unicorns usually symbolize the good and are said to have magical powers. The horn in particular is magical and is said to be able to cure diseases. Whoever drinks from the horn should also become immune to poison and fire.

In Europe and Western culture, the unicorn stands for purity, innocence and chastity. The shy, kind creature is hidden in the woods. According to legend, unicorns can only be tamed by virgins. In Japan, the unicorn is called "Kirin" and is a brave creature who tracks down criminals and pierces them with his horn. The Chinese unicorn is called "Qilin" and is thoroughly pacifist. The peaceful mythical animal does no harm to a fly and its presence is always a good omen.

The Andalusian: beautiful horse from Spain

The unicorn in the Bible: a translation error?

The myth of the unicorn probably originated in a translation error. In the third century BC, the Old Testament of the Bible was translated from Hebrew to Greek. The translators repeatedly came across a mysterious animal called "Re'em" in Hebrew. They puzzled for a long time what kind of creature it could be.

They finally agreed on the term "monókerōs", in German: "unicorn". In Latin, the being was called "unicornis", which Martin Luther later translated as "unicorn" when he translated the Bible into German. However, it was not the mythical horse like a horse that was meant by the magic horn, but the auroch. Although it has two horns, it was depicted from the side on ancient Babylonian reliefs and wall paintings. In the profile, however, one horn hides the other, so that it appears like a single horn on the forehead.

The translation error was only discovered in the 18th century - when the unicorn had long had a permanent place in the world of mythology. In addition, influential personalities such as Marco Polo repeatedly conjured up throughout history that they had seen a unicorn. In truth, they'd probably only heard of confusing the rhino with the unicorn, or seeing an antelope with a broken horn. It is also possible that they have seen a hoofed animal that happens to have only one horn on its forehead due to a mutation, like the unicorn deer in Italy in 2008 from the video:

The unicorn trend in the present: mythical animal in literature and film

The beautiful, lovable mythical animal is now an integral part of pop culture. Films like "The Last Unicorn" (1982), which is based on the book trilogy by Peter S. Beagle, seem to touch the longing for peace and kindness in people. Various fantasy novels mention unicorns that have magical powers, but at the same time are very shy and often lonely.